As my family prepares for a summer of, slightly, intense travel, I have travel journals on my mind.
Due to space and financial limitations, I’m going to attempt to keep it as easy as possible. I’m also attempting to provide my kids, who are now 5 and 7, with the most creative expression opportunities that I can. (See: The Importance of Travel Journaling)
So, what’s in their summer travel journal kit?
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Summer Travel Journal Kit Contents for kids
I. Traveler’s Notebook
The book. In the past, I’ve used dollar store journals, composition notebooks, and duo tang folders. This year I got them the same thing I got myself, a traveler’s notebook. I decided to go with a faux-leather holder with two blank books and a double pocket inside. If my budget was higher, or my kids older, I would have bought the popular Midori brand pictured below:
Instead, I went with the Michael’s brand that was only a fraction of the price (and even less since it was on sale). The quality of mine is still decent, but I think the kids will love it. And since I had to get three of everything, it just made sense.
II. Travel Journal Prompts
The notebooks are promptless and empty. I’m going to encourage them to do what they want as I have in the past, but I’m also going to provide some fun prompts using something they’ve used in the past – the A-Z Travel Journal Prompts I offer as a free download on this site. Instead of the full 26-page download, though, I’m going to print out the one sheet I created with all the prompts. That’s keeping it much easier.
I also have a pdf I made for an older website that has more detailed questions. Into my travel kit it’ll go.
And another new thing for this year, scrapbooking supplies. Ali Edwards is a scrapbooker I’ve followed for years. I’ve done her December Daily album since 2009, her Week in the Life album since 2016, and was so excited to see her launch a travel collection. Her items sell fast. Many are already sold out, but you can get an idea of what she does her in her post. Since I have a specific and established way I like to collect my travel memories, I just picked her products that worked best for our needs. This was a combination of stickers and icon stamps.
(Side note: If memory keeping trips is new to you, you may want to check out some of the classes she is offering on her site. They’re listed at the post I linked earlier. I haven’t taken those classes, but if these classes are just a fraction of what some of the many other classes I’ve taken from her are like – you’ll be happy.)
III. Travel Journal Tools
I’m trying not to spend too much. I’ll be scouring our children’s craft rooms for colored pencils, airline-friendly scissors, a glue stick, and washi tape. My favorite color pencils are these by Staedler. I first used them when I was in the kid’s area of the Rijksmuseum years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since.
I also really love Staedler brand pens. My kids feel like they’re using something special when they use “mommy’s pens” and they really take care of them. Plus, they don’t roll when you set them down.
If we don’t have enough of these, I’ll stick with reliable crayola brand non-crayon items (don’t need those melting in the heat), or purchase more when we’re abroad.
(Before publishing this post I went ahead and purchased some watercolors. I had to. The kit (pictured below) is small and, at around $10, it made sense to get one for each of us.)
IV. Taking pictures
I like giving my kids the opportunity to take their own pictures to put in their own journals. (Side note: A picture of my son taking pictures, and a picture he took, during our travels is in the book Traveling in Europe with Kids.)
I got both the Fiji Instax and HP Sproket printers for Christmas. They’re small enough so that I can take both. I feel there are benefits to both of them that I can further explore when I’m on my trip.
The HP paper is cheaper, comes with a sticky back that makes it easy to add to pages. Instax has more of a small polaroid look, but comes in different types of frames other than just white. I’m happy to have both options.
IV. A Camera
My kids have had a kids camera before, they’re too bulky for the type of lean packing measures we have to take. They have and are bringing a kid’s kindle fire. I’m sure there’s a camera feature on it, but the memory size isn’t the best.
So, as I consider their camera I’ve come up with two options. Let them use my current or old phone sometimes, or get them a cheaper point and shoot. I currently have this camera in my cart. It’s not too expensive and has decent reviews. It’s also a Kodak, so while the reviews aren’t 5-star reviews, there’s some comfort in the brand as opposed to the similarly priced brandless.
Sample prices for items mentioned above:
I thought it would be fun to see how much this particular project would cost. So, below you’ll find prices for items based on what they were when I wrote this post. These prices can, and will, fluctuate. Keep in mind, I’ve only made two purchases specifically for this summer’s travel journal. The notebooks and the watercolors. The other items I already have. I don’t think I would spend this all for one trip, but purchase things through the year instead.
- Midori Brand Notebooks are usually around $20 for a case and notebooks.
- Travel Journal Prompts free download with NO sign-up.
- Writing Utensils
- Staedler Color Pencils (around $17, but dependent on number of pencils)
- Staedler Marker Pens (around $15 and also dependent on package size)
- Watercolors (The set I included is just under $10 and I can’t yet attest to the quality, but price can easily go up)
- The Fiji Instax (with some film) is around $170 – and – the HP Sproket is around $130 without film. Film, for both can run between 50 cents to $1 per print, depending on the deals you can buy and how many you purchase.
