I always try and keep a travel journal when I go on a big trip or spend time in a new place. It can be joyous to go back and read what my 17-year-old self felt about being hit by a blanket of heat when arriving in Delhi. Or about how in my first week in Moscow I sat next to a Cossack on a Metro train who was wearing about 20 medals and smiling cheekily. Or about the delicious, but incredibly unhealthy sandwich (called a Sly) containing chips, egg and cheese that I tried in Alexandra township in Johannesburg.

Travel journals spark so many wonderful memories that you might otherwise forget. But amid all the excitement of new adventures, journaling can sometimes fall by the wayside. Often it’s much easier and quicker just to take a few snaps as mementos instead.

I’ve been thinking more and more about the benefits of keeping a travel sketch journal. Rather than rushing from place to place taking hundreds of pictures, drawing slows things down. It means taking the time to truly observe what’s in front of you.

I’m obviously not planning to abandon my camera. But on my next trip I’m going to keep a travel sketch journal, where I do a picture a day to record the sights, smells and sounds of the places I visit.

Daunted by the prospect of getting started? Me too! But fear not, I’ve pulled together inspiration and tips from some awesome female travel sketchers. So next time don’t forget to pack a notepad, pen and some watercolors!

People watch

You get a real sense of the culture of a new place by observing people going about their daily lives, unaware that they’re being watched. Marina Grechanik’s urban sketches capture these moments perfectly. Her bold and spontaneous pictures illustrate the expressions, postures and movements of strangers, giving us an insight into their lives.

Marina says: “Sketching is one of my passions. Everywhere I travel, I take my sketchbook along with me. But the real essence of urban sketching for me is finding stories in everyday routines. A sketchbook and a simple pen – that’s all you need to go on a journey every day! Drawing is seeing, so you just need to open your eyes wider and start to sketch!

“My tip for women who’re starting sketching is first of all to try to remember that sketching is more about process and less about result. Enjoy the journey and don’t think about ‘nice’ results. It will help you to be truthful and authentic and beautiful results will come as well.”

Be spontaneous

Apurva Pandhi trained in lifestyle and accessory design before discovering a love of colour, painting and drawing. Her beautiful watercolors of nights under the stars capture the feeling of being alone in the middle of nowhere.

She says: “For me, travel and sketching are two sides of one coin. As I was raised up in different parts of India, movement has been an integral part of me. I am fascinated​ to draw moments, places or food the way I perceive them. While using watercolors, I use a lot of water on paper before putting color as it allows my color to flow freely and surprise me every time!”

Her advice: “Sketch daily and be ready to be spontaneous! It’s always best to keep a handy sketchbook, a pencil/pen and water. There are times when you don’t plan to sketch but you feel like sketching when you arrive to a place, in that moment I try to utilize whatever is available around me! It can be coffee, tissue paper, bamboo sticks or maybe a vivid flower! You can use anything to sketch and freeze that moment!”

Record your unique perspective

For sketch artist Candace Rardon, keeping an illustrated journal helps her to feel a greater sense of connection with a new place and to preserve unique memories of her time there.

Candace says: “I am constantly inspired by the chance to capture my own unique vision of a place. In an age of smartphones and Instagram and photography, it’s incredibly refreshing to be able to arrive in a new place and create images that no one else in the world will have in exactly the same way.

“I start with a simple pencil outline, fill in the details with a waterproof drawing pen, and finally bring the sketch to life with color, using my Winsor & Newton watercolor compact set. For me, these three steps also mirror our experience of absorbing a new place for the first time: beginning with our general impressions at first, and slowly working our way towards more detailed perceptions.

“As for advice for beginners, I would suggest starting simple and starting small! It can be intimidating to try and capture a full scene in your sketchbook when you’re only beginning, so in my experience, I’ve found it can be easier to start by focusing on a single object in a scene that’s inspiring you.”


Feel your surroundings

For environmental scientist turned artist Sunita LeGallou, the art of sketching is in truly immersing herself in the surroundings. Following in the footsteps of Monet, she paints landscapes en plein air. And she even creates watercolours during live music performances. So whether you’re sat alone on a craggy outcrop in the mountains or huddled in the corner of a bar listening to an amazing local musician, think about whipping out your sketch book and creating a visual record of your how you’re feeling.

Sunita says: “Travel painting is very meditative for me. It’s a way to soak up the feel of a place – the wind, the sounds, the smells – and simply be present. These sketches have definitely become my most precious souvenirs.

“Painting to music and painting a travel landscape are similar in a few ways. I’m trying to respond very intuitively, and paint a ‘feel’, whether that’s for a place, a song, or a poem. I work very quickly and loosely, and I don’t preplan a lot. My aim is to listen to the music, or look at the landscape, and just respond on paper with whatever springs to mind.

Draw with childlike wonder

Remember traveling as a child and experiencing a sense of wonder at everything? Novelist and travel writer Mary Morris emulates that sensation in her travel journals. Alongside written reflections, she includes playful watercolor sketches that allow her to experience the world with childlike curiosity and imagination.

Mary says: “Basically I don’t know how to draw and have never had art lessons.  I think I paint more like a child. I am truly happiest when I am writing and drawing in my journals. I have over 70 of them that I’ve acquired over many years and they all bring me joy.

“When I travel, I bring with me a small portable watercolor kit, pocket size, a pencil case that contains my pens, pencils, erasers and glue stick (glue stick is very important!). I will usually sketch when I am at a location and then do the painting when I’m home in the evening wherever I am.”

 A history lesson

Whether you’re visiting the surreal Guggenheim in Bilbao, the majestic Vatican in Rome or a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, the architecture tells a story about the history and the people of each place. Artist and author Abbey Sy‘s beautiful and intricate sketches detail her impressions of famous landmarks, as well cute cafes and neighborhoods that are off the beaten track.

Abbey says: “Traveling and being in transit always inspires me, especially when I get to discover new places and meet new people. I’m particularly fond of architecture when I see sights because it reflects a certain point and period in time when these structures were built. It also reminds me of how distinct each destination is because of it. I’m always curious about the world around me and traveling is one of the ways I get to fuel my creativity and find inspiration outside of my home.”

Do you keep a travel journal and have any tips you’d like to share? Or do you know any cool travel sketchers I should check out? Tell us in the comments below!

About Rose:

Rose Palmer was born in England where most of her summer holidays were spent in camping in fields in Wales and Devon, making stinger nettle stew with her family. Growing up on a farm instilled a love of the outdoors, and her first major trip outside of Europe was at the tender age of 17 when she visited India and hiked up Stok Kangri (20,000 ft!) in the Himalayas with friends. Since then she’s been exploring the rest of the world whenever she can. Her favourite countries so far are Ethiopia, Cuba and Russia, where she worked in Moscow as a journalist for a year. After finishing a PhD she quit her job in London to move to Buenos Aires. She’s now working as a freelance photographer, documentary producer and editor and will be using Buenos Aires as a base to explore South America.  After that, who knows? You can follow Rose on Instagram @roseacpalmerphotos and view photos of her adventures at www.roseacpalmer.co.uk.