Interview: How an Avid Traveler Chronicles His Adventures Through Illustrated Journals

DIY Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

Traveler Adam Hackländer traverses the world with a tin of watercolor paints to chronicle his adventures on the pages of a hardcover journal. The spreads comprise writing and images that record both the ordinary and extraordinary parts of his trips. When complete, they read like a graphic novel and tell a non-linear story of Hackländer's experiences and the moments in his travels that stood out to him.

In the age of everything digital, Hackländer’s handcrafted keepsakes offer a more deliberate and thoughtful form of remembering his journeys. He’s not mindlessly snapping photos only to forget what they mean later on. He records everything from the currency exchange rate to the brilliant red-orange sun over a temple in Kyoto, Japan. No matter how mundane or amazing, the combination of pictures and words give his experiences some context so that he can return to them again and again. “Nothing beats the feeling when you read an old journal and recall everything you’ve done,” Hackländer tells My Modern Met.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Hackländer about his travel journals. If you’re interested in keeping one for yourself, you’ll definitely want to scroll down to learn how he creates his art on the go.

Looking for travel journal ideas? Scroll down to read our interview with Adam Hackländer, an avid traveler who documents his trips on the pages of hardcover notebooks.

Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

Best Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

What inspired you to start keeping travel journals?

I used to love adventure movies, especially those like Indiana Jones when I was a teenager, and I have always been fascinated by the journals from those movies, such as the Indiana Jones’ Grail Diary. I loved the idea of having all your observations and memories noted down in a tiny notebook that I would always have on myself.

Travel Journal Ideas by Adam Hackländer

What artist materials do you use when you travel?

The way I choose my tools is to make them compact and convenient during traveling. I made my own watercolor palette out of a vintage medicine tin box that I always bring with me as its very convenient to carry anywhere. I am also using a variety of fine tip pens and an aqua brush, of which inside I can fill with water and don’t need to worry about water for days or even weeks.

Travel Journal Ideas by Adam Hackländer

Your journals are so well organized. What is the process of organizing them?

I would say I don’t have a single process for my journals. Sometimes I have an idea for the entire page spread and try to sketch it out with a mechanical pencil and sometimes I draw whatever comes to mind while traveling without thinking what the rest of the page’s going to be like. The latter is the case for most of my pages

How do you pick and choose?

Regarding the things I document, I always try to note down something interesting or an interesting fact that I've learned, then something about the local culture and then whatever I observe and find interesting.

Travel Journal Ideas by Adam Hackländer

What is your favorite journal spread?

My favorite journal spread is probably the one from Vietnam. It was my first visit to Vietnam and it is the spread during which I told myself that keeping travel journals is what I want to do. It captures some of my important memories through words and especially drawings, where I experimented with small frames in which I drew some of my good memories. Additionally, driving a scooter for the first time in Vietnam has left me with some minor scars, which always make sure that I remember the trip in another way than just through my journal pages.

DIY Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

Do you take a lot of photos for reference, or do you prefer to work on the fly while you're out and about?

I try to capture some of my observations and memories right at the spot but given the inconvenience sometimes (a lot of people, no comfortable place to draw) I am forced to take a few pictures and then document it later. I usually then draw the pages in some sort of a café or a restaurant while waiting for food or sometimes even in an airport. Sometimes, I get an idea or recall a memory that I haven’t documented months after I’ve left the country, so it really depends on every individual page I think.

DIY Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

What do you think the benefits are to journaling your trips?

The biggest benefit is definitely the ability to track down any of your experiences, memories, and observations. Nothing beats the feeling when you read an old journal and recall everything you’ve done. I also think that once kids grow up, they might love it as well and perhaps even get inspired.

How has keeping a journal changed how you experience other cultures?

Journals are always part of the whole adventure, as I always strive to note down something interesting for my future self or even my kids one day. I think I became more aware of noticing all sorts of different details during my travels and it has also made me more curious to do things or see places that most visitors might not know about.

Best Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

What's on the horizon for you? Any more trips planned?

With my girlfriend, we're heading to the US in two months’ time and we’ve also planned a quite adventurous route through Mexico. There are also plans to take the full route of the Trans-Siberian railway in the near future, perhaps this winter, but I haven't pulled the trigger yet.

Best Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

Best Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

Best Travel Journals by Adam Hackländer

This video offers peek into one of Hackländer's journals in its entirety:

Adam Hackländer: Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Adam Hackländer.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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