Documenting your travel experiences

From old school to high tech: here’s how to preserve your travel experiences and memories…

I love everything about travel, even the pre-travel planning ― hours spent poring over guidebooks, websites and blogs to figure out what to do, see and eat while being sure to leave enough time for the serendipity. Then there’s the actual travel where getting lost and spending hours people watching and soaking up the atmosphere are things I look forward to. But what happens when you come home? It’d be a shame to let all those travel moments fade into oblivion or run together into one big blur. What was the name of that hole-in-the-wall restaurant where you had that amazing slow-roasted Greek lamb? Or that boutique Beijing hutong hotel that had the friendliest staff and free cookies?

As someone who likes to savor every experience, I love documenting my travels so that I can relive them weeks, months or even years afterwards.



With even smartphones being able to take great photos nowadays, this one is a no-brainer. But how about giving your photos a twist by choosing a theme? Is there some weird skill you have? I’ve seen people do everything from dancing to toe touches in front of some of the world’s most famous monuments. Or perhaps you have a prop that can find its way into your travel photos, anything from a teddy bear to a life-sized cutout, like one daughter brought along on a tour of Europe of her deceased father whose unfulfilled dream was to travel the world before he died. Her project, #formyfather, went viral and resonated with a lot of people. Or how about adding a personal touch to your photo? I was supposed to go on a long- awaited beach holiday with some friends but sadly, at the last minute, I couldn’t make it. I was devastated. But when they came back and showed me photos of my name written in the sand amongst all my friends, it was the next best thing.




Once you’ve taken your photos, it’s time to share. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to join Instagram, but now it’s my favorite way to share images (Follow me at flyicarusfly2014). I also like looking at other people’s photos of where I am to see what they saw. Did they discover some great angle that I missed? Or perhaps a hidden nook somewhere? Try checking out a restaurant’s IG feed to see what a dish looks like before you order it, as so many people are posting food photos nowadays. Throw in a free app like Aviary, that comes with tons of filters, funny stickers and photo editing, and your photos will be the envy of all your friends. I also use IFTTT, a free web-based service that automatically posts my Instagram photos to Facebook and embeds them into my Twitter feed as ull images instead of just links for maximum visibility.



Illustration-by-Nguyen-Viet-Nam-Photographed-by-Thaoted-Photography-6sA bit more Old School is creating online photo albums using Facebook, Flickr, Picassa or Photobucket. These are the digital incarnations of those old projection slideshows that our grandparents had. Avoid the same boredom-inducing pitfalls by carefully curating your photos before you upload them, though. Yes, that sunset may have been spectacular, but did I really need to see 17 nearly identical pictures of it? Less is more, and adding witty captions will make people actually look forward to viewing your albums!


There’s always photo albums you can put together once home, but why not try making a photo book? Free online software from places like and make it super easy to drop your photos into a variety of templates and add captions. Upload it and within a few days, you’ll receive a beautiful photo book that’s easy to share. Send Grandma and Grandpa the link, and they can order their own copy. (Metro Writers, Oi’s sister company, also provides a photo book service, including copywriting and professional photography. See



If you’re the artistic type, how about a scrapbook? This entails keeping little mementos along the way: menus, maps, business cards, paper currency, ticket stubs, etc. With the scrapbooking craze, there are even entire shops dedicated to scrapbooking tools and accessories, but you don’t have to go that far. Just bits of meaningful souvenirs tucked behind photos.instantly ups the interest factor of your albums. I’ve only ever made a few scrapbooks of epic journeys, but to this day, there’s a satisfaction of slowly flipping through them and touching a 100 Billion Dollar note from Zimbabwe or a ticket stub to the Egyptian Museum that instantly brings back memories which can’t be evoked from a screen. Closely related is starting a collection which can be a fun way to relive travel memories. Shot glasses, magnets, seashells and postcards are the norm, but I’ve known people to collect flowers wherever they go to be pressed into a book that can be continually added to, or even rocks which can be classified once you get home. Be careful, though, because once your friends find out about your collection, they’ll likely try to add to it. My first international trip as a teen was to Mexico and I brought home a Coke bottle because I had never seen one with non- English writing before. That became my thing and pretty soon, I had dozens of Coke bottles with well-meaning friends adding more and more whenever they went abroad. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that only the ones I collected myself were meaningful to me, so I just kept them all, crossing the line between kitsch and junk somewhere in the mid-80s.



Something that combines almost all of the above is starting your own travel blog. With free sites like WordPress and Blogger, you can have your own blog up and running within minutes. There are even sites designed specifically for travel blogging, like TravelPod, which has nifty features like map pins (so people can easily see your whole itinerary and where you are at the moment), password protection (limiting who can read your blog), updating your blog via phone or tablet (even without an internet connection) and even collecting donations from your readers to fund your travels.

While technology is awesome for recording, sharing and storing your travel experiences, sometimes, just a simple pen and a notebook is a traveler’s best tool. I recently came across the sketches of 22-year-old, Hanoi-based freelance illustrator, Nguyen Viet Nam. (Yes, that’s his real name. He was born on Vietnamese Independence Day.) He drew a series of illustrations called Viet.5 based on a school trip to five cities, from Sapa to Saigon. (It’s also a play on words as the Vietnamese word for five is “năm”, making the collection “Việt.Năm”.) Nam brings his architectural training to his whimsical, beautiful drawings.


Where did the idea for Viet.5 come from?

At first, my idea was to just draw Hanoi. It was during the winter and I drew a neighborhood cloaked in a coat to keep warm. Then I thought it would be more “fair” to other cities to include them as well! I made those illustrations using details from memory, from photos and also checked the Internet so as not to miss any important elements. After brainstorming, I just started drawing without making too many drafts. There’s something satisfying about adding layers and layers of color to paper. Each illustration took about 10-20 hours to complete.


Why draw places you visit as opposed to just photographing them?

Because of my architectural background, I tend to notice things more so than the average person, like the details of streets, spaces and trees. When I travel, I don’t necessarily go to a lot of different places, but try to see more of each place. It’s these feelings, these emotions [from paying attention to details] that inspire me to draw, rather than the other way around. Also, drawing is like an adventure. Although you have in mind what you want to draw, the final product is often a surprise. You can call it a “gift” in return for the time you’ve spent on the drawing. And unlike a photo, you can draw things that no one else can see, other than you!


Do you sketch when you’re not traveling?

I always have a notebook with me whenever I go out, and draw whatever I see or comes to mind, usually when I’m sitting at a café. But I try not to spend too much time sketching, because I think we should always live in the moment!

For more of Nam’s work, see

Having visited nearly 60 countries as a travel writer and award-winning photographer, James Pham blogs about his adventures at

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