Keeping a journal feels unatural for me. I never know what to write, where to start, or how to write it well. Drawing is a better fit. A drawing can tell a story without the need for a beginning, middle, and end. For example: A picture of a guy holding a broken TV in an alley filled with broken electronics tells an interesting story — all in one image. There are, however, even greater benefits you might not have realized.
End Your Trip with Something People Want to See
Most people can't draw/paint. Capturing little moments — even hastly scribbled — is impressive. Anyone can take a photo with their phone. A drawing is special. When your trip is over you'll have a keepsake of journey that is better than your instagram profile, and your friends and family will actually care about seeing all your drawings.
Cut Through Language Barriers
If you are doing it right, you'll often find yourself in uncomfortable positions where you don't speak the language. You know that good travel happens when you reach out to other people around you — but how do you connect with others when you don't speak their language? Yank out your sketchbook. Your sketchbook is like magic to people. It shows moments that you painstakingly captured. Your drawings don't need language. Point to a picture and say "Hong Kong." Handing your sketchbook to somebody is like handing them valuable jewels — it's universal, everybody in the world knows how valuable drawings are. They will feel honored to hold the book and enjoy turning the pages. Keep in mind, this has probably never happened to them. They will tell the story of the foriegner artist they met on the train to their friends. It's a special and rare exchange you can have with somebody, without speaking a word of their language.
Give Drawings Away
I don't keep all my drawings. Some I photograph, then give away. I draw people a lot so the natural thing is to give somebody a picture I drew of them. You might be thinking, "does somebody actually want my dumb sketch of their face?" or, "will they think this is a little creepy?" Nope. It will be fucking magic. I promise you. Here is an example of a drawing I gave away. In the comments I mentioned the story of what happened.
Mark Occasions with Friends on Your Journey
People you meet up with, new friends or old, love to take that photo of all of you together at the dinner table or at the bar. If you draw a moment you had together when you met up — give it to them as a gift or post it to social media. It's a great way to mark the occasion for you and them. They will love it. But more importantly you will feel great about the moments that happened having spent more time thinking them through while making your art peice.
Start to be Present
It's easy to get stuck in planning the day, the next activity, where you are going to eat, how you'll get there, etc. You can spend your entire trip thinking about what needs to happen next punctuated by small experiences that don't add up to the value the trip should have had. Taking the time to draw moments will force you to be present. When you see interesting moments, you'll start to recognize them as special — worth the time to draw. You don't have to draw them right then and there — take reference photos, then memorialize them in your sketchbook later. The important part is being present to see the world around you. Keeping a travel sketchbook requires you to be present.
Feel Like an Artist
Do you feel like an artist? When people ask you what you do, do you tell them, "I'm an artist." Probably not. Most art makers don't feel like artists. But if you set off on a journey, capture moments in your sketchbook, use drawing to have meaningful experiences with people who don't speak your language, and end your trip with an interesting record — you'll feel like an artist no matter what you tell people.