Our Favorite Tips for Keeping a Travel Journal

Travel journals are a fun and creative way to remember your most meaningful travels. While I record my favorite tips, tricks, and locations here at A Friend Afar, I knew I wanted to start a handwritten journal to record how these destinations make me feel. Starting a travel journal was something I thought about for a long time before I started writing because I was worried that I would start one and then quickly give it up or forget to write in it. I did a lot of searching through Pinterest for inspiration, and I was honest with myself about what would work for me and what would not work. Below are my favorite tips for starting a travel journal and keeping up with it as you seek out more adventures.

Our Favorite Tips for Keeping a Travel Journal - www.AFriendAfar.com

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Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Our Top Posts of 2015

Since the end of year is quickly approaching, we thought it would be fun to do a roundup of some of our most popular blog posts since launching A Friend Afar earlier this year! They include content from some of our big trips abroad to Cuba, Greece & France as well as a day trip closer to home. It also includes packing tips, bag reviews, planning tips, and a guest post about family travel! Check out our top posts of 2015 below.

Top Posts of 2015- www.afriendafar.com #afriendafar #yearinreview

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Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

Travel Gift Guide: Travel Coffee Table Books

We couldn’t resist one more round up of our favorite gifts! This time we’ve pulled together our favorite travel coffee table books, and we’ve included a fun variety of art, photographs, and home decor that reflect some of our favorite travel experiences.

Travel Coffee Table Books - www.AFriendAfar.com

Our Favorite Travel Coffee Table Books

Great Journeys – Travel the World’s Most Spectacular Routes by Lonely Planet
This gorgeous travel coffee table book will have you yearning for a few months off of work so that you can embark on an epic trip. It covers routes from the original Tour de France to Marco Polo’s exploration route. Get ready to add a few new trips to your bucket list!

National Geographic – The Covers by National Geographic
It’s no secret that we’re in love with National Geographic magazines around here. This collection of covers spanning the magazine’s 125 years inspires us to learn more about the places we travel to and the people we meet.

Nomad by Sibella Court
Sibella is our style icon, and we love how Nomad inspires us to bring our travels back home with us. Isn’t it wonderful how decorating your home with souvenirs big and small can take you back to your travels?

Jutaku: Japanese Houses by Naomi Pollock
Japan was one of our first loves, and we’re fascinated by how modern and traditional architecture manage to blend seamlessly. This gorgeous travel coffee table book showcases 400 homes that epitomize modern Japan.

59 Illustrated National Parks by Joel Anderson & Nathan Anderson
We just fell in love with The Anderson Design based out of Nashville, TN. Meagan even bought a print of all of the National Parks for Stephanie for Christmas. You know how Stephanie loves her parks! Anderson Design Group creates some amazing vintage-inspired travel posters – I’m sure they’ll have your favorite spot – and this book contains all of the national parks posters as well as fun facts and a history for each park.

Graphique de la Rue by Louise Fili
Our new found love of France (yeah, we’re a little behind – it’s because we were focused on Asia or Africa) cannot be underestimated. This gorgeous book captures one of the many things that make strolling the streets of Paris so special – the art of Paris’s signs. It’s perfect for your friends that are Francophiles, graphic designers, or just art lovers.

Maps by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska
As cartography enthusiasts, we can’t get through a gift guide around here without including a map or a globe, and this travel coffee table book is an incredibly fun find. The gorgeous illustrations detail the history and cultures of countries and regions. It’s perfect for travelers of all ages!

Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky
Just as Great Journeys has us daydreaming about extreme voyages, this book has us adding new locations to our bucket list solely for the sake of “do you know anyone who has been there?!? Neither do I!” Visiting exciting and remote places that none of your friends have heard of will make you quite the explorer. Just adding them to your bucket list will make you feel like one.

You can see our other favorite travel gifts here, here, and here! And don’t forget to give a little back while doing all of your holiday shopping. We rounded up some of our favorite international charities to give you some ideas.

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Travel Coloring Books for Adults

While Stephanie has been floating around Albuquerque, I’ve been back in Atlanta looking for new ways to feed my wanderlusting soul. I started with awesome twitter chats where I’ve made new friends and come up with great ideas (chat with us here!). Now I’ve moved on to that “stress-relieving” activity that’s all the rage. Yes, I’ve been coloring in coloring books. Not just any coloring books, mind you, but two travel-themed books: Secret Paris and Secret Tokyo. Let me tell you, it’s a wonderful way to pass the time.

Tokyo Coloring Book for Adults - www.AFriendAfar.com

Secret Paris and Secret Tokyo

My friend gave me the Secret Paris book a few weeks back, so when I saw Secret Tokyo in a shop today, I had to bring it home. Having been to both Paris and Tokyo, I was thrilled to start coloring in cityscapes and souvenirs in the colors that I remembered from my trips.

