There are three key things that I want to convey about TRAVELER'S notebook. 1) After trying a notebook and inserts for only a few days, I knew I had to have one of my own. 2) I haven't been this inspired by trying something new in years. 3) Using a TRAVELER'S notebook is changing both the way I understand myself and the way I interact with the world.
What Is a TRAVELER'S notebook?
When I started working at Pen Boutique, it took me a long while to even understand what TRAVELER'S notebook notebooks are, let alone begin to grasp the options that open up to you once you take the plunge and buy your first notebook starter kit. A TRAVELER'S notebook isn't just a notebook. It's a system that is designed to be customized and become whatever you want it to be.
The "notebook" is actually a notebook cover--a single piece of supple, but very sturdy, leather. The outside is smooth, and the inside surface is a luxuriously soft velvety suede. It comes in two sizes and a few different plain colors, and can be decorated with stickers or charms if you wish. The design is simple but ingenious. This cover folds around TRAVELER'S COMPANY's various slim paper-and-cardboard refill notebooks, which are secured by a thin but strong elastic cord that is attached to the leather cover. Additional binding bands can easily be added to connect internal components together and add more. (The packaging provides instructions on how to do this, and there are also many videos on YouTube that you can watch, which will help you understand different ways to configure your notebook. Once you get the hang of it, it's very easy.) At the top of the "spine" (which only becomes a spine when the notebook cover is filled) is a small circular tin fastener that encloses the elastic cord and the top of a long, thin string bookmark with a knotted end.
The leather cover stays closed by means of another thin elastic cord that emerges from the cover's back and stretches to wrap around the outside horizontally and keep the contents snug and protected. If either of these two cords wears out, or if you want to switch them for a different color cord, they are easy to replace, and TRAVELER'S COMPANY sells a repair kit with spares. The repair kit also includes two replacement bookmark strings and a replacement tin fastener. Unlike ordinary notebooks that you fill up and then throw away or deal with storing, the TRAVELER'S notebook is designed to be endlessly renewed and have a long, long life. Only the inexpensive refill inserts need replacing, and those can be organized and kept in very little space. TRAVELER'S COMPANY even sells binders and brass label plates to help you store your little refill notebooks.
The more you use the notebook, the more special it becomes. The outer leather will soften and weather with time and take on a beautiful distressed look. Small scratches will appear in a pattern unique to you. Using it every day will create a notebook that is a reflection of your journey through life. When I was researching the notebook, I was especially impressed by this photo that katygrowscreative shared on Instagram. Wow. Over time, the scratches will even out and the leather will patina and become shiny. The color on the spine may lighten, and the way you hold and handle your notebook will become part of the notebook's personality, too. If you prefer a more uniform and even appearance, you can use a cream for leather products to make the aging less noticeable.
The refill notebook inserts come in a myriad of styles (lined, grid, blank white, blank cream, dot grid, lightweight paper, numerous types of planner layouts, sketch paper, watercolor paper, kraft paper, and more), which you can mix and match as suits your needs. Most of them are made with MD (Midori Diary) Paper, an extremely fountain pen friendly paper that feels wonderful to write on. It works well with pencils, ballpoints, rollerballs, gel pens, and markers, but is an absolute pleasure to use with your fountain pen, showing sheen, shading, and shimmer beautifully. It's bleed resistant, feather resistant, and displays only moderate ghosting. The paper is translucent enough to trace an image or use a guide sheet underneath (excellent if you prefer the versatility of blank paper, but need help writing straight), but opaque enough to use both sides if you don't mind a minimal amount of show-through. I hadn't used Midori paper very much before I tried the TRAVELER'S notebook, and I am in love with it now. I think it's my favorite paper. In addition to its practicality, it just has a very satisfying feel and makes my inks look especially beautiful. The pale cream shade does affect your ink color a tiny bit, but it's subtle, and I like the way the softly warm look feels less harsh on my eyes than bright white paper does.
