OrganisationTravel Opinion

Bullet Journaling Saved My Sanity While Travelling Long-Term

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Does that title sound dramatic?

Well, I apologise for letting my true drama queen shine through, but it’s so unbelievably true that I’ve even taken time out of my busy schedule of procrastinating over the million other South America blog posts I’m currently trying to write to get this one out first. Go with it.

I, not unlike a toddler, crave routine deep down in my very soul and when you’re flitting from Airbnb to Airbnb, trying to see everything a country has to offer, there isn’t much room to impose order and consistency on your life. And for a Lifelong List Taker and Full-Blown Organiser who loves to have my life compartmentalised into tiny, actionable bullets that I can tick off happily throughout the day, this was a problem. Add this to the fact I’m a freelancer with deadlines to meet, ideas to jot down and emails to send out on an almost daily basis and…I was a mess. (I still kinda am, but that’s by the by.)

Those people who always have ‘make list’ right at the top of their daily To Do list, so they can immediately cross it off and get that sweet, sweet instant gratification? Those are my people, right there.

I digress.

bullet journaling

BULLET JOURNALING SAVED MY SANITY

WHAT EVEN IS BULLET JOURNAL? | BEGINNER BULLET JOURNAL ESSENTIALS | BEGINNER BULLET JOURNAL TIPS

Long story short: long-term travel wasn’t for me and it slowly left me feeling like I was losing a grip on reality.

Somewhere around Cuenca, Ecuador (so, approximately four or so months into the trip) I had a mini quarter life crisis, didn’t want to leave my Airbnb and was convinced everything was terrible. You know, the typical overriding feelings you’re supposed to experience on the trip of a lifetime.

Cut to three weeks later and I’m in Cusco, Peru bingeing bullet journal videos like there’s no tomorrow and after watching what I can only assume were days worth of soothing, softly lit quality Youtube content, I saw the light at the end of my routine-less travel tunnel and knew a bullet journal would be the creative outlet I needed to give me some semblance (or illusion, whatever) of control over my life once again.

(For what it’s worth, I watched AmandaRachLee, MyLifeinaBullet and ChristineMyLinh, plus the many, many videos that autoplayed after them.)

WHAT EVEN IS A BULLET JOURNAL?

You’re right. I suppose I should take a hot second to tell you. At its core, the bullet journal was invented as a pared down, handwritten diary that is supposed to streamline your life and give you the freedom to plan in a way that suits your needs, rather than having to plan everything based on the pre-printed layouts in normal diaries. All you really need to start is some kind of notebook (preferably one with dotted paper) and a decent pen or pencil.

However, and as Instagram and Pinterest are wont to do, the original concept of the bullet journal was prettified into a mess of coloured pens, washi tapes and insanely aesthetically pleasing calligraphy headers. The simplicity was virtually wiped out and all that has been left behind is a glitter-filled mess of hand-made journaling that devotees swear is notascomplicatedasitlooks and iswellworththetime. Obviously, I was hooked at the first sniff of a coloured felt tip.

(Also, and if my description was pleasantly evocative but not informative enough for you, I highly recommend watching this bullet journal for beginners’ video, where everything is laid out pretty simply).

I was in my element, falling ever faster down some kind of Inception-style organisation rabbit hole as I figured out how I’d be planning my future plans.

The only thing missing were the essentials—a fancy schmancy notebook and more pens than a normal person would ever need in their life. It was a month later that I finally got my grubby little mitts on the ‘basics’ I needed to start my bullet journal though (sidenote: please, shoot me if I ever start using the inane shorthand BuJo).