The author that makes the Secret Paris and Secret Tokyo books also makes a Secret New York, so you have 3 beautifully detailed cities covered right there. I’ve found multiple more travel-themed coloring books below. I think they make an amazing gift for your favorite traveler! They’re absolutely perfect for when you’re daydreaming at home, and I can’t wait to take one on a plane to pass the time on a short flight or to keep me busy until bedtime on a long-haul flight. Coloring in the City of Lights on the way to Paris? What better way to get excited about the beautiful colors and architectural details that make that city so unique!

Paris Coloring Book for Adults - www.AFriendAfar.com

Our Favorite Travel Coloring Books

Secret ParisSecret Paris 

Secret TokyoSecret Tokyo

Secret New YorkSecret New York

Splendid CitiesSplendid Cities

CityScapesCreative Haven CityScapes

World Traveler
World Traveler Coloring Book

What do you think of this new coloring book craze? Which of these coloring books is now on your wish list?  Tell us in the comments!

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Guest Post: 8 Family Travel Tips from Alli

We recently introduced you to two of our Friends Afar, Krista and Ja. We have a new and wonderful friend for you today – Alli! You’re going to love Alli! We sure do! We met her at our church in Atlanta where she had started Lazarus Ministries, an amazing non-profit that does wonderful work with Atlanta’s homeless community. Fun fact: that’s where fellow blog author Stephanie met her husband!

 Now Alli’s living in Washington, D.C. with her husband Joe, her pup Duke, and her darling little boy Jack who is wonderfully featured in this post. Alli has also expanded Lazarus Ministries to Washington, D.C., so if you’re in the area, find out how you can get involved here.  Alli’s been traveling all over the U.S. with Jack and Duke in tow, so she has some great tips on family travel! In fact, Jack has already seen more of North America than most people you know, so he’s Our Little Friend Afar! Enjoy!
Meet Our Friend Afar: Alli and Jack - www.AFriendAfar.com

Family Travel Tips from Our Friend Afar: Alli

Some of my friends call me crazy. I have a 15 month old son named Jack, and he has been to 22 states, Canada, 13 major cities, and has had his feet in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I travel for work, to be able to see both mine and my husband’s family, and for adventure. Sometimes he is traveling with me and my husband, but sometimes it is just me and our dog. I didn’t plan his first year to be so full, but it happened.  I learned a few things from my various trips, so I thought I would write a few tips.

1) Be mentally prepared and realistic. Just a couple of weeks ago, I loaded up the car with Jack and our dog, Duke, and drove from Washington, DC to Dalton, Georgia. Normally, it’s a 10 hour drive, but it would have been torture to try to make it in that time driving by myself with a toddler and a dog. I managed my expectations to be more realistic and knew it would be closer to 14 or 15 hours. We stopped every 2 hours — mainly so Jack could play. Because I was mentally prepared, it was a pleasant trip. I also try to make sure my expectations of the day match what it will be like.

2) What you wear matters. Of course, I want to be comfortable. But I am more on top of things if I don’t feel and look sloppy. I usually wear stretchy jeans, a shirt that it is not terribly noticeable if it is a little dirty from toddler hands (but still cute), my Puma ballet sneaker flats, and a stylish hat.  Also, bringing an extra shirt is ideal.  I highly recommend not wearing one piece suits (this is important for the bathroom… I’ll get to that).

3) Ration the toys. I keep most of Jack’s toys up front with me (or in my bag if on a plane or train) and hand them back to him one at a time. I have them positioned to be handed back safely. If I give him all of the toys at once, he gets bored much more quickly. Once I have handed him all of his toys, it is usually time to stop for a break. (It would take about 1.5 to 2 hours to go through all of his toys. We do this at home as well, and I have been told it helps with focus.) I usually bring a mixture of 15 toys and books.

3) Think ahead about entertainment. The last trip I mentioned was 14 hours long. We did that with no TV. I was prepared with a playlist that had songs we both like, some NPR podcasts, and audiobooks. When he was happy, occupied and content, I would listen to the podcasts or audiobooks. When he started to get fidgety, I would play the surefire songs that make him smile and clap (for Jack those are Mind Games by Leagues and Shake it Off by Taylor Swift — pretty much a guaranteed smile). Swing by the library and spend a second on iTunes; you will not regret it.

4) Nature does call. For me the hardest thing when traveling with a baby or toddler (and a dog!) is going to the bathroom. With the baby, I wear him as I go to the bathroom. He is too busy and public bathrooms are too nasty for me to let him down at all. Once in the Seattle airport family room, there was a little chair attached to the wall that had straps. That was a luxury! Especially since I was a wearing a fashionable jumpsuit that was one piece (learned my lesson there because not all airports or bathrooms have those and we had other layovers).

