travel journal

Travel Journal - Nice, France by Dana Roberts

Hello! For those of you who are new here, I'm Dana and my husband Lou and I are currently traveling through Europe in our ancient van we named Ody. We make videos and share them every Tuesday on Youtube. We love storytelling, which keeps us forever entertained with life on the road. Whether it's sharing our van life adventures or my recent passion for art, we really hope you enjoy!

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get a few hours to spend in a small forest in Italy, with my traveling art studio set up (basically a folding table, a folding chair, arts and crafts supplies, and my travel journal). It was such a peaceful place to get in touch with my creative side and dive back into the memories of visiting Nice, France just a few weeks earlier. And if I’m honest the actual travel journaling experience amongst the trees was even nicer than our time exploring the city in France, but that’s probably due to the fact that I’d been craving time in the countryside for months and finally got a taste of peace and quiet.

Lou and I were parked at a marina parking lot in a tiny town in Italy called xx. Even though it was free to stay there, they offered incredible amenities like free water and electricity! Never before in any of our van life experiences have we found wild camping spots that have free facilities like this. And while we couldn’t speak the language, we had many beautiful conversations full of hand gestures and amazing expressions with the old men and women who spent their days down by the river. We think they told us stories of their youth, stories of the boats in the water, and how much they loved old vans like ours, but we’ll never know.

The main inspiration for this entry in my travel journal was definitely our time in the Matisse Museum. I’m not sure if it’s because we had just had such an incredible time in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, if we were a little tired of being in cities, or if the rainy weather had gotten to us, but as a whole we were pretty underwhelmed with the museum. Nonetheless, there was one room that I kept going back to, just to stare at one painting.


That painting was of a woman’s face, her features outlined in a deep blue, with thick splashes of color that contoured her face and made it come to life. It was such an interesting use of color and a wonderful way to express a personality that didn’t hold tight to realism. I ended up deciding in the woods to do my own take on that painting, but instead of the woman, I drew Lou and I really love how the portrait turned out. I placed the portrait over a piece of brown paper bag that I had cut out little shapes from as a reference to all of the collage work we saw at the Matisse Museum.

The other part of the day that inspired this spread in my travel journal was when we walked along the waterfront of Nice. Even in the rain, I was totally in awe of how wonderful the rocky beach was alongside the city. To have pastel buildings with huge windows and balconies looking out over the ocean felt like we were in some far away royal summer holiday. I kept looking out at the different scenes, an old woman sitting with her umbrella over her head watching the waves, or a group of little kids throwing rocks into the water, and imagining them transformed by August heat. I had wanted to translate that somehow in my travel journal but ran out of space. Instead, I made stones out of the old National Geographic to remind me of that rocky beach. One day I hope to do multiple sets of four paintings where I paint the same scene but in all four seasons. I saw something like that in London a few years ago and it really left an impression on me.


The wonderful thing about our time in Nice was that it helped me realize it is okay not to see and experience every aspect that Europe has to offer. Last year we spent 5 months exploring Portugal and really saw almost everything we wanted to, but this year with dreams of Croatia and Greece we knew that there were going to be many moments along the road from Porto (where we started the year) all the way to Athens, where there just wouldn’t be time to stop. So as we drove through southern France, a place neither of us had ever been to, it felt strange to be driving past Cannes and Marseille and not seeing them. But then while walking through Nice, it hit me. The thing about van life in Europe is it really is all about where you spend June through October. The rest of the time you might be blessed with pockets of sunshine and warmth, but more likely it will be rainy or cold or in some places even snowy. So instead of feeling like we’re missing magical places, it is important to focus on being present during the adventures we have time for because this summer we will so greatly appreciate the fact that we stuck to some glimpse of a schedule to make our Grecian dreams a reality.

I think what I’m trying to say is that seeing the French Riviera when a week long rain system is moving through Europe isn’t the same as experiencing it at the height of the summer and that’s okay. And I tried to convey in the text I wrote in this travel journal entry. Any time we get exploring new places is a gift. It inspires our work, it opens our eyes to new cultures, and while I am sure we are missing wonderful places, I am so happy with the route we’ve decided for the rest of the year.

