The 5 best notebooks for your travel journal
Do you keep a travel journal? What are the best notebooks for your travel journal? Or are they a thing of the past, now the cheapest smarthone has camera and video function? Call me old-fashioned, but I have always loved to write my travel impressions down in a little journal. And this hasn’t changed much since technical advances made pen and paper a little obsolete.
Over the years, I graduated from random notebooks to hardcopy bound notebooks for both work and travel. And I believe there will always be a demand for high-quality, functional and elegant stationery. Here are the best notebooks for your travel journal – at least, the ones I have tried so far.
Table of Contents
Best notebooks for your travel journal: My prerequisites for a good travel note book
This goes for any note book I use a lot. They include the best notebooks for your travel journal. However, there is a difference whether I try to jot down some notes on my desk at work or at home, or whether I am trying to write something while away. With my favourite fountain pens, blotters and rulers at home, often stuffing the notebook in a picket of my backpack or my hand bag, often bringing the book out to sketch something randomly, or jotting down a few notes with my coffee, the travel notebook has to undergo mor rigorous testing. For the best notebooks for your travel journal, I look for
- Durable yet reasonably thin lightweight paper that does not make the ink creep out or bleed through to the next page
- Durable binding, the bench mark being the Moleskine hard cover binding
- A strong classic non-leather cover that will look good after years (as a vegetarian, I try to avoid leather)
- A pocket for postcards and tickets, a table of contents, lined pages and a small section for practicalities and budget
- Book should look reasonably classy
- If it is fairly and sustainably produced, that will be an extra bonus
Let’s talk about pens, too
I tend to use the same type of pen for my travel journal, essentially a gel pen or a fine ink roller. My favourite was a Muji refillable ink roller that I have had trouble finding refills for, so now it is plain old Muji fine gel pens – I bought a bunch in Japan and am still using them up. I also use the Pilot V5 Hi-techpoint which is a great pen unless you take it on an airplane when more often than not, the ink oozes everywhere. Both are really fade-resistant, too.
At home I use fountain pens, but become increasingly lazy, reaching for the gel pens, too. Sometimes I take a slim basic Parker Vector Pen on a trip, too, but usually stick to the single-use pens because they have a finer tip and it’s easier to write on trains and airplanes.
I have stuck to this for years, as some old pictures can tell! I remember this one well as it was taken on my first trip to the Beelitz Sanatorium, then the pinnacle of socially accepted and easy Urbex, taken in the lecture theatre.
Cheap and cheerful: WH Smith and Paperchase own brand notebooks
Over the years, I have bought them on sale, and almost always the quality was exceptional. I have some linen bound WH Smith note books that go back to the 1990s and still look pristine despite heavy use. They often come in pretty or one-off designs, and often you get a multi-buy deal, letting you purchase great quality A5 hard cover notebooks for about 5-10 Euro apiece.
Basically, everything brightly multicoloured in my notebook drawer is one of those own-brand stationary show note books. Most held up really well. As soon as I was out of university and made some decent money and travelled further afield, – you can see a certain type of note book taking over… but more on that later.
The Sustainable German One: Leuchtturm 1917 bullet journal and lined A5 medium hardcover journals
As with many other manufacturers, Leuchtturm notebooks come in many sizes and colours. Having been a staunch fan of Moleskine notebooks since the 1990s, I decided to champion German design and switch to Leuchtturm.
Leuchtturm (meaning lighthouse) started in 1917 as a manufacturer of stamp collecting albums and is to this day family owned, with all manufacturing in Germany. In a genius twist of Genius, with the demand for coin and stamp albums dropping somewhat, they switched to producing well designed notebooks and calendars and have a good reputation in Germany for good design and quality.
It has the essentials, numbered pages, hard cover, back pocket, sewn binding, bookmark, elastic closure and comes in a plethora of colours and some extra fun styles – metallic, Bauhaus and some others.
