Visual Journals

“ Life is a collection of moments” – Amit Ray


We have countless moments in our lives. Moments that make us laugh, cry, wonder, grow. Some moments are so big they change us. They can never be forgotten. They leave marks on our soul. But life is not made only of life changing moments. Our character, our essence, is made of a combination of all the moments, no matter how mundane. Unfortunately, most of these small moments fade away. It’s important in life to hold onto these memories as well.

I feel this is especially true when traveling. There is so much happening around you, new faces, new food, new languages, new buildings, new new new. Even if it is a place you have been before, it is still new each time you visit. Because of this, we tend to only internalize the big moments. This is why it’s so wonderful to reminisce with someone who was with you, as they can recall moments you might have forgotten. I am obsessive about taking pictures of everything., but so much happens that cannot be captured with a camera.

There is another way…

During my junior year of college, I did a semester abroad in Paris, France. One of the classes I took was photography, and on the first day of class the teacher assigned us a semester long project. At the time it felt a bit of a hassle, but looking back now I am so grateful to have done it, and I have been able to recreate it for other trips.

The assignment was called a visual journal. The instructions were few and vague but perfect for what it is. The teacher told us to go buy some sort of notebook – big, small, lines, no lines, colored, simple – this did not matter. She told us to put the date in the corner of each page from that day, until the day we returned home. Then the task was to fill it up; 1 page per day

This is NOT a diary where you write out your whole day. This is a book of moments. Of course some days will have big moments (like the first time climbing the Eiffel Tower) but much of traveling, especially for an extended period, or even living abroad, is the small moments (like watching an old couple hold hands at the market, feeling so warm and hopeful inside). The teacher told us we are to capture a moment in a manner most appropriate; drawing, writing, taping things in, expressing feelings or a combination. Capture and record at least 1 moment from each day.

At first, it felt tedious and time consuming. I tried to focus on things like: what was most impactful, what was something I loved (but likely to forget), what is something I want to preserve that cannot be captured with a photograph. As this became more of a part of my nightly routine, I grew to love the time spent reflecting on my day.

I cherish the ability to look back and relive these moments. My visual journals from living abroad verses traveling, are different, but each one is perfect for its time. My journals from travels tend to be big moments like taping in museum tickets, describing a delicious meal, or collecting anything physical from the trip I don’t want to loose. My journals from living abroad tend to include more of the daily mundane things like the first time I could get home without directions, what the bread from my favorite bakery smelled like or the loneliness that can sometimes creep up on us from being apart from our family. There are so many things in our days we take for granted. It’s amazing to compare them to how other cultures/people do these things. Having these far away moments, that have since been replaced with millions of new ones, so easily accessible was the biggest gift this teacher ever gave me.


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