Starting a Travel Journal by Dana Roberts

Hello! For those of you who are new here, I'm Dana and my husband Lou and I are currently traveling through Europe in our ancient van we named Ody. We make videos and share them every Tuesday on Youtube. We love storytelling, which keeps us forever entertained with life on the road. Whether it's sharing our van life adventures or my recent passion for art, we really hope you enjoy!

Today I am so excited to share my first experience starting a travel journal! If you explore the travel journal or art journal hashtag on Instagram there are so many incredibly talented artists, and like many people I found myself in the admiring camp for far too long. After doing Inktober last year in our van, I quickly realized that keeping up with a daily drawing habit while juggling normal life was too tricky for me, but I still longed for a regular art practice. That is when I decided to start a travel journal and I asked Lou if we could make a new series chronicling my entire learning experience with you.

The Travel Journal videos will have an element of our earlier Sketchbook Stories with some urban sketching but also will be our take on a visual podcast. Lou will compile footage from our travels with timelapses of me journalling and then I will have a sit down chat talking about anything from creativity to living far away from home, to future dreams and the insecurities that come from pursuing a strange career. If you have any ideas for the series, I would so love to hear them! Please leave a comment here or on the video or even send an email to me - 

You might be asking yourself, what is a Travel Journal? 

A travel journal is a place where you can record any and all of your travel experiences. For some people this might be more like a diary where they write about their expectations of the trip, reflect while on holiday, and then take time to reflect on the experience once home. You can do any combination of writing, doodling, urban sketching, and collaging. Paste in plane tickets, receipts, brochures, or photographs. Really whatever you want! The best part is that there are no rules at all and it is a place for you to take some time for yourself, flex your creative muscles and have a good time. I think the hardest part with anything creative is to make what you want without worrying about how the final product turns out. So just remember, that this travel journal is for you - a place that you create to remember the ups and downs of your travel adventures. 

So if you need inspiration when you’re just getting started there's always Youtube, Instagram, and Pinterest, but I warn you - don't spend too much time looking at images rather than making your own. I find that if I scroll too long things quickly move from inspiration to the comparison trap and no one likes feeling like that! Though if you find yourself there, I've found the quickest thing is to just start creating again and I forget about not being as good as so and so and instead I go back to my happy place - the art process. 


Before starting this travel journal, I asked myself a few questions:

  1. What size would best suit my goals? 

    • I ended up choosing a huge Leuchtturm sketchbook for my travel journal because Lou made the very good point that my urban sketches fill up the whole page in the small journal I bring everywhere with me, so I wanted to have a bit more space to play around with that could fit those drawings plus more.

  2. Do I want to bring my sketchbook out when traveling or journal back at the van? 

    • I have a small sketchbook that I bring with me everywhere and that's where I write down any thoughts, doodle, urban sketch. I don't put any pressure on that journal, which is very helpful in trying out new styles without hesitation. It can be ugly, not focused, and I love that its size makes it easy to always have with me. But when I decided to start a travel journal, I didn't want to lose the ease in my outings, and also wanted to be comfortable and create more polished reflections on our travels. I think as I get more confident it's quite possible that I will eventually shift to a smaller notebook that I can bring with me anywhere, but for right now it feels better (and to be honest much easier to film) to journal back at the van. 

  3. What materials do I want to use? 

    • I really wanted to include watercolors in my travel journal because it was the first medium that got me excited about art when we were living in Berlin a few years ago. Last year though I committed to only pen and paper as a way to focus on learning to draw, but it was so much fun to bring the color back in this first journal entry. As for the other mediums, I have pens, markers, pencils, washi tape, a glue stick and then all the papers and mementos from our travels.  


I am really happy with how the first entry in the travel journal turned out. Barcelona is so special to both me and Lou as it was where we first met and fell in love. It was such a strange and beautiful experience to go visit some of the places that had been so important to us and also explore new parts of the city, making even more memories in Barcelona that we can cherish for the rest of our lives. I hope you enjoyed this first travel journal and I can't wait to share many more with you in the future.