I bought a Leuchtturm 1917 classic hardcover note book when the bullet journal craze arrived in Germany. Although the bullet journalling did nothing for me, and my feeble attempt look rather ridiculous, I held on to the book and used it as a travel journal.
At 21 x 14,5cm it is the largest of the note books. They use only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper. Paper is a medium weight 80 gram per square metre (gsm), and a notebook has 250 numbered pages and is a touch thicker than a Moleskine, but the cover is not quite as thick and durable – mine got skanky a little faster than my default Moleskine.
The paper is easy to write on, but bleeds through the page quickly, even with an ultra fine pen. Also, a lot of the pages (40 or so) are perforated and therefore detachable , meaning if you pull a bit harder, your carefully assembled travel journal might rip to pieces.
A shame, because I really wanted to like these ethically and sustainably produced notebooks form my home country! But if sustainability and ethical production are your top priority, these are a heartfelt recommendation.
Value for money: Black ‘n Red Medium hardcover notebook
A true classic. Black ‘n Red notebooks were developed in Oxford in the 1960s and offer exceptional quality at a small price. I have not used them as travel journals as such, and this is more a business notebook.
The lab where I did my research issued them, so I used them as lab books and note books. Years of hard usage barely left a dent in these understated books, so I can vouch for their quality – which comes at a very reasonable price. The paper is thick at 90 gsm and brilliant white, and a notebook has 192 pages and is also rather large at 21.6 x 14.2cm. The name says it all – this one is available only in its unique black and red colour scheme!
The accessories are minimal – there is a bookmark but no pocket or elastic closure. They are about a third cheaper than Moleskines, but the paper is great quality.
The Popular one: Moleskine Classic hardcover journal
For many years, these used to be my favourite note books. These classic notebooks come in many different sizes. The 13×21 “large” and and 9x14cm “pocket” size are the most popular sizes.
Their design is based on a 19th Century French/Parisian note- and sketchbook. The style of book was made famous by Bruce Chatwin, who used them on his travels. An Italian stationary manufacturer cleverly decided to revive this type notebook in the late 1990s, and the Moleskine was born – and promptly trademarked.
Moleskine notebooks are made by Moleskine SpA, an Italian company, and owned by a Dutch investment Company. For all this fancy artistic bohemian spin, be not too swayed, as the majority of the books are nowadays made in China or Turkey, and only a small section of their output is FSC certified, but at least all paper is acid free. They are certainly really good at marketing, and for making a reasonably good book for a reasonable price AND hold up all that romantic traveller-writer stuff.
The books are are made from thin-ish 70 g/m² off white smooth thin paper and are protected by a good binding and a very sturdy hard cover. A medium book has 240 pages -which is a lot for such a slim notebook! Depending on the trip, I fit on average three to four trips into one book. The lining is very faint, which gives neat handwriting but the lines are not schoolbook-obvious. They have an indestructible hard cover, sewn binding, an expandable pocket at the back, a book mark and an elastic closure. They lie flat nicely when you write in them. So far so good.
The paper used to be fabulous, but in recent years it appeared a bit thinner, and a lot of my favourite pens have ink creeping out through the fibres bleed to the next page. Also, the pocket might be super big but put too much in, and the book starts to buckle and it becomes harder to write smoothly.
They also make dedicated traveller’s journals, by the way, but they cost twice as much as the standard notebook and come with too much faff – stickers, tabs, themes pages and…. a storage box. I much prefer the wipeable sturdy cover of the standard notebook, and the stickers just appear by themselves.
As for ethical production and sustainability… the jury is out here. The books are often on sale, and can be bought for about 11-12 Euro which makes them good value for money. I might use up the (admittedly good quality) Moleskines I have and move on in the future.
