With river trips coming up soon, you’re probably thinking about A LOT. What should I pack? How am I getting to and from my trip? Who is going to walk my dog and water my plants while I’m gone?

But, have you thought about how you’ll record your journey to look back on later? Photos in a Facebook photo album work great for some people, but when you’re looking back in 20 years on that great trip you took, you might not remember the name of that little cove with the waterfall you jumped from, whether Redwall Cavern or the Little Colorado River came first, or what the names of your traveling companions were. For guests who want to keep all the details straight, a journal can be a great way to keep records of exactly what you did and who you did it with.

Some of our more creative guests have taken journaling a step further and created mixed media visual journals to commemorate their adventures.

Wanna give it a try? Here are a few tips from the experts:

1. Choose your media

Maybe you like to draw with oil crayons, or paint with watercolors; maybe you prefer pencil. Maybe you’re not much for drawing, but you like creating collage or scrapbook style works. If you’ve never done something like this, you might try out a few different media before your trip to see what you like.

2. Put together a river-sized kit of tools

Remember that everything you bring on the river can only weigh a maximum of 25lbs. If your plan involves your Cricut machine, you might want to rethink (or plan to do most of your assembly after you get home). A small sketchbook and a set of drawing tools or small scissors and glue stick is probably more realistic. Keep them in a ziplock back or a small waterproof case in your day gear to protect them from the elements and have them handy when you need them.

3. Think about layout

You might take a cue or two from the bullet journaling craze and have an idea of what type of layout you’ll want to use before you leave. If your trip is 7 days long, you may want to allocate 3-4 pages for each day. If you’re planning to exchange contact information with your travel companions, leave some space for that. Planning to steal recipes from the guides? Leave space for a recipe page in each section. Or go completely freeform if that’s your style--this is your journal, make it your own!

4. Buy a guidebook and take good notes

Don’t assume that you will remember the name of that canyon you hiked in or that you’ll be able to look up the name of that explorer your guide told you about later. Use your journal (or another notebook if you need to) to record that information as soon as you learn it. Check the details with your guides at lunch or in camp the same night if you need to. A guidebook can also be a great resource for this (we sell a great one in our retail store)--don’t be afraid to use a fine-tipped permanent marker to make notes directly on its pages.

5. Don’t try to make everything perfect while on the river

Especially if you’re doing detailed drawings or other time consuming things, you might not have time to perfect every detail until after you get home. Start with a quick sketch and fill in the rest as you have time. Take photos for reference if you plan to finish a page later on.

6. Hang on to memorabilia

It is illegal to take rocks, plants, or other items from the National Park home with you. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t hang onto plane ticket stubs, park maps, or other items that you can incorporate into your journal to remind you of your journey.

7. Collaborate with your group

If you’re travelling with friends or family, a group journal that everyone contributes to can be a great way to enhance your experience on the river and to look back on your trip later. If you have younger kids, helping them put together their own page(s) can be a great way to keep them engaged with the adventure!


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We interviewed Stephen Golubski, who made a collaborative visual journal with a friend, Paul Cox, on his trip. The two have travelled together for years and made journals like this one with each other and their kids for many of their trips. Here’s what they had to say about their process:

Q: From the images you sent over, it looks like you’re combining text (facts, reflections, notes, etc.) with drawings and with artifacts (such as your hotel key). Is the common thread among all these items simply that they were all from the trip, or is there more structure or theme involved in what you chose to include?

A: It's a common thread. Started on trips out west with my two boys. Paul usually went, we could add photos. When the kids were younger then and more interested in drawing/coloring. First journal was in 2000. The artifacts: just pick-up along the way. Lodge key card: was accidentally not left in the room.

Q: Where did you get the idea to create a mixed media style journal commemorating your trip? Why create this instead of a more traditional journal, individual drawings, or photographs?

A: Mixed media is great to work with.... whatever gives the most impact with the least effort. Pens, pencils, markers or pre-loaded felt tip water colors (check Google photos for colors anticipated), duct tape, glue, .... I don't know what most journals are, probably photographs with no dates. Sketches not common. (I'm an architect, like to draw) The trip is fun right!? There are a lot of funny things that happen on an expedition like this, so write a note. Paul kept a 3 x 5 notepad with him, either transfer or tape into journal. Otherwise, some good memories will be lost.

Q: When during the trip did you do most of your writing/drawing? Are you doing more work after having returned from the river?

A: Most were done at camp, especially with a short day on the river, like 'catching some rays' Day (2) sketch. Some after breakfast, gear ready, like 10-15 mins. for 'before launch' Day (5). Paul thought it was a good scene also, took a photo. Some sketches were on calm stretches of the river. A trip such as this, understandably so, takes up a good part of the day. So a lot of the sketches were 10-20 mins.I continue to work on some I started on the trip and some from recollections.

Q: What advice would you give to someone thinking about creating their own visual journal for their next trip?

A:

-Get a sketch book, thick pages, breakout 4-8 pages per day including travel. Label the days in pencil. You can always tear out unused pages. A rigorous trip will generally spawn a smaller but thicker sketch book journal. Keep accessible with other journal materials in a couple of waterproof baggies.

-Maybe there is a person in your trip party that has an artistic bent or do it yourself. Everyone has some bent. You will need one keeper of the journal.

-Have each trip member do a sketch of the anticipated experience. This gets them engaged before the actual trip. It can be a river scene, canyon journey, stars, .... drawing, narrative, poem, quote. Paul and I's 'anticipation sketch' is Day (-2). Done independently with the major difference being sun vs. moon scenes.

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