Setting Up My First Traveler’s Notebook

When I started my very first bullet journal in December 2015, it seemed like the natural next step after five and a half years of preprinted school planners. (I got my first one in fourth grade, at nine years old.) Pen-and-paper planning definitely worked for me, but I had my own ideas for customized page layouts and lists.Β 

Three and a half years β€” and three filled notebooks β€” later, I’ve decided to switch it up yet again. My parents got me a lovely traveler’s notebook cover last Christmas; since I’d have to set up a new planning notebook / system anyway, and in September I start a new phase of my life (professional pharmacy classes), the timing seemed perfect.

BuJo vs. TN

Before I jump into it, I wanted to provide some context in case anyone reading this is unfamiliar with either or both planning systems.

The bullet journal (BuJo or bujo) in its original, simplest incarnation was created by Ryder Carroll for quick and easy “logging” of daily tasks, events, and memos; the system was designed to be adaptable for each user’s needs. Now the Internet is full of elaborate, colorful bujo spreads, and most people seem to see it as an art notebook. But I certainly don’t consider myself artistic; aside from a few doodles to commemorate mock trial competitions or high school graduation, I stick to colorful pens, stickers, and photos.

I haven’t been able to find the originator of the traveler’s notebook (TN), but as I understand it, TN can refer to either the cover which holds all the inserts (the notebooks inside), or to the cover and inserts together. Where the bullet journal is a single-notebook aggregation of everything the user wants to track, the traveler’s notebook is a collection of notebooks that each have a distinct purpose. Some people include an art journal or a small folder for stickers, or split work and personal planning into separate notebooks.

In short, these are different but overlapping concepts β€” in fact, you can have a bujo within your TN, as I do!

In the images above you can see the progression of physical notebooks I’ve gone through.

Although that first generic brand grid notebook was bulkier and much cheaper than anything I’ve used since, and I mostly used black ballpoint pens and cheap Daiso highlighters, it gave me a lot of space β€” literally and metaphorically β€” to get used to the system and experiment with setting up spreads. It was a homework planner and a calendar and a scrapbook all in one. To this day, I refer back to some of my past layouts when I’m planning new spreads or am just feeling nostalgic. (When I finish a bujo, I take and store photos of all the pages for easy later access.)Β 

My second and third bullet journals fluctuate between decorative and minimalist based on how much time and energy I had while setting up each month. Both are dot grid, which is nice for spacing different elements in each layout, but the pages are pretty thin so there’s ghosting: you can see the “ghost” of the ink on the backside of each page. (Which is different from bleeding, where the ink seeps all the way through the page.) A lot of these spreads are variations on each other since I had gotten a pretty good idea of what kind of setups worked for me, and I kept up my habit of posting in movie tickets and Polaroids to commemorate fun times.

And that brings us to the present day!

All things considered, my planning system hasn’t changed all that much in the switch to a TN; the spreads are still very similar to my bujo spreads, and my daily pages still use my version of the bullet journal key:

πŸ•’ a simple clock for events (I just draw a circle and the clock hands at 3 o’clock; there isn’t a matching keyboard symbol so I put the clock emoji here instead)
☐ empty checkbox for priority tasks (drawn with a stencil because I’m extra like that)
πŸ—Ή checked box for completed priority tasks
β€’ dot for all other tasks
βœ” check for completed tasks
> arrow for tasks “migrated” (moved) to another day
\ slash for tasks in progress

My traveler’s notebook cover is from Webster’s Pages; it’s made of PU leather (artificial) and already proving itself much more durable than my past notebooks. Which is definitely important to me since I took my bujo just about everywhere and pulled it out multiple times per day!Β 

Currently I only have two notebooks (“inserts”) in my traveler’s notebook; I’ve abandoned both my analog blog planners in favor of exclusively using the spreadsheet, and I don’t really have anything else I need to keep track of. As for why I’ve split monthly and weekly/daily spreads into two notebooks: a) for me it’s easier to mark one page in each notebook to refer to, rather than flipping back and forth in a single notebook; and b) I have different preferences for the two different kinds of spreads.