Family Travel Tips - www.AFriendAfar.com

5) Snacks. Jack was 7 months old when I drove from DC to Wilmington, NC by myself. It was the first time traveling alone with him. I was so worried about food and snacks, but another mom showed me the dissolvable snacks. It was such a relief to know that he couldn’t choke on them.

6) Traveling with a dog. Our dog, Duke, is a six year old boxer that is a saint. He is a therapy dog, has a wonderful demeanor, and loves the car! I actually have to spell C-A-R if I am not ready for him to know we are getting ready to go. Traveling with a dog brings its own obstacles. We can only do drive-thru restaurants unless I packed meals. I do not travel with him without another adult in the summer. I have to leave him in the car when I need to go to the bathroom. My sister recommended leaving a sign saying that I am just running in to go to the bathroom so that there is no confusion and so people know he is in there for just a few minutes. I always leave the windows down enough for him to get air and park in the shade. I also put the air on full blast for a few minutes before parking. Dogs should not be left for more than a few minutes. I hurry and then let him out to do his business.

7) Bring the right supplies; borrow the rest. A mirror in the backseat so I can see Jack while I am driving and travel dog dishes that go flat when not in use are the types of things that I find irreplaceable (I am hoping that the right carseat goes without saying, but just in case…). Highchair, portacrib, infant bathtub —  I try to borrow in the destination city. In the day of social media, it only takes one post to find someone’s friend’s sister’s cousin who has what is needed.

8) Be ready for THOSE moments. Like when your son is asleep, you’re listening to a Desmond Tutu audiobook, and you are overwhelmed with the beauty of the moment as you drive through the Shenandoah Valley. Or the flight from DC to Minneapolis where he is looking out the windows and giggling at the clouds. Or when a restaurant in Knoxville lets you, your son, and your dog sit in the fenced in patio, and your son stands at the fence holding his sippy cup and waving to people as they pass by. Those are the moments that make you glad you were crazy enough to take him on this adventure no matter how much work it is for you. Those moments.

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

The Best Twitter Chats for Travel Lovers

If you’re like us, you don’t just love to travel, you also love sharing stories and getting new ideas from like-minded travelers. Today we’ve found a great selection of organized Twitter chats that help you do just that. In these chats, the host asks questions, and their followers answer by sharing experiences, travel tips, photos, and ideas. Whether you’re an active Twitter user or someone who occasionally follows social media, head on over and follow these conversations for great ideas and fun new travelers to follow. You never know what you’ll find or where your new friends will be from! We especially love seeing the photos that people share of their favorite locations. It often adds a few new spots to our ever-growing destination list!

Twitter Chats for Travel Lovers

2pm EST: #GirlsTravel
Host: @sheswanderful

3pm EST: #TravelPics
Host: @AntiTourist

3pm EST: #TravelCult
Host: @TravelHistory_

1pm EST: #TRLT (The Road Less Traveled)
Host: @TheTravelCamel

3:30pm EST: #NUTS (Not-So Usual Therapy Session)
Host: @Midliferoadtrip

5:30pm EST: #TTOT (Travel Talk on Twitter)
Host: @TravelDudes

2pm EST: #ExpediaChat
Hosts: @Expedia

3:30pm EST: #RTWChat
Host: @BootsnAll

5pm EST: #Travex
Host: @TravelSquire and @MGPtravelblog

8pm EST: #FoodTravelChat
Host: @FoodTravelChat

1:30pm EST: #JSETT
Host: @JetSetExtra

12pm EST: #TravelSkills
Host: @johnnyjet and @cjmcginnis

All day: #FriFotos
Host:  @EpsteinTravels

11am EST: #WeekendWanderlust
Host: @JustinLaurenXO

Do you know about any other travel-themed Twitter chats we should join? Tell us about them in the comments!

Don’t forget to connect with us on Twitter for great travel news, pictures, and tips! We love hearing from you!

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Meet Our Friend Afar: Krista

At A Friend Afar, we want to introduce you to some of our most inspiring fellow travelers. We met Krista at Georgia Tech, and it’s safe to say that she’s been living abroad for the majority of the time that we’ve known her. Krista was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria and now teaches English in South Korea.

Feeding the Deer in Nara, Japan - www.AFriendAfar.com

Our Friend Krista feeding the deer in Nara, Japan on her most recent trip.

Tell us about yourself.
My name is Krista. I’m a global citizen who happens to hold a US passport. My passport opens quite a few more doors than some of my fellow world travelers, which is a privilege I appreciate and try to take advantage of as much as possible. I’ve been traveling internationally since I was 15 years old. My career is teaching. Currently I live in South Korea.

