Photographing/documenting your journey

pen and handwritingDo you hear that little voice?  It’s the voice of your mother, saying “Keep a journal while you’re gone”  and “take lots of pictures!”  Listen to that voice.  You’ll kick yourself if you don’t record what will most likely be one of the greatest adventures of your life.


There’s a lot to be said about “being in the moment,” “being present,”  and whatnot.  But as a traveler, you also need to have your camera locked and loaded. Be ready to snap at a moment’s notice.  Keep that camera/smart phone charged and ready for quick access. Consider uploading your photos to an in on-line album often. That said, don’t live your life behind the lens.

Capture the everyday normal things

backpackers checking map

Aside from the photo, the map and the ice cream receipt would make great mementos.

These are the mundane things you’ll look back on with wisdom, laughter and nostalgia. Or horror.  Photograph the everyday scenes  (1)  people making meals in your kitchen,   (2) friends hunched over their school work,  (3)  your roommate reaching for some local product from a grocery store shelf; (4)  people sprawled out in their bedrooms.  Looking back, I wish I would have photographed the guy I walked past every day who served slices of pizza from his pizza truck.  At the time it seemed too mundane; now I’m kicking myself.

Enough with the monuments already

Nothing is more stale than looking at picture after picture of monuments, gardens and buildings devoid of human life.   When taking the requisite 16 photographs of the Eiffel Tower, think about composing a couple of the shots  from different angles. two girls arm in arm in front of Eiffel tower

What are you drawn to?

Notice what fascinates you…. Color?     Bricks?  Herds of Mopeds waiting at traffic lights?   As your practice of “noticing things” grows, you’ll become more aware of what you’re drawn to,  and your photos will get better and better.

bottom and underneath of Eiffel Tower


Eiffel tower with face in foreground

I have a friend who loves to photograph stone walls. Another who is intrigued with rainy sidewalks and umbrellas.  I’m a sucker for looking up from the street and photographing people  who are hanging out of their upper-story windows. If they’re  pinning laundry out the window – bonus.  On a little street in Siena, Italy, I once saw two women on upper floors, across the street from each other, leaning out of their windows, talking to each other and pinning up laundry on their shared clothes line.  I nearly collapsed from joy. Notice there’s no photo here?  That’s because my camera was in my backpack and I completely missed the shot.  If I cannot inspire you let me at least serve as a horrible warning.

moleskine journal

My favorite travel journal – the palm sized Moleskine. The best part? There’s a secret pocket at the back for stashing things.

Journals do not have to be perfect tomes worthy of inclusion in the Library of Congress. As our College of Sciences Dean Dr. Stanley Maloy says, “Perfection is the enemy of good.” Just start writing.

My favorite journal is the small,  easy-to-stash   Moleskin Travel Journal.  Whatever you do, write about the good, the bad and the ugly.  Don’t wait till the evening – flip it open and write a few lines when you’re waiting  for a train.  If you don’t know what to say, start off by  jotting down the date the places you went, and who was there.  Later you may, or may not, fill in some details.

3 1950s women on camels

Elizabeth Davies Ferguson, 2nd from left, circa 1950, on a trip to the pyramids at Giza. And yes, those are gloves and a purse clutched in her hands.


Record what’s important to you.  Case in point: my friend Margaret’s mom, Elizabeth Davies Ferguson, stylishly perched on the second camel from the left.  Mrs. Ferguson worked as a secretary for the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria.   Travel was her first love, but a close second was her love of clothing.  She was renowned for detailing her her outfits on the backs of pictures.  This photo is entitled “What the well dressed young lady in the Middle East will wear: linen suit, picture hat, 3 inch heels, purse and gloves.”  How fantastic is that?  Those personal details are a treasure… both to her and to future generations. 

Photograph locals… or at least parts of locals.


Man with croissants


Blogging can be a terrific way to remember your adventures.   It can (1) be a treasure for you to look back on for the rest of your life and  (2) keep your family and friends informed of how you’re doing in one creative felled swoop, (3) give you experience being a travel writer.  Check out our SDSU Be International student blogs.