You can also add additional TRAVELER'S COMPANY inserts with useful accessories like post-it notes, card files, double-sided stickers (to serve as tape if you want to use the notebook as a scrapbook), various pockets and folders to hold papers and small objects, and more. Because the notebook is so flexible, it can accommodate as many as four interior notebooks and several accessories. It gets a bit unwieldy after that. The contents aren't hard to switch in and out, so you can either settle on your favorite combination and leave it like that, or decide which inserts are most useful to you depending on your plans. For example, you might prefer a paired down notebook with only a zippered pocket, free diary planner, and lined notebook for every day, but add a kraft file folder for maps and tickets, a sketch paper notebook for drawings, and a kraft paper notebook for scrapbooking, when you go on a trip.
Your lifestyle, goals, needs, and interests all dictate which inserts you choose to fill your leather notebook cover, and the result is a helpful companion that is as unique as you are. Despite the name, they aren't just for traveling. They are wonderful for trips, but they are also there for you as you travel through life every day.
Selecting Your Starting Setup
When you choose to take the plunge and buy a TRAVELER'S notebook starter kit, the first thing you must decide is whether you want Regular Size or Passport Size. Regular Size is 8.7 inches long x 4.9 inches wide, and about 0.7 inches deep, but the depth varies, depending on how many inserts you put inside. The notebook takes A5 Slim size refills. I had never used a notebook this size and shape before, and I liked it right away. It gives you enough space to not feel confining, but it also doesn't feel overwhelming to fill. The long and narrow shape is easy to read, like a newspaper or magazine column, and is perfect for schedules, sketches, and freeform thoughts and lists. It's also a good shape to turn sideways and use horizontally, in landscape mode. I like the way it fits in my hand, and it's comfortable and companionable to carry around.
The Passport Size notebook is 5.3 inches long x 3.9 inches wide, and 0.6 (-ish) inches deep. This size doesn't have as much space for your ideas, but it's perfect if you want a very portable companion that can go with you anywhere. It easily fits in a purse and even a pocket. Many of the TRAVELER'S COMPANY enthusiasts I talked to actually own a notebook in each size so that they can have one at home on their desk and one that they bring with them everywhere.
I haven't experimented with the Passport Size notebook, so I'm not sure how I myself feel about it, but I like the Regular Size very much and I don't feel that it's too large to carry with me. It's lightweight and easily fits in the mini backpack I use when I go out (which is smaller than most purses) or in the laptop shoulder bag I bring to work. I barely even notice when I'm carrying it. It's definitely too big for my pockets, but I wouldn't carry a notebook in my pocket anyway. Choosing your size is very personal and both versions have their loyalists. TRAVELER'S notebook devotees that I talked to seemed pretty evenly split between the sizes, or owned both.
Your starter package will contain the leather notebook cover, a blank Midori MD white paper notebook (the same as the 003 regular size or 003 passport size refills), a cotton bag that can be used to protect your leather notebook or store extra inserts, and a spare elastic band in an alternate color. The cardboard packaging itself contains an extra elastic band that you can keep and use with your notebook as well. This package includes everything you need to begin using your notebook, but you will probably want to also get binding bands for expansion, and a few additional kinds of inserts. Keep in mind that each leather notebook cover can comfortably accommodate a maximum of four different paper notebook refills. You can fit even more, but the inner contents will stick out of the leather cover when the cover is closed. The notebook is easier to write in when it's less thick, so I prefer two or three refills.
I like having one of the free-diary planner refills (which allow you to fill in our own dates and start at any point throughout the year); plus a notebook for writing lists and freeform ideas; a notebook for art (which I hope will encourage me to sketch more); and a zippered pocket or folder for storing loose papers, stickers, postage stamps, or accessories I may want.
Each refill has a name and its own simple number, which makes it easy for TRAVELER'S notebook lovers to find their favorites. The refills are relatively inexpensive, so if you buy one and it doesn't work out for you, it's a learning experience. The notebook cover is your daily companion, but the inside contents can change over time. Some people have determined the exact configuration that works best for them, and always stick with that. Some own more than one leather notebook for different locations or purposes. And some switch a variety of refills in and out of one notebook cover whenever they want to change things up. There is no right or wrong way. It's whatever works best for you, and that may evolve.
There are many different ways to assemble contents, but after a little experimentation, my favorite so far is:
1) Connect two refill notebooks back-to-back with a binding band inserted at the center pages of each notebook.
