Going on a road trip? Bring a sketchbook.

When’s the last time you took your sketchbook out of your home or office?

If it’s been gathering dust on the shelf, it’s time to pull it down. And even if you’ve been using it regularly for the heavy-lifting intellectual work of your day job, it still might benefit from some fresh air.

Today I’d like to share with you an opportunity to develop your sketchnoting skills in a more adventurous way than you might be used to.

Here in the northern hemisphere we’ve just hit summer, which means you might have a road trip coming up.

If that’s the case, or if you’ve got another form of adventure ahead, I encourage you to bring a sketchbook along with you and spend a bit of time capturing your experiences with a combination of drawn images and written descriptions.

Road Trip Around The West

I had the opportunity to do just that back in 2013, and I thought it would be fun to share with you what my sketchbook looked like.

Day 4: Enterprise, Oregon

I started my road trip in Oregon, made my way over to Colorado, and then came back west through Utah, Nevada,  and California, and finally returned north to Oregon by following the coastline.

Day 5: Lookingglass Lake, Oregon

Throughout that trip I did a lot of camping and hiking, a bit of remote sketchnoting work, and plenty of visits with friends and family along my route.

Day 6: The Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon

I made it my goal to draw just one thing each day. Sometimes I would draw a relatively simple object, other times I’d try my hand at a more complex landscape.

Day 13: Boulder, Colorado

I sketched out a good number of signs and logos, and did my best to add enough of a written description to remind me of the situation surrounding whatever I chose to sketch out.

Day 17: Telluride, Colorado

I found the daily drawing practice to be a fun way to both document some of the experiences from that trip and also develop my sketchnoting skills.

Day 19: Mesa Verde, Colorado

Day 21: Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Day 27: Zion National Park, Utah

Day 32: Yachats, Oregon

As a way of encouraging you to do something similar, I thought I would lay out what I see as the inherent value in keeping a visual journal during a road trip adventure, as well as the skill-building value in that daily activity, skills that might make their way back into your professional life once you’re home from that trip.

The Inherent Value

Let’s start with the inherent value in taking road trip sketchnotes like those I shared in the images above.

Why keeping a visual journal has stand-alone value.

Slow Down & Notice More

First of all, the activity of breaking out a sketchbook and a pen encourages you to slow down and notice more.

It forces you to pay closer attention to what you’re experiencing, more so than if you were to whip out your phone and take a quick photograph (which you might not even look at that closely).

When you’re the one creating the visual reference that connects you to a particular time and place, you can’t help but notice more of the details, and that can be a rewarding experience.

Create Gateways to Memories

This practice also has the effect of creating gateways into whole sets of memories.

Even though you might be sketching out just one thing each day, that one thing (along with a bit of helpful text) is likely to trigger many other memories from that day.

It’s a creative way to document the trip itself and to remember aspects of it that you might otherwise forget.

Express Gratitude

I also think that giving your experiences this extra bit of time and attention is a way to express gratitude for the places that you visit and the things that you see.

So in addition to thinking of this as a visual journal of your trip, you could also think of it as a gratitude journal. It’s a way to show appreciation for both the small things and the big things that happen on your adventure.

The Skill-Building Value

Those are some reasons why you might consider sketching out your next road trip, just for the sake of doing it.

But I also think it’s worthwhile to point out the skill-building benefits of keeping a visual journal like that, skills that you’ll be able to apply to your professional work once you’ve made it home.

Taking sketchnotes while on a road trip also provide a unique opportunity to build skills that you’ll use back at home.

Practice Your Drawing Skills

Maybe the most obvious skill that you’ll be developing as you’re taking some road trip sketchnotes is your drawing skills.

You’ll be able to practice the process of translation an observed object into lines on the page (nothing more than straight lines and curved lines).

Throughout your trip you can experiment with how simplistic versus artistic to make those drawings.

For the most part, I think it’s helpful to stick toward the simplified end of that spectrum, but you might have fun experimenting with embellishments and details to see what impact that has on what’s triggered in your memory, how that helps you (or not) to remember the experience connected to that image.

And here’s the best part: you get to do all of that in a low-pressure environment, in your own sketchbook that nobody else has to see.

Experiment with Imagery + Text Combinations

This type of a sketched journal also gives you the opportunity to experiment with the interplay of imagery and text.

With the journal entries that I shared above, I always started with the drawing.

I picked an object, spent about five or ten minutes drawing it, and while drawing I though about what I might want to write, so that by the time I was done drawing, I usually had an idea for a title to give it as well some prose, which I then wove around or to the side of that image.

Practice a Few Fonts

Even if you don’t want to do a ton of drawing, you could use each entry into your road trip journal as an opportunity to practice a few different handwritten fonts.

Give each entry a heading with your title font (make it a bit bigger and bolder) and then practice your core font below it as you add some prose description of whatever it is that you’re experiencing.

That’s a way for you to practice and solidify the style of a couple of different fonts that you’ll be able to use in your everyday sketchnoting back at home.

Create a Playground

With those skill-building benefits in mind, I encourage you to think of your sketchbook as a playground where you get to experiment with how you might capture ideas (in this case, memories) with some combination of words and images.

I encourage your to think of your travel journal as a playground where you can experiment with capturing experiences in new ways.

Give yourself the freedom to play around a bit, and see what comes of it.

After you give yourself that freedom on a fun experience like a road trip, you might be surprised at how naturally the skills you played around with make their way into your work back home.

So I hope the examples that I shared above and the values that I just laid out give you a good starting point for your road trip sketchnotes.

Dig Deeper

If you would like to explore more ideas about how to build your visual thinking skills and apply those skills to your personal and professional life, check out our sketchnoting courses, starting with An Introduction to Visual Note-Taking:

Reconnect to making marks by hand as you learn to use text, layout, imagery, and color to engage your visual brain.

That course will walk you step-by-step through the process of developing all of the individual skills that make up sketchnoting and then combining those skills as you create a note-taking system that works well for you.

If you’re a fan of travel generally (and not just road trips), then you might also enjoy checking out Learn a New Language with Sketchnotes.

You can explore our full course library here.

Good luck with your next adventure, no matter where it takes you.