Can't Travel Without: a Small Notebook and Pen


Indispensable during my travels was my small, purse-sized notebook where I wrote many of my thoughts, phone numbers of new friends and addresses of flats, restaurants and hotels, and still more musings, rants and suppositions.  The first iteration was a staple-bound, craft paper, unlined beaut'. I picked it up at a street festival in Chicago, the Renegade Craft Fair, where, with two of my girlfriends, we traipsed up and down Division Street that summer weekend. In the notebook, I listed out the business of moving one's life, chronicling, to use a favorite idiom, where all the bodies are buried. It was a pleasant reminder of home, all that I'd done to get on the road, and it fit right into my vintage leather purse from Detroit.

Alas, Notebook #1 didn't hold up well, and sometime before I could finish writing in its pages, the cover had worn off through its stapled binding, and I jury-rigged it back on with an elastic hair tie stretched over the spine. It lasted from Chicago through sometime in Paris. Soon enough, I had to hunt for its replacement, retiring Notebook #1 to the zipped lining of my luggage. Though I was secretly happy about the damage since I love stationery and never has it been a chore to look for new paper.

Notebook #2 needed to be tougher and yet small like its predecessor. And then in a little stationery-slash-knickknack store near the L'Institut du Monde Arabe, there it was: a little bigger than my hand, graph-paper lined notebook with a plastic ziplock see-through cover. In this magical cover could go my phone, spare change, my business cards (which do double-duty as my travel photographs), receipts, ticket stubs and the general flotsam that clogs up a woman's purse.

I'm on the last pages of Notebook #2 now. It lasted me through Amsterdam (both times), the rehashing of Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Beijing, and back to Chicago.

Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France

You can always find a good notebook, that's true enough... but are you brave enough to actually write in it? It's true that I never travel without a pen and paper, but I was not always good enough to use them.

Recently, a friend and fellow traveler asked me, "Did you write all these posts while you were traveling, or did you write them after you came home?"

Like many traveling writers, she confessed that she's usually exhausted after a long day of jaunting around a new city or country and lacks the energy to write. Later, when she returns home, something called regular life keeps her from putting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, as it were.

For my part, I wrote what I could when I could. I was too overwhelmed in many ways being far from home for so long than to have much energy to digest it while there. I wanted to be there and just be there, let it all wash over me and through me. I asked a lot of questions, and up to now, many of them have no answers.

And now, now that I'm back on home soil, I'm thinking that that line of thought was just bullshit. Now I realize that I didn't challenge myself. I lacked the discipline and the fortitude to self-impose deadlines. To be a writer, one must write. To be a good writer, one must write like crap at first, and then start again, and write something better. You can't skip the first step. The first step is, in many ways, the only one that counts.