My dot grid insert is from ElrohirLeather on Etsy; I ordered a 3-pack of the Cahier / wide size in cream parchment. The color and texture of the pages is lovely, and the paper is thick enough to minimize ghosting. Since I’m trying a new layout I’ve only set up the cover page and my July overview. I’ve gone back to the original monthly setup β€” listing the dates down the page instead of drawing out boxes for each day β€” since it gives me more space to write and plan, and it doubles as date labels for the habit tracker on the facing page; both of these follow layouts that appear repeatedly in my bullet journals.

Although my grid notebook annoyed me when creating more visual spreads because I needed my lines to be perfectly aligned with the guide lines, those same lines were helpful in keeping my writing neat. (Once my mom described my handwriting as “so neat that every imperfection [such as when my letters don’t sit neatly on the line, whether said line is visible or not] stands out.”) So I’m using a softcover XL Moleskine for weekly and daily spreads, since I don’t need horizontal spacing guides for these simple layouts. My weekly spreads are for tracking events and deadlines, as well as meal planning (Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner); the daily spreads are literally just to-do lists. #EveryDayIsGYSTDay

As with all planning systems, of course, the TN only works if I actually use it. So I haven’t bothered with much embellishment, going back to basics to get comfortable with the system and make using it a habit. That said, I’m sure as my needs and preferences change over time, it will too.

(For those who noticed that I’m posting for the second day in a row, don’t get too excited / annoyed, I’m not switching to posting daily! My July blog schedule is a little wonky due to a couple of blog tours and my BE Summer host dates, but for the most part I’ll still be posting every other day.)

Do you use any kind of planner, whether pre-printed, bullet journal, traveler’s notebook, Filofax, discbound, or something else? Does embellishment / decoration encourage or discourage you from sticking with it? What’s worked best for you?

32 thoughts on “Setting Up My First Traveler’s Notebook

  1. I love this!! The TN style fascinates me since I always have everything in 5 different notebooks anyway but I love my Filofax style binders with startplanner.inserts. I keep a separate reading/blog bujo that I just started but for the most part everything is in my planner. I’m in the middle of transitioning my color coding and embellishment system but love functional stickers and pretty pens/hightlighers. It can get to be too much sometimes though with carrying all the supplies around so I’m switching to something simpler

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yeah, I used to carry around a planner and a “writer’s notebook” (basically brain dump) but it was a whole mess of a system, and last year I finally stopped carrying around all my color gel pens bc my backpack was getting too heavy πŸ˜… but what I love about planning systems is that they’re so customizable, so you can do whatever works for you and change it up as needed!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ohh, that’s interesting, I didn’t know there was a difference – wasn’t aware of traveller’s notebooks at all. I don’t really do any planning methods or systems, but I do have an A5 sized dotgrid notebook I use for…everything, from sketching to studying notes, random important info, etc. It’s important to me that I have everything in one place, so I guess TN definitely wouldn’t be for me. I’m a hardcore minimalist when it comes to organisation πŸ˜›

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think technically you could call what you do bullet journaling (if you wanted 😜) since the idea is consolidation! but simpler systems definitely work better for me as well – I just like a little more separation to mirror how my brain organizes information, hence the TN lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suppose I could – if a very loose, disorganised form of bullet journaling. It’s definitely not the beautifully organised monthly spreads I see online πŸ˜‚ (even if my handwriting is mostly neat)

        And yeah, it totally makes sense to spit it too if one needs to!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I actually hesitated this week between starting a bullet journal and a traveller’s notebook, your post definitely helped me decide! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I prefer Traveller’s notebooks, I love drooling over everyone’s amazing Bujos but I cannot for the life of me dig up any sort of motivation to do a BuJo myself. Honestly. No thanks, I’m too lazy for that life. I use traveller’s notebooks/yearly diary planners and just random blank lined notebooks. I know it’s a hassle to have so many, but it makes my little heart of chaos happy lol, and like you said, it only works when you use them…maybe i just buy them cause they’re pretty.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. everyday shall be a gyst day because our lives need it xD I use a Bullet Journal at the moment and am still playing around with it, it’s a lot of fun but I keep the spreads pretty basic and erm neat. Even if the straight lines aren’t straight but straightly slanted I used a ruler like a good child hahaha. For all I like drawing, I think I have a love for typography more because WORDS so a lot of my embellishments for my bujo come through fancy writing, well me trying to be fanceh.