Related Post: How to Plan a Successful Group Holiday

I’d combed the length and breadth of Peru (on Google) looking for a way to get myself all the essentials I needed to get started. And by essentials, I mean the fancy schmancy brands favoured by those aforementioned bullet journal Youtube influencers (god, I hate that term). Leuchtturm 1917 notebook fever overtook me and I was incessant in my hunt for Faber Castell PITT pens. After deciding against paying a hefty fee to have them delivered in one cute bundle by Amazon, I tracked down an online store called Perkike based out of Lima and essentially harassed the owner until the notebooks were back in stock. The pens were somewhat easier to find (for anyone in Peru experiencing a similar crisis, I got them from Tai Loy).

Pens found and notebook delivered, all that was left to do was spend an entire day holed up and hunched over like some kind of bullet journaling gremlin, adding in all the spreads I could possibly ever need and writing in tiny dates on cute but useless mini calendars. And I felt like me again.

bullet journaling

BEGINNER BULLET JOURNAL ESSENTIALS

Whether you’re travelling long-term, planning on travelling long-term or are just sat in your bedroom feeling inspired by my sanity-saving bullet journal hype post, here are some of the ‘essentials’ you might want to invest in before getting started. (I say essentials, but, as mentioned above, all you really need is a basic dotted notebook and a pen. However, I’m stationery obsessed and love an excuse to buy pens and notebooks, so obviously I went all in on the added extras and fancy brands.)

NOTEBOOK

To get started, you obviously need a notebook. The most widely recommended one is the Leuchtturm 1917 (which comes in approximately a million colours, including some metallic versions) and has a pre-printed index, back pocket and numbered pages for easy referencing. This is the one I bought (in bright yellow) and, so far, I love it.

Other popular choices are Moleskines and this Scribbles That Matter dotted notebook. Whichever notebook you go for, dotted pages are essential.

FINELINERS

For drawing your spreads you’ll need some decent black fineliners. I have the Faber Castell PITT Artist pens (which come in packs of four, six or eight). Other highly recommended black fineliners for bullet journaling include Sakura Pigma Microns (sold in packs of eight) and, for a more affordable option, Stabilo Point pens.

COLOURED PENS

To add a bit of intrigue to your spread, invest in either coloured fineliners (Sakura Pigma Microns and Staedtler Triplus Fineliners are great) or some fatter, childlike felt tips. I bought a 20-pack of Crayola Super Tips, but the variation of shades in the affordable 50-pack is apparently well worth the investment.

If you prefer muted tones, go for the Zebra Mildliners. I’ve had the OG pack of muted neons for years and LOVE them. There are three other 5-packs available though, totalling four, three of which you can buy as a bundle on Amazon. Alternatively, buy the packs separately or, like a true bullet journal baller, just go all in and buy all 20 straight off the bat.

BRUSH PENS

If you wanna get truly fancy and throw in some calligraphy, decent brush pens are required. The main ones I’ve seen recommended are Tombow Dual Tips which are available in bright and pastel packs, as well as the Tombow Fudenosuke black brush pen.

BEGINNER BULLET JOURNAL TIPS

  1. Draft it all out in pencil first unless you want to bring yourself close to tears for making your first big black pen mistake.
  2. Decide what spreads you’ll be adding, so you can arrange the space accordingly.
  3. Try and go outside every once in a while so you don’t get so into the design stage of the bullet journal that a whole day goes by without you realising, and it’s now 2am and you’re drawing whimsical banana leaves on your calendar spread. (Semi true story.)

If bullet journaling’s not for you, what do you do to keep yourself sane while long-term travelling? Let me know in the comments!

2 comments

  1. perri 7 February, 2018 at 20:05 Reply

    Haha I love this. I never knew there were other people out there who went crazy if they weren’t able to organize themselves, just like me. I too went crazy during long-term travel, I now feel like I’m finally getting my life together, and I basically feel that’s partially due to my agenda. Thank you (errr maybe not?) for showing me another wormhole I can go down.

    • Lauren 9 February, 2018 at 22:34 Reply

      YES! I didn’t really know for sure I was like that but apparently I am… won’t be travelling super long-term ever again without having a base haha. (or a bullet journal)

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