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Here’s how AFAR Junior Designer Emily Blevins captures her journeys—and the tools you need to get started, too.

I can almost taste the cardamom in my first kardemummabullar in Stockholm. I hear the haunting melodies as a choir sings in Reykjavík’s Hallgrimskirkja church on a Sunday morning. I feel awestruck facing The Kiss in Vienna, and my heart races as I rush through the streets of Florence, a slice of pizza margherita in hand, to catch a train. I haven’t been to any of these places in over a year, but as I flip through the pages of my travel journals, the memories come alive.

As a graphic designer and illustrator, I like to observe the people and cultures around me when I travel. More often than not, a photograph alone isn’t enough to bring back the nuanced sights, smells, and feelings of a trip. So in my journals, I use a combination of photography, illustration, and writing to capture specific moments in time.

A year ago, I set off on my first solo trip—a 10-day exploration of Copenhagen, Vienna, and Prague. All three were cities I had never seen but had long dreamed of visiting. I hopped on a plane from San Francisco with few concrete plans other than my connecting flights. Once abroad, I wandered the streets of each city, ate local food, and visited art museums, recording my favorite experiences along the way. Here’s a peek at what that looked like.

Copenhagen

On the first leg of my journey, as we were flying near Iceland in the black of night, the pilot announced that the Northern Lights were visible outside the right side of the plane. Passengers clambered over each other, leaning over complete strangers for a chance to reach the window and glimpse the elusive green lights.

Nearly everything was closed on Christmas Eve in Copenhagen, so I wandered around for hours in the rainy and mostly empty city, willingly getting lost at every turn. Finally, I came across an Indian restaurant where I enjoyed a set menu for two—all to myself. People-watching and drawing the delicious dishes made the perfect end to my only day in Copenhagen.

Vienna

Christmas Day in Vienna was a chance for me to take in the opulent architecture of the Belvedere Palace, along with the largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings in the world. I could have sat for hours watching people’s reactions to The Kiss or studying the intricate patterns and colors of the works.

On my favorite evening in Vienna, I visited the Wiener Staatsoper to see a performance of Hansel and Gretel. I had never really been to the opera before, and the 19th-century opera house, with its grand architecture and chic patrons, made me feel as if I had taken a step back in time. Afterward, I stopped at a nearby Würstelstand for a dinner of smoked Viennese sausage. I ate as I walked, curious to learn more about the city.

The next night, I crossed the Danube to a restaurant called Skopik and Lohn. Jackson Pollock–like black abstract scribbles covered the ceilings and the candlelit tables gave off a cozy and welcoming vibe. I lingered to draw each course of my meal and the people around me, wishing the night didn’t have to end.

The aroma of cheesy, oniony, Spätzle and the scent of boozy rum-and-spice punch (always served in a kitschy mug) wafted through the air at the many Christmas markets I stumbled upon over the holiday in Austria. The crafts and trinkets mesmerized me—candles, ornaments, even chocolates shaped like wrenches, screws, and bolts.

Prague

Although my time spent in Prague was short, I g0t lost in the quaint alleyways that snaked away from the old town square and Christmas markets. It was in these quiet corners that I felt at peace, alone with my camera in the rain.


I reflected on my journey as I sat down to dinner. I had traveled with few plans and had seen three beautiful, yet distinct, European cities. Working on my journal helped me pay more attention to the people and places around me—a few locals had even struck up conversations with me when they’d seen me drawing. Through the pages I’d created, I knew I would remember the trip and the connections I’d made even better.

What Materials I Use
My advice for keeping a travel journal: Keep your supplies simple, and the experience will shine.

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Notebook: I always bring a Moleskine notebook with me because I like the size. Often I’ll travel with its watercolor notebooks, which have thick pages that don’t bleed through (although I did not have them on this particular trip).

Pens: I try to bring along a handful of Le Pen pens, which are thin, as well as black Tombow markers, which have different tip widths on each end. Using a combination of these, I have three different line weights to work with.

Photos: All photographs were shot on my iPhone or Nikon camera. Artifact Uprising is affordable for photo printing and has a lot of variety; for this trip, I got a set of square prints on matte cardstock.

>>Next: The Best Notebooks for All Types of Travelers