Do you have any specific travel interests?
Early in my travels I loved to experience anything and everything new. I wanted to see as much of the world as I could, and I quickly ticked off all the continents, except Antarctica which I’m still a little bitter about. Seeing new places all the time was exciting, challenging, and adventurous, however my interests in travel changed after about 5 years. I realized that for all my bucket lists completed and checked boxes there was a lot I was still missing. Living abroad and getting to know a place, culture, people, and not just experience a small piece of it, started to appeal to me far more, so I decided to live abroad.

I do still travel from my base country quite a bit, but my goals have changed in traveling. I like to travel to countries where I have friends that live there and know the culture well, that way I can have a better idea of the country, culture, and people. Now I base myself in a new country every few years and take small trips to surrounding countries where I have local connections. Most of the things I enjoy doing on my trips aren’t in any travel brochure or magazine, and most often I’m the only tourist. I guess you could say my interests in travel are cultural discovery, exploration, and always adventure.

Krista in London - www.AFriendAfar.com

Krista in London

Do you speak a foreign language? How has that influenced your travel?
I speak Bulgarian quite well and Spanish passably. Disclaimer: I lived in Bulgaria for 4 years. Speaking Bulgarian has definitely influenced my travel habits, but Spanish, not so much. Bulgarian isn’t the easiest language to learn, it’s also not very common, it shares an alphabet with several other similar languages, and the country where they speak it isn’t English proficient outside the major tourist areas. Being able to speak Bulgarian gave me a really good base for roughly understanding many Slavic languages. That, combined with being able to read Cyrillic, makes it much easier for me to travel with confidence in Eastern Europe, a region that’s not very easy to get around if you only speak English. I think that if I didn’t speak Bulgarian I probably wouldn’t have done most of the adventurous things I’ve been able to do in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. I guess I could tell you what some of those are….

I used to rent a car and drive to Greece every spring. I never had a specific location in mind, just somewhere near Thessaloniki or The Fingers. I’d pack a tent and sleeping bag and find a beach or mountain I liked, pull over, and camp for the week. Once I was accidentally on private land and the owner came out to kick me off. After going through English, rudimentary Greek, and then Bulgarian we were able to communicate and he let me stay for the night with the promise I’d move in the morning. I probably should have been really nervous in that situation, but knowing the culture and that eventually I’d be able to communicate it ended up being a really great interaction and we talked for quite a while about his family and land.

Do you plan everything out or go with the flow?
A bit of both actually. I’m a ridiculous researcher. I spend at least double the amount of time I’ll be traveling researching and figuring out all my options for the trip, then usually I make very few plans and decide what to do day by day. Having researched so much and gained a knowledge base of what there is to do, prices, timeframes, possible snags, and effort expended to do each different thing before I leave, I feel super comfortable going with the flow and not worrying I’ll miss out on something once I get to the actual place. Doing it this way seems to be a bit more stressful on the front-end before I leave, but super relaxing when I’m actually on the trip, which is more important to me.

Livorno, Italy - www.AFriendAfar.com

Livorno, Italy – Photo by Krista

What’s the craziest thing you’ve eaten on a trip?
I used to think it was pig brains or bat testicles in Vanuatu, and it still might be. But those were much easier to eat than live octopus and squid in Korea. When your food is moving it makes it a bit more challenging physically and mentally. The octopus suctioned onto one of my molars, and I was a bit worried I’d lose it, but it was just for a few minutes and then I chewed it to death. So the scariest thing was the octopus, but the oddest was the bat.


Always Afar!

Do you collect a specific type of souvenir?
Yes! I try to get a piece of small jewellery (earrings, necklace, ring) from each place I go or trip I go on. Each country has such unique techniques and styles that I’ve ended up with a very eclectic collection. I don’t wear much jewellery, but whenever I do it always reminds me of a unique time and place far away. It’s like taking a piece of the place home with you.

What advice would you give someone traveling abroad for the first time?
– Keep in mind you’re in a foreign country where no one is required to speak English. Don’t expect people to speak English.
– Go with the experience. Don’t try to put your own cultural values on someone else’s culture.
– Enjoy the experiences for everything they are! Imagine it as a window into a different world. Even if you don’t like some of the things you see, it’s not your world and you’re just looking; you get to go back to your world soon. If you do like what you see, then explore even more.

And most of all, be aware that you may see everything differently when you go home. it may change you, and that’s ok.


Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.

Quote of the Week

Story behind this photo: While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana, I went on an incredible walking safari in Mole National Park in the Northern Region. It was a surreal experience trekking through the grassland savannah to see elephants, warthogs, and monkeys up close with our knowledgeable guide Osman and his young son. Elephants are one of my favorite animals and seeing them in their natural environment was a dream come true for me. -Stephanie

Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.