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|An open sketchbook with a trail map drawn by Kristin Crane while on a trip to Kauai.|||

Travel Journal Prompts to Bring Inspiration Home

For a lot of creative people, traveling can be a huge source of inspiration. Different scenes, smells, and sounds all heighten your senses and seem to open the door to new ideas. Once home, how can we take that inspiration and use it in our work? I recently got back from two weeks on Kauai, and all I kept thinking while there was that everything seemed more intense, brighter somehow. It was more than just the sunshine. After so much time at home, I was so thirsty for anything different. For me, inspiration isn’t a lightning bolt that strikes with a fully formed idea ready for creation. Instead, inspiration seeps in slowly. It’s something I nurture and consciously give it space to grow. When I travel, that space is in a travel journal.

I have taken a travel journal with me ever since my first real travel experience at 22. They give me a place to record the everyday details of a journey and the space to let inspiration show up with no expectations. It’s an important place to document a trip for my eyes only.

A travel journal is a private place for inspiration and information.

Many people have told me they like the idea of a journal. Yet, in reality, keeping one feels like homework. I get that. It’s why I never save writing to do as a recap at the end of the day. I keep travel journals within reach. I use them for quick moments throughout the day or more extended periods of downtime. Over the course of many years and many trips, I’ve developed a few favorite prompts to get the creative juices flowing. These are interesting points of departure and open the door for inspiration to come in.

Five favorite travel journal prompts.    

Make a trail map

Trail maps are best made with minimal supplies on walks or hikes. To create a trail map, keep your journal in hand as you walk and pause to jot down quick impressions as you go. Don’t stop for too long in any one place, just long enough for a super quick sketch or observation. Let your notes meander over the page in a nonlinear way and let your impressions form a shape. (I learned about trail maps in the inspiring book A Trail Through Leaves by Hannah Hinchman.)

Trail Map

Create a color palette.

As someone who works with yarn and fiber, I always wonder how I can use these beautiful colors I’m seeing in my work back in the studio. A stunning vista can sometimes feel overwhelming, so I try and isolate colors and create small color palettes. This can be satisfying with something as small as a flower or as big as an ocean. I find these palettes useful back home for picking yarn colors or experimenting with dyes.

Different types of color palettes.

Think about your other senses

A place is about more than what it looks like. Every place has its own sounds, smells, rhythm, and voices. To fully experience a place, utilize all your senses. Stop and observe, maybe with your eyes closed, and put your thoughts into words. Ask yourself: What does this place smell like? What smells are different from home? Whose voices am I hearing? What noises fill this space?

Touch things.

As a weaver, texture is vital to how I experience the world. If I see something interesting as I’m walking, I make a note of what it looks like, then reach out to touch it. You can learn so much about something by feeling its texture and temperature. Try to put those feelings into words, or even try to mimic them on the page by scratching at the paper or poking holes through it.

Make 30-second paintings.

I don’t consider myself a painter by any stretch, but I love playing with watercolors to try and capture color or just a mood. To relieve the pressure of feeling like I have to make a perfect painting, I enjoy doing 30-second paintings. These are especially fun to do at a moment of change, like a sunset. I make several boxes on a page and then do quick paintings, trying to capture the changing color. In the moment, they often feel unfinished. Inevitably, when I look back at them weeks later, they bring me joy.

30-second paintings

Think beyond your journal.

On my trip to Kauai, I tried to push myself beyond my journal and added a small loom to my supply kit. With my loom in hand, I looked around me and thought of materials. What am I seeing in this place that I don’t see in other places? Can I weave with it? I wove small studies with leaves, twigs, and coconut fibers. It was my first time traveling with a loom, but it definitely will not be my last. (The loom I used was made by Hello! Loom.)  

My Hello! Loom at Tunnels Beach & a weaving with found twigs.

Sometimes, my journals spark other projects; sometimes, they don’t. The most important thing they do for me is force me to slow down and observe. I like to remind myself that not every spark of inspiration needs to become something tangible or marketable. Inspiration, for its own sake, is valuable.

Suggested Reading:
A Trail Through Leaves, by Hannah Hinchman
Local Color: Seeing Place Through Watercolor, by Mimi Robinson
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You, by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth
Sara Midda’s South of France: A Sketchbook, by Sara Midda
An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers, by Danny Gregory

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Kristin Crane

Kristin Crane has designed jacquard designs for the home furnishing and residential jobber market for many years, with mills in the US and in China. Today, she writes about pattern and design trends for Design Pool from her home in Providence, Rhode Island. When not writing about fabric, she can be found weaving in her home studio or hiking along the Rhode Island coast.


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