3) Open a third refill notebook to its center pages and slip it under the elastic cord, so it lies between the other two notebooks.
4) Then slip a thin zippered pocket or folder underneath all the notebooks, so that it surrounds everything and lies on either side of the whole sandwich filling, kind of like a folded piece of lettuce up against the "bread" of the notebook.
This layout is well-behaved, and the center refill doesn't protrude when you close the notebook.
Nice and neat!
My notebook isn't mine. Not yet. But it will be.
I'd been wanting to do a blog article about TRAVELER'S notebook for some time, but I knew I needed to actually try one before I could share my thoughts about it, so I wrote to the TRAVELER'S COMPANY to ask if they'd be willing to send me some components so that I could write on the paper and use the notebook in the real world to create the article I had in mind. They were kind enough to send me a full-sized black TRAVELER'S notebook and a whole box of different refills to explore. I was astonished when I opened the box and started to sort through all the different elements.
I'd looked at our TRAVELER'S COMPANY display in the store many times, of course, but all the notebooks and accessories are in sealed packages, so I hadn't been able to examine them or try them out until this box arrived for me.
Even though TRAVELER'S COMPANY had provided me with a large variety of options to test, there were still many more possibilities available in the store, so I also decided to borrow a selection of additional sealed refills and accessories so I could look closely at the packages and get a better understanding of what the choices are, how they might work together, and which ones I want to use when I assemble my own unique notebook configuration.
Once I had them in my hands, my mind was ablaze with curiosity, and opening the starter package was an incredible thrill. As I looked at the notebook for the first time, I spoke my observations out loud and recorded a rough video with one hand so that I could describe the experience later. The video is a little embarrassing because I get so into the notebook, but I posted it to my Instagram feed tonight, so you can see the textures up close and hear my unfiltered reaction.
The video begins with the packaging already opened and my voice almost moaning, "Mmmm... the first thing I noticed when I opened the container is the smell. It smells so amazing, this leather smell. I want to keep just inhaling it... wow!"
My hand reaches down to pick up the notebook and remove it from its cotton case. "I'm taking it out... ooo! It feels so smooth! I love the smooth feeling of the cover!" My fingers move over the cover, as I comment, "Wow, this is much more sensory than I expected. This is really cool." As I examine the cover closely, I observe, "There's like a little metal thing here... it's just plain black leather... it says 'TRAVELER'S notebook' in the corner--it's embossed. '[TRAVELER'S COMPANY, Japan.] Made in Thailand.' This part really wouldn't even show up if I wasn't looking at it on video. It's just very subtle. It doesn't have some big ugly logo on it or anything like that, just really simple and nice. Okay, and then you open--"
My voice breaks off mid-sentence as I experience the inside of the cover for the first time and gasp, "Oooo! Oh my gosh! Wow!!! The inside is so, so, so soft. I love the feeling of this suede. Wow. Oh my gosh, I love this already. I haven't even tried writing in it yet, but... wow. It reminds me of... I don't know. Like a new pair of the nicest boots ever." I laugh, "I don't know... that's what came to mind!"
Continuing, I observe, "And then it just has this really simple notebook in here, with this just plain kraft paper [cover], which is nice to touch, too. Kind of... not rough, but texture-y feeling. And then, woah! This paper... very very smooth, too. Not crazy-thin, but pretty thin, and there's a decent number of pages here.... Wow. I am really, really excited about this. I haven't been this excited about trying a product in a while!"
Being very honest, I add, "I hope I stick with it, though. I am very, very bad at sticking with journal type stuff, but I have hopes for this because I love how there's a lot of small little notebooks--little components--how modular it is. I think that because I can take things out, I'm not going to be as overwhelmed by a big long notebook that's so intimidating to fill and that I feel like I have to stick with one purpose. I like that there's going to be a lot of little notebooks with different purposes because it's more how my brain works. My brain is a little anti-linear... it likes to have different categories, and it likes to think about things in a way that needs a little bit more of a freedom to it, so... I think this is going to be cool. I hope so! Wow, I am really excited about this. I really think this is going to be great. And I can't wait to get my pen on these different papers, and see how they feel."