The understated British Classic: Letts of London Icon Book Travel Journal
Once a big fan of Smythsons, I moved away from their notebooks because they had leather binding, and the paper proved a bit too thin to write on. Also, I had my Smythsons phase when living in 8sqm hospital room and working about 100 hours a week, with no time to spend my money on except gorgeous things on rate trips to London. Soon, I moved on to something less fancy but still traditionally British. A lot of my university peers used Letts, so I bought a Washi-covered Letts Diary – slim, durable elegant – and was hooked. So, when the next diary order due, I added a couple of Letts “Icon” travel note books to my order.
On average about 3-5 Euro cheaper than a large Moleskine notebook, The Icon Travel Journal has 148 blank pages but just enough faff for travel journaling – numbered pages, page of contents, a world map, sections for favourite things, expenses,a bit of (somewhat redundant in times of the internet) city information and 148 lined and numbered pages in addition to the “themed” pages, making altogether 192 pages. It is also hardcover bound like a Moleskine and has a thick hard cover. At 20x13x1,6cm it is slightly smaller than the Moleskine which makes it fit my handbag better, and the cover looks high quality, with gold lettering and in beautiful rich understated colours – very classic British.
It doesn’t have the practical elastic tie of the Moleskines, and that is as far as I can see its only disadvantage/ as well that they do not mention a FSC certification on their website. My pocket calendar, a beautiful washi paper covered slim book that is durable at the same time is also from Letts – but not the travel notebook – and says the paper comes from “certified sustainable sources and is compliant with EU Timber Regulations”. So the jury is out on that one. A shame because obviously I would rather buy a sustainable product, this book wins on all other accounts.
There are more expensive options available – the “Signature” book has a cover made with “leather fibre” which admittedly looks good but basically contains leather so even if this is a way to get rid of leather scraps, the vegetarian in me says “no way” .
There is a small pocket in the back too. Paper is off-white and smooth, and I have yet to try it out whether it bleeds. 90gsm acid free cream fountain pen friendly paper, so thicker than Moleskine. A Lett’s products are made in Scotland, but I am not certain for the sources of their paper.
So I took this new acquisition on my last trip, a civilized post-lockdown city trip to Venice. As much as I loved the paper quality, the discreet lining and the size, the exterior looked scruffy pretty quickly, and got scuff marks from just being in a backpack and handbag. What a shame! I loved everything else about this notebook, but the quality of the hardcover really sucks when compared to Moleskine.
Here is my formerly elegant Letts Icon Travel Journal after three days of light use – being carried in a handbag. It has not withstood the gentle city break well, although I managed to get rid of the stain with a splash of alcohol.
But… the inside is very good! In fact, my favourite paper of all notebooks discussed here. Smooth paper, faint but visible enough lining, no bleeding of ink, numbered pages and an index – everything I look for in a notebook bar the sustainability where Leuchtturm clearly wins.
So… I have just bought another one in a darker colour and hope it won’t look scruffy so quickly like this one. While the jury is still out on the best notebooks for your travel journal, my winners are Moleskine for the indestructible cover cover and quality binding, and Letts Of London for paper quality.
Best notebooks for your travel journal: Some to try
With a nice pile of notebooks still waiting for their journey, and not many trips coming up due to the pandemic situation, I can continue my search for best notebooks for your travel journal quite leisurely.
While looking up dimensions for the note books I am already using, I have come across some other brands I might try, such as Apica (top quality Japanese paper, classic looks, relatively low price tick paper cover but no true hardcover) and the Midori . Their modular style Traveler’s notebook has a leather cover so is a no go for the, but the MD technical notebook looks good and has a great reputation for quality but looks a bit pricey for a soft cover).
Can you recommend your best notebooks for your travel journal? I would love to try your recommendations!
The Small Print
I have written this best notebooks for your travel journal post to give you recommendations for best quality note books for travel journal based on my experience using note books extensively for years, for both travel – and work. I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for reviewing or recommending any of these brands, and these are true and honest recommendation. I also have not inserted any affiliate links – buying the best book for the best price is different in every country and big online retailers are often not the best choice – support your local stationary shop or buy from manufacturers.