If you’re interested in being a Be International Blogger for SDSU, contact Michael Klitzing in SDSU International Communications, mklitzing@mail.sdsu.  And that experience can go on your resume.


The human race can be divided into 2 groups:  Those willing to use selfie sticks, and those who are not.  Selfie sticks are fabulous for panning groups, and circular “I’m in the middle of this amazing piazza” shots.  And if you don’t make movies, seriously consider recruiting a friend who does.  Putting together photos and video clips with music will be better than any Steven Spielberg movie you’ve ever seen.  Check out the Art of Go Pro on a Stick with Alex Chacon’s video  Around the World in 360 degrees .  SDSU Biochemistry student Sara Torres Robles’s video about culture shock in China is simply 2 girls just talking about weird things in China.

Scrap Book

If your pulse quickened when you read that title, you must be a scrapbooker.  How-to videos  in the nouveau scrapping style of the day are widely featured on line.  If you really want to open up Pandora’s box of scrapping ideas, use search terms such as travel scrapbooking on Pinterest and Youtube.  This genre of scrapbookery is don at the pace of a medieval monk painstakingly penning a sentence of the Bible.  Which is why I want to talk about the

Old School Scrap Book

John Muir's journal 1879 Alaska

Pages from John Muir’s Journal, 1879, while traveling in Alaska.

Announcement:  You do NOT have to spend a thousand years putting together a scrap book.   Low tech is  fine.   John Muir did alright without heart shaped punches, embossers, and fancy scissors,  and so can you.  Our  ancestors have been making scrapbooks for hundreds of years.   How to:   Go to an office products store and buy an  8-1/2 X 11 three ring view binder,  a box of sheet protectors, and some  double sided tape.  Get pens, paper and scissors.  Take a minute to caption the photos. If you’ve collected little flat things like receipts, coasters, notes, menus, little maps, intersperse these with photos.  Voila, that’s it for your basic scrapbook.  You could even include some photocopied pages out of your journal.  For those who have been sucked into the vortex of professional modern-day scrapbookery… knock yourselves out.  You should be done with page 2 by the time you begin to draw social security.

Mixed media

plastic envelope

Envelope for flat things: tickets, receipts, maps, cardboard coasters, notes,  napkins and whatnot.  A bright color makes it a snap to find in your bag.

As you travel, be on the lookout for  flat, light things  – maps, receipts, matchbook covers, cardboard coasters, metro and train tickets, event tickets, receipts from restaurants all make are all interesting when interspersed with photos. I may or may not have a parking ticket from St. Paul de Vence in my scrapbook.   Directions from a stranger drawn on the back of a scrap paper? Check.  Keep a plastic or cardboard envelope in your backpack and throw your scraps in there as you travel.  Do you like to draw? Bust out your pencils, it will bring your journal to life.

Text messages

Consider getting an app that will allow you to  print your text messages.  Informative, fun and  embarrassing… what could be better?

A book of your Facebook posts

It pains me to give Facebook any more publicity, but I would be remiss not to mention this.  You can order a bound book of your posts, with photos and your friends comments (Ugh.  Why didn’t I invent this?)


Boxes labeled with country names

Travel boxes for storing little souvenirs. A good option for the scrapbook-impaired.

As a freakishly avid Christmas  ornament  collector,  I’m always on the lookout for little ornaments  that are light.   Bigger souvenirs get heavy in your backpack, fast.  I once met a student at SDSU who  had on about 10 different colored friendship bracelets.  When I asked about them, he said he had tried to get one  in every city he went to as he traveled.    And what a great conversation starter to wear your travel on your body!


Can’t be bothered with scrapbooking?

Check out Melissa Harrison’s creative ideas, especially  #5: Travel Boxes.     Displaying keepsakes







How do you keep your travel memories?  Email me at


Happy travels,

Maureen Crawford