Listening to this video again two weeks after I recorded it, I am actually impressed by my initial insights. It's very true that I tend not to stick with journals. I have tried to keep a journal several times, and always gave up. Last January, I tried to use a Hobonichi planner, and, although I loved it at first, I stopped writing in it in February when my dad was very sick. After he died and I went weeks without writing anything, I felt like I'd failed because I'd skipped so many of the dated entries. I never resumed.
I like that the TRAVELER'S notebook "Weekly + Memo" Free Diary refill I chose can start on any date because you fill in the dates yourself. And if you miss weeks, it's no big deal. You can just leave those dates out, and not waste pages with blank unused space. The freeform layout is also working for me, so far. There's enough space on the left to write a general description of what I'm doing that day, with memo space on the right to add more details. So far I'm mostly using it to keep track of things I need to remember to do at work, and I like that. Maybe keeping a diary or travelogue type journal is just not for me, and that's okay.
My planner is kind of messy so far, but I don't want to feel like it needs to look pretty in order to keep using it. Sometimes I might be in the mood to get artistic with it, but sometimes I'm too tired or not inspired, and I just need it to do its job and help me organize my life.
In another refill notebook, I have been experimenting with writing down things like my "Currently Inked" pens list, and I'm really enjoying seeing the different inks I'm using in each pen, and how that evolves over time. I also brainstormed other lists I want to write, although I'm waiting to get my own real TRAVELER'S notebook before I start them. I think I prefer to understand myself and organize my ideas through lists rather than by writing down what happens to me every day.
I talked to my customer Mikele about using a TRAVELER'S notebook this way, and she said she has a similar way of using it, rather like a commonplace book, and loves the notebook because it's so functional. Hers has both a planner aspect and an artistic aspect. She has both a Regular Size and a Passport Size notebook, and has dedicated content for each. The Regular Size one stays on her desk at home, and the Passport Size goes in her purse. She swatches inks, and writes down inks she wants to try, her pens, ink in each pen, books and music she wants to explore and review, quotes she likes, and more. She also tracks stuff like water consumption, vitamins and supplements, and health goals. Mikele uses washi tape, stickers, and number clips to keep track of different sections she creates. She also told me you can "tip in" extra pages if you want to add supplements. She loves the scratches and character her TRAVELER'S notebook have developed. Her favorite accessories include the pen holder, which she uses on her Passport Size notebook, the pocket stickers, and double sided stickers.
I told her I am intimidated when I look at people's pretty notebook photos that they share online, with beautiful handwriting, art, elaborate layouts, and stickers and washi tape galore. I don't have the time to do that stuff, and it's not really me, either. Mikele pointed out that the people who post those photos are artistic and really into it. It's part of how they express their creativity. Most people's notebooks don't look so fancy. "Do what's right for you. There's no right way and no wrong way. Who's going to see it but you? It's what you want it to be."
She's so right. After our conversation, I read several articles about commonplace books (here's one of my favorites), and took notes about what is often included in one. As I considered more and more the kinds of things I want to think about, my list of ideas for my future notebook expanded exponentially.
(Maybe a dot grid or graph notebook would help me write straighter? I could also use a guide sheet under my page. Or maybe I shouldn't even care.)
I didn't try all the refills that TRAVELER'S COMPANY sent me, but I looked at them and thought about which ones would work best for me. In addition to the lined MD paper and Free Diary, I tried the sketch paper, watercolor paper, and lightweight paper.
The Sketch Paper was very fun to play with, and I think it would be great for trips or outings, or just to inspire me to do more art. The paper's texture is really nice, and the thicker paper feels good. The pages are perforated so you can tear your art out cleanly if you want to give it to someone or save it outside the notebook. (Or throw it away if you mess up!) My fountain pens' lines were nice and crisp, and shimmer shows nicely, but the paper doesn't show sheen. The paper is fairly opaque, and you can use both sides. It can handle a lot of different media, including fountain pens, pencils, felt tips/fineliners, crayons, oil pastels, colored pencils, gel pens, and paint pens.
