Autobiography By Accident - 26 Years of Travel Journals

Just updating my journal on the Great Wall

This story begins at the very tail end of the summer of 1994. Well before anybody knew what a blog was or why someone would follow one, I first set out to document what was at the time my greatest travel adventure.

I was a very naive 19 years old, but somehow—despite my lack of life experience—I had the fortunate foresight to record the details of that journey—an almost month-long road trip from my home on Long Island, NY, all the way out past Seattle to the Pacific Coast, with some volunteer work in Montana on the way back.  Maybe it was a bit narcissistic on my part feeling obligated to preserve for posterity this meaningful event in my life, but in doing so, there was a side effect that I’d never intended and honestly never even crossed my (very young) mind. Completely by accident, I wrote my autobiography.

It's now approaching the 26th anniversary of that first foray on my own, and upon reflecting on the numerous travel journals I've compiled in the intervening years (some 60 trips/events) I’ve come to two incontrovertible conclusions:


1) I’m old. For real.

2) I am so grateful that I documented these meaningful events in my life, because if I hadn’t, I can guarantee that most, if not all of the details, would have been lost to a combination of the passage of time and my increasingly unreliable memory (to understand why, I direct you back to point number 1).

Ever since that first defining journey of my "grown-up" life, I’ve had the habit of reviewing a given date’s journal entry on the “anniversary” of a trip. Thanks to my travel journals, not only can I tell you exactly where I was to the day X number of years ago, but I could also tell you what I was doing, who I was with and how I was feeling at the time. Without any deliberate intention, by recording my journeys across the world, I can also trace my journey through adulthood. And by documenting in detail all of the places where I’ve left my footprint, I've also preserved just how each location has left its footprint on me.

If you too would like to add the timeless art of journal writing to the video and photos commonly used to document a trip, I've included some tips on what to include in your own entries, which if followed, will leave you with most of your autobiography already written by the time you retire.


The First Entry

Though my journal writing may have begun in 1994, it wasn’t until September of 2002 that I began inserting what I call my “State of the Union” in the first entry of a trip’s journal. Up to that point I pretty much exclusively focused on the on the minutiae of the day's activities: what happened, at what time, and as I reluctantly have to admit—what I ate for dinner. However starting with that trip to Italy, I also included my thoughts on my present situation in life, the things that were on my mind, and my expectations for what would be written on the pages ahead. At this point - a good 8 years into my journal writing career - I’d come to recognize that when I re-read past entries, the information that had the greatest effect on me wasn’t the details of what I did at what time, or (sigh) even what I had for dinner.  What had the greatest impact was being reminded of how I was feeling at the time. Those candid insights from my younger version have given me a sense of how much I’ve grown as a person—and not just from those aforementioned dinners.


Fill Out the Body (Once again, not just from dinner)

Once I had a fuller grasp of what details I would later consider important, I began inserting such personal flourishes in more than just the initial entries. I started preserving in greater detail my thoughts on what I was seeing or doing, which naturally led to conclusions, reflections, and the seeds of ideas that I would only fully grasp later in life. Being attuned to the value of such data, and thanks to the power of hindsight, I’ve been able to actually learn from how well I handled (or didn’t) the vagaries of my personal life as revealed in the written snapshots of my travels. Remembering how those events colored the lens of my life at the time is a good reminder of what works when facing a similar situation—and what doesn’t.


Time To Reflect

Right about the same time I realized the intrinsic value of creating a written ‘snapshot’ of my life at the beginning of a trip’s journal, I also adjusted my final entries by adding my reflection on the places I had visited, along with what my hopes were for the life I was returning to. Basically I’d recap my favorite ‘memory’ of the trip and summarize my thoughts on the destinations visited - both in a general and personal sense. Besides providing additional insight as to what was going on in my head at the time, in most cases I’d also make a reference about my curiosity as to what would be written on the next blank pages, and what my life would be like at the time. Then, when it was finally time to fill in those blank pages, I developed the pleasant habit of reviewing the previous entry to see just what had taken place since the last time I wrote.

Of course, like most journals, the actual contents are rather private, so I'm not going to share them here. But rest assured that all these years later, I feel quite grateful to that silly 19 year-old who may not have had a clue about a great many things in life, but by instituting the ritual of documenting his thoughts and actions, allowed me to see just how far I’ve come in twenty-six years—not just in terms of miles, but also in personal growth. My only hope is that if this world is still around in another twenty-six years, my 65 year-old self can read this entry and say such appreciative words about me.

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