Birth of Travel Journals

I was so inspired by Alison’s essay yesterday on First Travel Memories that I spent last night’s free time thinking of all the travel journals I’ve started and discarded, all the way back to the very first.

When my family moved to the Soviet Union, my parents’ boss’s wife sent me off with a cheap 3 X 5 spiral notebook where I could record all my “experiences.” (In the months preceding this move, everyone we met told my younger sister and me “what an experience” we were going to have, and we got heartily sick of the phrase. Even a 14-year-old and a 9-year-old know an ignorant cliche when they hear one.) The notebook had a bright green plastic-style cover with Snoopy on the front.

It wasn’t until we arrived in Moscow (by overnight train from Helsinki) and had spent an extremely disorienting couple of weeks that I realized that notebook might be of tremendous use. Because it was, in fact, all quite an experience. My sister and I were dropped every morning at a building down the road from where our parents were working so we could take extremely tedious 3-hour Russian lessons. When they were over, we were free to roam Moscow as we chose, as long as we didn’t get lost. Mostly we wandered around peering into army garrisons and looking for food, following the scent of fresh bread and any line that formed to purchase, say, sausage, or Pepsi. (I still try to imagine letting my own children do this in a huge foreign city, especially in the age long before cell phones, and just can’t.)

So I started very properly with the title, “What It’s Really Like to Live in Russia.” Perfectly explanatory.

I wrote so much in that journal, or I remember doing so. Because sometime in a subsequent house move in Montana the journal was lost, and with it the close tangibility of many of those memories.

There are few things in life I regret more than the loss of that journal. So many times I’ve attempted to write and rewrite and narrate those stories, but the immediacy slips away as I dig in unreliable memories and wish repeatedly for a notebook to refer to. Reading Alison’s story based on her first travel experience bought the taste of those times back to me, and the flavor of travel memories committed to paper and kept forever.

I haven’t made the mistake again. From when I went to study abroad, to staying in hostels all along the Turkish coast with a group of friends, to moving overseas, notebooks retain the memories. They are kept in boxes and files and are some of my most valuable possessions. But how I so often wish I had that Snoopy notebook in my hand.

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