- The Kodak point and shoot camera is currently available under $70, but using cameras you already own (via tablet or phones) make it even easier… and I think this is what I’m going to do.
I’m back from my trip… how did it go?
I wanted to approach travel journaling with a lot of flexibility and give the kids the freedom to make it what they wanted to be. That said, it was nowhere near what I thought it would be. For the most part, the discussion of what to travel journal was the complete opposite of what they did. While out and about they had no issue talking about what they wanted to write in their journals. They even collected pieces and photos with the intentions of putting them in their journals. However, when it came time to “work” or “play” in the journals — any reference to travel went out the window.
Instead, it became an art journal. They drew pictures of Minecraft characters, cats, blobs, and scribbles. They wrote very little about what they did unless they were very encouraged to do so. The only time I can think of them doing that was on the train from Essen to Munich. It’s a five-hour ride and my son wanted to play his Nintendo switch. My husband told him to write a full page in his journal about what he liked most about Germany so far. He wrote that he liked playing his Nintendo switch. When I encouraged him to write more: write about Gruga Park, eating brötchen, going to Köln and Amsterdam, he wrote “Gruga, brötchen, Amsterdam.”
There were only three times where I pulled out my supplies and got to work with the kids. This was in Germany, at the Airbnb, and on the train with my daughter on the way to Venice. While I got some journaling done, they drew what they drew. However, I did enjoy the time playing together and glad we did it.
Because of the size of the journals we had, and the limited space I had to carry things daily, we kept the journals in our accomodation. While visiting the Acropolis Museum, my daughter got bored. I gave her scrap paper and encouraged her to draw what she saw. She loved this task so much I ended up buying her a small journal in the giftshop. She drew everything she saw in the museum, and the view of the acropolis from the museum. My son thought it was cool that he ended up getting a journal, too.
Although the kids didn’t do what I intended, I loved that they actively thought about the trip while we were walking around. They would make observations specifically to note in the journal later – they just never actually put those observations in the journal. And that’s ok. They’re 5 and 7. The books they created are exactly what they needed to be.
I loved working on it with them. I loved having them take pictures and then letting them pick out the pictures they wanted to add to the journal. It was interesting to see. I handed the kids my iPhone while we were in Marienplatz in Munich. My daughter took a bunch of pictures of the clock and church, but when it came time to print the picture she wanted in her journal to remember that day – she picked a picture she took of my husband’s jaw. I asked her why she picked that and she said it’s because she thought it was funny. The other pictures she picked were also not place-specific, but people specific. She wanted us in her books more than buildings.
My travel journal kit was too bulky. We had so much luggage (we were in cold, rainy Germany for 3 weeks + my husband worked part of that time, and then in warm, sunny, humid Italy and Greece for a total of two weeks – lots of clothes). Packing away all the contents of my kit everytime we moved to a new place, even though it didn’t feel like much when I initially packed, was just too much. Since I didn’t work on it as much as I wanted to I had scraps of things I had collected all over the place. Since I didn’t want the kids to fight over stuff I had multiples of things I didn’t need multiples of. It was just a lot of stuff.
WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
- Have prompts directly in the journal. Maybe not every page, but at least some pages. My kids used the 26-page travel journal I created last year on our trip. They had fun with the prompts and wrote more observations than they did this year.
- Use a smaller travel journal. I’d have something we could bring with us so they could doodle in it when they’re bored at restaurants or waiting in line. Taking the journals out when we were resting at the Airbnb wasn’t the best journaling time.
- Reduce what I brought and bring an envelope to collect all the stuff. For some reason, on top of it being a lot of stuff, it was also really disorganized. Next time I don’t need more than one type of glue or tape, a good pen, one printer (if I’m going to do it), and watercolors (because they’re fun).
- Use restaurant mealtimes to attach stuff to the journals and write and draw. Service in Europe is a lot slower than the US and most places don’t have activities to keep the kids entertained. What a perfect time to journal! Even if we were in the US, though, it’s a great time to journal while waiting for food or waiting for the adults to finish eating.
Pictures instead of journals
Since this first post I’ve taken the kids on two other “big” trips. We went to Iceland for Spring Break. The trip was short and instead of encouraging them to write anything, I let them use old phones of mine and take pictures. I absolutely loved this activity for them. I loved seeing the trip through their lens. I think it helped them connect even more than they would have. My only tip for parents that are looking to do something similar is this: have downtime. The kids were so excited to take pictures that most of MY pictures of our trip was pictures of them taking pictures.
Most recently we spent a few weeks of the summer in New York. I started the summer with them making on page journal entries of what they were doing every day. This was easy to pick up and transport with us as we toured around the U.S. They had an assortment of construction paper and typing paper they could use, and some glue to add things. We didn’t do this daily. We just did it whenever we had down time and I remembered. For the most part, the kids stuck to the plan because they were already used to recapping their day from the weeks leading up to our trip.