In some ways, travel has been my greatest teacher, not only about the world around me, but also about myself. Travel has a way of regularly ejecting us from our comfort zone, testing us with uncertainty, adventure, discomfort, beauty, connection, and loneliness. All are lessons that have the potential to broaden our mind unlike any classroom, but only if we let them.
Like all other experiences, we get out of travel what we put into it, or, what we let in. It’s easy to let incredible moments blast by like the cars on that highway in front of your hostel window. We won’t be there long, wherever we are, and neither will the moments that offer insight. This is the challenge I wrestled with over and over again for the last eight months while on the The Bullet Journal Method Book tour.
On the one hand, I was in these incredible places, meeting thousands of Bullet Journalists from around the world. On the other, most of that time was spent alone in cabs, planes, or hotel rooms, getting ready for the next event. From the beginning, it was important to me that this trip was not just about speaking, but also about listening. It forced me to think about ways I could use my Bullet Journal to make the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Allow me to share some considerations that may help you get more out of your own adventures near and far.
Let’s start with something fun. I’ve always loved suitcases adorned by layers of worn stickers from all the places they've been. You see less of them these days, as light polycarbonate shells are favored over the heavier metal or leather suitcases of old. Stickers don’t adhere well to the new materials. So on my last trip it dawned on me, why don’t I simply turn my notebook into one of those suitcases?
Most places you go, you can find stickers with the name of the location you’re visiting, especially at airports. So that’s what I started to do. Anywhere I went, I popped a sticker on the cover of my Bullet Journal. It’s a simple way to add a richness and texture that infuses your notebook with unique character.
Aesthetics aside, there is also the matter of practicality. Not only are stickers very convenient, light, and affordable souvenirs, they also let you quickly identify specific notebooks on the shelf. Beautiful and practical!
When you’re on the road, it’s hard to maintain any type of routine. For a lot of us though, routine helps preserve our sanity. Rather than forcing my stack of routines into a reality that was constantly shifting, I picked the one thing that helped the most: my daily reflections. No matter where I am, there is a desk. If I’m not in my room, then I can find a spot in the lobby, or a nearby cafe. This one small routine served two purposes. Often when we’re on the road, especially for work, it can be a lot of go, go, go! It’s easy to hit a saturation point very quickly. Reflection helps me put on the breaks, and gives me the opportunity to simply process.
Have you ever been on vacation and done relatively little, yet still ended up feeling exhausted by the end of the day? Some of that’s due to the overwhelming amount of new stimulus and information our mind needs to digest. Though we may be laid out by the pool, our mind is hard at work.
Chances are, our mind is still reeling from whatever motivated us to go on vacation in the first place. When you’re at home, surrounded by the familiar, it’s easy to distract yourself and operate on autopilot. When you’re surrounded by the unfamiliar, your mind switches off autopilot, and a lot of things can bubble up.
Whatever the case may be, reflection grants us a moment to sit down with our BuJo and declutter our mind. Be it 5 or 10 mins a day, first thing in the morning, or just before bed, I simply write down what’s going on up there. This simple routine helps me offload the noise, and capture thoughts and experiences so I don’t forget. My current self is less stressed, and my future self will be grateful to relive those moments years from now.
In some ways, your notebook is a suitcase. But rather than stuff, you’re packing thoughts. Your ideas, observations, feelings, and experiences are arguably much more valuable souvenirs than any bauble, yet we often end up leaving them behind. What we don’t write down, we’re likely to forget. I found that to be the case often, because I was forcing myself to use my Bullet Journal the same way regardless of location.
I too am guilty of slipping into routine, favoring the familiar. No matter how long I’ve had my BuJo practice, not matter how dialed in I get it, I’m also still learning. Most of those lessons result from a resistance to changing my practice.
New circumstances require new approaches. When traveling, we have a lot less control over our circumstances. That place will be closed, the luggage gets lost,youget lost. This emphasizes the Stoic credo that the only thing we can control is how we respond. In terms of my practice, it meant shifting state.
At home, my BuJo favors a proactive state: focusing on the things I have to do. When on the road, I found it helpful to shift into a more passive state: focusing on the things I have done. It’s about shifting the balance from responsibility to experience. It changes the way I engage with the world from “I’m here to do”, to, “I’m here to be.”
In practical terms, this plays out in my practice by making two small adjustments. First, I task myself with far fewer things. It forces me to let go. For the few tasks that remain, I tell myself “maybe it gets done, maybe it won’t...and that’s okay!” Giving myself permission to let go, relieves a lot of self-imposed stress and worry. It’s hard to exaggerate how distracting this form of homemade anxiety can be. Leaving it behind allows me to become much more present and receptive, which brings us to our next point.
I travel to experience new things, to learn. To do this, I have to do more than buy a ticket, I need to open up, and then think about what I’ve seen. This is where the Event bullet “O” comes into play. Where I usually use the Event bullet once or twice a day back home, I will use it for every major thing that happens while on the go. I also use it as a way to delineate parts of the day. So if I went to a temple, I will use “O” to log the Event and then use Notes “-” to fill in any details about that Event. This allows me to capture and organize my experiences very quickly, while leaving plenty of time to actually have experiences.
Though Rapid Logging is a great way to make sure you capture experiences, some things are simply too big to be contained in a few lines. Travel offers powerful opportunities for introspection, a time to unwind and let thoughts flow. A good way to do this is through longer form journaling. Long-form journaling has proven to have powerful positive effects on our well-being, not the least of which is to relax. So how does this work with BuJo?
Building on the previous tip, I start by Rapid Logging all the Events I can think of, followed by details logged as Notes. Now keep in mind, thoughts and feelings are also logged as Notes. When I have a thought or feeling that I would like to investigate later, I simply turn the Note bullet “-” it into a “+”. With my thoughts clearly captured and coded, I can quickly scan my pages for the “+” and unpack those entries later in the next available space in my BuJo.
Now, you may ask, what if I have a bunch of “+” on one day? In that case, I add a page number to the right of the “+” bullet to locate the longer entry. That way you can quickly locate related content wherever it ends up finding a home in your notebook.
When you’re far from home, a lot of the old rules don’t apply. The world operates differently, so you operate differently. You wake up later/earlier, you eat/don’t eat certain things, you do more/less than back at home. You don’t travel to recreate what you know. You travel to experience what you don’t, and for that you don’t need a passport.
The potency of travel needn’t be measured by distance from home. Rather, it should be measured by distance from the familiar. No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, you can experience new things. Hopping on a bus or plane is one way to do it, but there are others ways all around you, here and now. In essence, all travel is, is change.
Change requires us to adapt and evolve. It helps us switch off our autopilot, to better navigate the unfamiliar. It changes our perspective, and even the smallest change in perspective can reveal things that may have been invisible before. This is just as true for desert camping, as it is for taking a new class, as it is for your Bullet Journal practice.
My notebook is a reflection of my inner world. When that world is not a reflection of where I want to be, I use it to travel. That travel is not about location, it’s about discovery. I take it to places it hasn’t been before. On these travels, I’ve seen my notebook turn into a sketchbook, a book of poetry (that shall never see the light of day), a place where I started mapping ideas for this crazy site I wanted to build to share how I used my notebook…
Play, have fun, try new things, who knows what you’ll discover about your BuJo practice, about yourself. Having the ability to travel inside your notebook, taking a vacation from what is familiar, is part of what makes BuJo so fun. Best of all, you can do that at any time. Happy travels!
How do you use your Bullet Journal to travel?