I left home to travel full time one year ago, motivating myself by rereading the journals I've written over the years about how "one day I'm going to travel the world." Now, every single evening before I turn off for the night, I lay in my bed — which is usually from a different hostel or Airbnb in a new city every few days to every few weeks — and I journal about my journey.
I like to write down every single thing I've done for the day, because I know I often forget the little details — and, sometimes, it's the little things that make a travel experience worth remembering. And I answer the same three questions every night:
- What is one thing I did today that put me outside of my comfort zone?
- What is one thing that genuinely made me laugh or smile today?
- Who is one person who made me think differently or critically on something, and why?
Answering the first question every night pushes me to actually do things that scare me every day (whether it's swimming with sharks or just trying to make a few new local friends using my impressively poor Spanish skills). I go into every day wanting to challenge myself so I have an experience to write about. Meanwhile, answering the second question helps me to see and remember the good in every day — even in the bad days (and there are bad days when you're traveling the world, too!). And answering the third question helps me to keep an open mind every day and strive to meet new people from different backgrounds who, as such, might have different opinions.
I then go back and reread all my scribbled-up notebooks from time to time and reflect on who I was and who I've become — the things that used to scare me that I laugh about now, like eating seafood and snorkeling in open waters, and the things that still and always will make me smile, like sunny skies and unexpected mariachi bands.
These aren't the only ways that journaling helps me, however. A wealth of research suggests that journaling, in general, is a healthy habit.
How Can Journaling Be Good for You?
Journaling is good for you for a number of reasons. Here are just a few.
1. Journaling Relieves Stress and Improves the Immune Function
Studies show that journaling relieves stress. One study suggests that expressive writing, such as journaling for only 15 to 20 minutes a day three to five times over the course of a four-month period can lower your blood pressure and even improve your liver functionality. And writing about stressful experiences can even help you process those experiences and manage your emotions surrounding them in a healthy way.
Research also suggests that journaling can actually help you from getting sick as often — and it can help you heal faster when you do. Expressive writing can strengthen your immunity.
2. Journaling Improves Memory
Journaling is scientifically proven to help you jog your memory and even increase memory capacity. It also boosts comprehension because, when you're journaling about an experience, you're essentially unpacking it.
3. Journaling Boosts Your Mood and Strengthens Your Emotional Function
Research suggests that journaling leads to a healthier and happier overall well-being. This may be because people who journal naturally become more in tune with their health by connecting with their inner needs and desires. And those who journal are inevitably more mindful of their behaviors, goals, identity and more because they're constantly reflecting on it, which often makes them more confident in who they are, too.
In fact, studies even show that expressive writing like journaling can help people develop more structured and adaptive notions about themselves and those around them, which certainly helps them to comprehend their surroundings, unpack their experiences and learn and grow from those experiences. Plus, journaling unlocks and engages the creativity happening on the right side of your brain, which means you have access to your full brainpower and can grow even more.
How Do You Start Writing a Journal?
How do you keep a diary or journal? It's simple. Pick up a notebook and start journaling — you can start writing weekly or even get right to journaling daily. The point is that you start putting pen to paper.
Of course, journaling doesn't just come naturally to everyone — especially non-writers. But there are different journaling techniques that you can use to start writing a journal.
What Is the Best Way to Journal?
There's no one right way to journal, as different techniques work better for different people with different goals and results they want out of journaling. That said, here are five journaling techniques that you might be interested in giving a shot.
5 Journaling Techniques
- Free Writing: This is when you just write about anything that you feel like writing about, like a stream of consciousness, for a set period of time like five to 10 minutes. This is a great journaling technique for those who just want a creative outlet to let out some stress or take a break from work and daily life.
- Morning Pages: This is when you journal first thing in the morning before you do anything else. You don't stop journaling until you've filled three pages, and those pages can be about anything — your day's plan, your future goals, your night out. The point is just to get the brain going in the morning. This is a wonderful creative outlet for those who want to kickstart their day with a little free writing to trigger the brain.
- Lists: This is when you just write a list. It can be a bullet-pointed or a numbered list, but it doesn't need to be about anything in particular. Again, you can list your goals for the day or a list of every single question to which you'd like to find answers in life. This is another ideal stress-reducing technique, since lists like to-do lists and ones that help you visualize your future can help you see things clearer.
- Unsent Letter: This is when you write a letter to someone without actually ever sending it. Basically, you're writing exactly what you wish you could tell them unfiltered, as a way to get your feelings out or clear your head. But you don't actually give this person the letter, you either keep it for yourself or you throw it out after getting it all out. The unset letter is a helpful way of letting go of stress, reflecting on an issue or situation, comprehending an issue or situation, and even communicating with others about your feelings, since writing things out for yourself to even understand your feelings first is a critical step.
- Dream Journaling: This is when you immediately write down your dreams upon waking up. If you can't remember your dreams, you write down how they made you feel (how you're feeling that morning) or the little seemingly random details that you can recall. This is a great tactic for finding inspiration in your own subconsciousness — it's true that a number of the world's greatest inventions and businesses and ideas have stemmed from dreams.
You can try out different techniques to find out which one works best for you, or you can combine techniques. Decide what you want to get out of your journaling, and get writing.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.