    I can’t wait to start a new bujo though and set it up differently because wow I’ve already learned about what’s working, what isn’t and my bujo is a hot mess bless it. I also have a day view diary…because I’m extra and prefer to have a diary for my to do lists instead of making daily spreads in my bujo. I can’t wait to see how your TN progresses Izzy! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. same, I need a ruler even though in theory i also like the look of hand-drawn imperfect lines πŸ˜… but it’s definitely so much fun playing around with different spreads and so satisfying to adapt it to your own individual needs! also, I’ve seen people with 3 or more planners so you’re not alone πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ahh, that’s neat – thank you for the clarification between Bujo & TN. Honestly I had no idea what that was xD I think I have an idea, My godmother bought something like that if I remember correctly.

    It’s so interesting to see the evolutions of your notebooks! While I do prefer Bujo, I used to need to have everything in separate notebooks – omg I couldn’t IMAGINE using the same binder for all our classes at school like some were doing.. driving me crazy.
    I don’t have any artistic fiber in me either πŸ˜‚ I do little doodles here and there, but as you can see in my BuJo posts, it’s not the most elaborate thing in the world.. I am highly jealous of the really really pretty ones out there but alas.. nope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yup, I’ve definitely changed systems throughout the years – sometimes I had teachers who required us to have a separate notebook/binder for their class, but I know when my brother got to middle school they were actually required to keep everything in one binder! but it’s definitely just a matter of whatever works for each person, and I’m glad this post was informative for you 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. gosh, I have so much respect for people who can bullet journal. that just takes a lot of time, patience and skill that I do not have ahaha. yours looks so good though, and i feel like your passion for your journal really shined through in this post and I loved it πŸ’–

    Liked by 1 person

    1. aw thank you so much, Caitlin! πŸ’• I think for me personally, once I got the hang of bullet journaling it didn’t take that long (maybe 10-15 minutes for setup each weekend, and about 5 minutes of planning each day) but it’s definitely one of those things where you can spend as much or as little time as you want on it – though it’s definitely not for everyone, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the idea of bullet journaling, but I’m so bad at keeping it up to date!! I’m someone who switches between tracking systems regularly (onenote, spreadsheets, handwritten lists, sticky post-its, a whiteboard, notebooks, task lists…) and I’m just bad at updating everything!
    The TN cover is beautiful though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks Meeghan! and honestly the switching around was me in middle school; once I settled on a planner system that worked for me it’s mostly been pretty straightforward!

      though I do still sometimes jot down memos on my phone and in the margins of my lecture notes, just for convenience πŸ˜…) I think the biggest trick has actually been establishing a weekly check-in where I get everything consolidated, otherwise things would definitely slip through the cracks haha

      Liked by 1 person

  9. really nice to see how youre currently using your TN, it looks lovely + not overly complicated (i.e enocurages u to use it!) yay! πŸ™‚

    i look forward to seeing more of these posts to see if it keeps working for you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. aw thank you Lauren! I’m definitely hoping to have future update posts since it seems like a lot of people actually haven’t heard of the TN, and I know I always love reading about other people’s experiences trying something new!


  10. I love this! I started bullet journaling this year because of you and Clo and I’m still getting used to the system. Like you said, this works only if you do the work if not daily at least every other day, but so far it’s working. I need to find the spreads that work for me, but at this time it has been a life saver. I haven’t heard of TN before, but I’m excited to see how you’ll adapt to the method and to see if it’s easier than BuJo or even more helpful. Can’t wait to see your next post on this πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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