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What Is Travel Sketching and Why You Should Try It

What Is Travel Sketching and Why You Should Try It main article image
Posted on August 6, 2022 by Lyndsey Drooby
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During the summer months, many of us are taking advantage of vacation time and traveling to different places. If you travel to the next city or even another country, pack up some pencils or art pens and a sketchbook to give travel sketching a shot. 

Travel sketching is a great way to document your personal exploration and observations while traveling. It can be worth giving it a try and you’ll always have something to look back on as a great memento from a new experience. 

So what exactly is a travel sketchbook? It is exactly what it sounds like: a sketchbook to record all your travel adventures. Many artists and travelers use this and can get really detailed in their sketchbooks by using art pens, alcohol ink markers, colored pencils, or even watercolor paints. A fantastic aspect of this that can compare to photographs is that you’re documenting how you see the scenery and how you’re applying it onto paper in your own ability and interpretation. Since sketchbooks can be found in various styles that include leather bound or Moleskine, you can develop a collection that can mimic photo albums on a shelf, but they are full of your art! Also, keep in mind the direction of your art will dictate the type of sketchbook paper you will use. A standard sketchbook will be fine for pencils and ink while a watercolor sketchbook will be fine for painting. Mixed media sketchbooks are perfect for alcohol-ink markers so you won’t have any issue with bleeding through the pages. 

Materials for Travel Sketching Success

  • Pencils are the obvious choice and if you’re packing light and appropriately for airport travel, mechanical pencils are a great choice as they don’t require a sharpener. Unless you do prefer a regular pencil, that is also fine. 
  • Any pen can work and also help define your drawing style. A ballpoint pen can result in beautiful rough sketches or you can use fineliner pens in various thicknesses that are geared towards artists. The ink is waterproof and will hold over for years to come. 
  • As previously mentioned, sketchbook choice is based on what type of media you are working with. Consider the type of traveling you are doing as well. A hardback sketchbook may hold through any frequent outings while being tossed into a backpack every now and then. A spiral book or a softcover book might be prone to receiving some damage or loosened pages. 
  • When it comes to color, there are small watercolor kits you can find at art supply stores or small packs of colored pencils to use to enhance the sketches. 

Travel Sketching Promotes Mindfulness

The beginning of traveling can be stressful: packing, tying up loose ends before leaving, making it to the airport, and so on. When you reach your destination and begin to explore, pulling out the sketchbook and a pencil is a sure-fire way to become present and practice mindfulness to put the trip at ease. People watching and gazing at the scenery to capture the details on paper allows you to literally see the big picture and enjoy what you are taking in more than snapping a quick photo. 

You can also tap into your self-awareness of your surroundings as you see the larger view and all the small details in between. As you sketch, your mind escapes to the lines and shapes you are creating without fixating on outside influences. 

Add Journaling to Your Sketches

Alongside keeping a record of your sketches, make notes or keep a separate journal of your journey. Make notes about where you are at, what you are doing, and what you see. When you revisit the sketches later on, you’ll be flooded with all the memories of your trip. 

Travel Sketching Can Open the Gateway to Meeting People

Say you’re sitting at a cafe sketching or in a place where there are plenty of people nearby. You might be approachable by people who are curious to see what you’re doing or you may even come across someone who will join along. You never know! 

What Can You Put Into a Travel Sketchbook?

What you want to draw in your travel sketchbook is always up to you, but if you need ideas you can always create themes or go completely random. You can document:

  • Architecture-monuments, churches, museums, castles, parks, and stadiums
  • Natural places-gardens, beaches, cliffs, mountains, sunrises, and sunsets
  • People-family, friends, the strangers you observe in the daily life of your trip
  • Food-local dishes, drinks, restaurants

Other Details to Make Your Sketches Standout

You can add further personal details of your trip by adding other mementos on the pages. This can include tickets, stickers, photos, maps or flyers you received or collected on the trip. These can be attached onto the sketch or on other pages to tell more of your story. 

Additionally, you can add doodles or fancy lettering of quotes you ran into, or a phrase you kept hearing in a different language. All of these details will forever imprint the memories. 

How to Begin Your Travel Sketchbook

What will the first place look like for you? It can seem like quite a decision to start documenting the trip. You can always draw a map of where you are visiting, and mark the areas you are going to see. Get creative, draw the shape of the country or city, doodle landmarks, and make it look like a treasure map with path marks. 

Another idea is starting off with transportation. Waiting at the airport gate? Draw what you see. Are you taking a bus or train? Draw the station or what you are seeing out the window. 

Keeping It Up

If this is your first time, you might find yourself critiquing your work. Remember that they are sketches and that they are made in your style. Nothing is ever perfect, but the effort is done by you. Your confidence will grow as you make more sketches. Your sketches don’t have to be uniform or look a certain way, they are for you and your remembrance. 


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