Why You Should Keep an Airplane Journal

When I was 21 years old I realized something about myself: I didn’t have what it took to keep a journal. Not the traditional kind of journal, anyway: the kind where most nights you open it up and write something about your day and your state of mind. I had tried before, and failed. I might write an entry or 3 over the course of a few weeks and then never pick it up again; ultimately, the perceived drudgery of most of my days (at that age) kept me from writing daily. Even now, when my life is much more interesting than it was then, I still can’t imagine having something worthwhile to write every day, or even most days.

And this is from someone who loves to write.

I did however want a log for posterity of what I was doing at that time in my life. I wanted to have something to look back on that would tell me what and how I was thinking so that I could compare and contrast. I wanted to know if I was changing.

So I invented the airplane journal. One thing I knew for certain, even then, was that I wanted to travel. A lot. I had traveled some up until that age, mostly in the United States, but also to the Caribbean a few times. And to me, at that age, those were the memories I cherished most. I associated travel with freedom and escape, two things I felt eluded me at the time. I’m glad now for that largely illusory powerlessness because it led to the creation of the airplane journal.

My Airplane Journal is a marble notebook that I take with me whenever I take a trip. I’m a fan of arbitrary rules, so for me the rules are: I can only write in airplanes, and only when the plane is off the ground. And I HAVE to write every time I fly.

I started off writing mostly rhapsodically about life and the world, but as I got older I began to write entries as letters to myself. I fill my future self in on the events that have taken place since my last trip, and also talk about where I’m going, both literally and metaphorically. Every entry is dated and tagged with both my destination and my departure point (ex: 11/9/2010 PEK –> SFO). I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now. I have over 60 entries now and have almost filled two books.

Anyone who has ever successfully kept a long term journal can attest to the feeling that comes from being able to take a glimpse into your own past. There is a catharsis in reading about the concerns of yesteryear and realizing how far you’ve come (and, occasionally, how little has changed).

Now, not everyone travels very often nor even has the desire to. In that case an airplane journal might not be the most suitable undertaking. However, a conditional journal, tied to a life activity which is relatively frequent and enjoyable, makes the process of keeping a log much easier and also gives you more bang for your buck. It’s easier to go back and review as it covers longer stretches of time, and it is linked to those milestone moments in life that are the most important to you.

Sometimes I go back through my journal and it’s like reading the words of some other person. I barely remember where I was living 8 years ago, much less what the most pressing concerns in my life were at that point. My airplane journal catches me up on who I was and also reminds me who I am.

Two noteworthy revelations have come from reading back through my airplane journals. 1) My handwriting is getting much, much worse; damn you digital age. And 2) on a whole I’m much more content than I used to be.

It’s nice to know that some things do change.

2 Replies to “Why You Should Keep an Airplane Journal”

  1. You’ve told me about this journal a few times now and I have been inspired to finally getting to writing. I’ve traveled a bunch and my memory simply is not sufficient. Having notes is critical…it’s tough enough to look back at Day 1 of a trip with clarity, let alone that random trip however many years ago. Once I get caught up, it will be time to add conditions.

  2. Man… this post sounded just like me. Some of my “best” (read:only) writing happened while traveling or on down-time on airplanes. Something about how you really have nothing better to do, and there is (was anyway) a tech bubble blackout on airplanes and all you have is your thoughts and a pen. Necessity. I think you making a sort of game out of it with the rules that it has to be on the airplane etc… makes it much more engaging and interesting too. What if we turned more of the commonly mundane things in life into games? Great post.

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