A fairly heavy application of fountain pen ink on the paper even worked pretty well, with no bleed through, although I wasn't pleased with the behavior of ink diluted with water. It got slightly fuzzy, soaked through, and warped the paper a little. I also tried water soluble painting crayons and they got blotchy when wet and didn't blend nicely. I like that you can take the refills out of the notebook to use them (or never put them in the notebook at all!), like I did when I messily colored with my oil pastels. (This photo was posed later on a kids' art table in a cafe.)
The Watercolor Paper refill was excellent for more watery pursuits! I drew on the paper with waterproof ink, then painted on top with more ink using a paintbrush, and the results were superb. And, unlike the sketch paper, this paper allows the ink to dry more slowly and shows sheen beautifully. It also handled my water soluble painting crayons beautifully and did not become warped at all when I applied water. The water and ink didn't soak through to the other side, either. The watercolor refill is a little less thick than the sketch one, and the paper itself thicker, so it has fewer pages and is therefore more expensive even though the price is the same for both. Like the sketch paper, it's perforated, but it only comes in Regular Size, while the sketch paper is available for both Regular and Passport sized notebooks.
I thought the Light Paper was pretty good, and enjoyed it, too. This notebook used to be Tomoe River paper, but the packaging doesn't say Tomoe River on it now, so I think TRAVELER'S COMPANY has changed suppliers. It's very similar to Tomoe River, and shows sheen and shading beautifully, but my J. Herbin Rose Cyclamen ink in a fine medium pen feathered a little, which surprised me. I like that you can easily see through this paper to trace something, but, for everyday use, it bothers me that you always see what's written on the next page unless you put a sheet of blank paper between pages. The paper stands up to getting very wet, although it does wrinkle. I like it for drawing and painting with ink and water! This paper also dents easily, so it's a good idea to put a piece of lightweight cardboard or a pencil board behind the page you're using, so that the next page won't get indented with an impression of your words or drawing.
Oh: one more thing. As you might have noticed in my photos up above, the brass clips are a fantastic accessory. I realized almost right away that having a large clip makes the notebook easier to write in, because you don't have to hold it open with your other hand, and the clip is essential to keep the notebook open if you want to take a photo. I borrowed one from the store to write this article, knowing I'd pay for it and keep it, and I've been using it nearly every time I write in the notebook. Other TRAVELER'S COMPANY fans I've talked to also said having a clip is one of their top recommendations for getting the most out of your notebook. I haven't tried the flat index clips or number clips that are used to mark your pages, but Joy, who places our orders, told me those are extremely popular and people often order the packages in 5s and 10s. Several customers I talked to said they use them to create sections in their notebooks and quickly find what they are looking for. I may have to invest in some for myself, too.
After I finish this article, I'll leave the notebook that TRAVELER'S COMPANY sent me in the store so that customers can experience it firsthand. They will be able to hold it, feel the leather, understand how the components are assembled, and write in the refills for themselves.
Then I'll create my own private TRAVELER'S notebook. It will be just for me. I am excited just thinking about it. I still haven't fully decided all the ways I'll use my notebook, and that's okay. One of the coolest things about TRAVELER'S notebook is that they grow and change with you as your life changes, and they inspire you to be creative and expand your view of what a notebook can be for you. As you own one, you think of new ideas, try new inserts and accessories, and learn from others in the TRAVELER'S notebook community. There are many YouTube videos and Instagram posts sharing TRAVELER'S notebook ideas, and even a TRAVELER'S notebook Reddit discussion group. Maybe when I'm using mine I'll get inspired to create beautiful and creative many-colored pages. Maybe other pages will be chicken-scratch scrawled words in one color ink. It will probably be a little of both, but it doesn't matter, as long as I use it.
Your notebook can be for work, for trips, for art, for personal reflection, for organization, for devotion, for self-improvement, for ideas, for memories, for record-keeping, or a mix of these and more. You can keep it private or share it with others. You can change it as you change. Be creative, and let it evolve. Just start it.
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P.S. I did it! I bought my very own TRAVELER'S notebook, refill, and clip at work on Friday. Thanks for the photo, Leila! I can't wait to get started on my notebook for real and see where it takes me.