Philippines,  Travel,  Travel journal

Illustrated travel journal: Sagada, Mt. Province, Philippines

(Tip: you can click on the journal pages to view a bigger version)

The inside front cover of my travel journal

While having breakfast with my cousin one day while on vacation in Japan, I brought up the topic of travel blogs. My cousin Miki, three years younger than I, is an avid traveler and has been all over Asia, the US, and Europe, as well as our own country, the Philippines. Miki’s a talented writer and has a flair for photography as well, so I thought she’d be great at putting up a blog of her travels. “I always say I’ll write about my trips,” she said. “But I never do.”

I told her I plan to blog about my trips as well, but with a different spin: I’ll document it in photos and in a sketchbook. Kind of like The Sketching Backpacker, except I don’t backpack. LOL. Miki gave me a side glance. “Yeah, riiiight,” she said with a knowing laugh. I knew what she meant. It means that when the trip is over, we all go back to our usual, daily routine (work/school/whatever) and all plans for writing about the trip, organizing photos, etc. are thrown out the window. The least you can do is upload 473 photos of the trip on Facebook (after selecting from the 1034 you took), oftentimes not bothering to write out captions because who has time for captions?!

That conversation with Miki happened in November 2011, but I actually started keeping a travel sketchbook two months earlier. I bought a red, pocket-sized Moleskine sketchbook in time for my trip to Sagada, a rustic mountain town in Mountain Province, Philippines. I got the idea to keep an illustrated travel diary from cartoonist Lucy Knisley, who kept one (and published it as a book!) during a trip to Paris. I have no plans to go that far with my travel journal though; I just think it would be nice to keep a visual account of the things and experiences one encounters while traveling.

Road to Sagada
A bumpy, washed out segment of the road to Sagada, taken while riding atop a jeepney, a mode of traveling called “toploading.”
Banaue Rice Terraces
The Banaue Rice Terraces in Banaue, Ifugao, a stopover en route to Sagada

The thing is, I didn’t know how difficult it was to actually sketch and travel at the same time. Trip fatigue and the fact that you will spend your free time on the trip trying to access free wifi means you will end up doing very little work on your travel sketchbook. The Sagada trip was also a very physically-exhausting and challenging trip; my friends and I were all in bed sound asleep by 9 PM every night. Really, no time to draw or write. I ended up filling in my sketchbook two months after the trip– a feat harder than sketching while traveling, actually. But I managed.


I was also quite at a loss on how to approach travel journaling/sketching. Do I keep the events in chronological order, as I did on this first spread? Do I write about everything? Which experiences get written about and which ones get drawn? The bit about the conductor lying in the middle of the bus aisle was typed out into my cellphone as it happened, as it made an impression on me and I knew I wanted it to end up on the journal, but the rest were thoughts/experiences from memory long after the trip was over.

rock climbing
Rock climbing with just a rope!



I ended up including just the things that stood out the most on the trip, like “surprise rock climbing” as illustrated above. If I had been told we’d be clambering up rocks and walls prior to the trip, I might not have joined in the first place. Haha. But I’m glad to have experienced it all. I did not escape unscathed, though.

Bruised knee
A very bruised knee a day after I hoisted myself up on a rock and hit my knee hard on the ground. Too bad I didn’t bother taking a photo of this knee several days later, when it was green and yellow.


Hanging bridge in Sagada
Our group of 15 crossing a hanging bridge at the start of our 7-hour trek to the waterfalls.


river crossing
Crossing raging rivers. Photo from @ayladeeyosah, our trip coordinator from adventure travel/tour company, Travel Factor <3


My muddy feet and trekking sandals


I think this spread is too text-heavy.

Sagada is known for its caves, and a trip to the place is incomplete if one does not go spelunking. I always read up on a place prior to making the trip and I was looking forward to seeing the fantastic, bizarre, and ethereal cave formations in Sagada’s caves, but unfortunately, I was too busy trying to watch where I was going to marvel at the rock formations. Seriously. I’m not the most coordinated person and being acutely aware of that, all I saw were fleeting glimpses of stalactites and stalagmites as I was more concerned about not slipping and plunging to my death.

Awkward climbing
Cave group pic

At the time of the Sagada trip, I was living a sedentary lifestyle and was a half-zombie as I was working night shift for a US-based job (while in the Philippines). I found out that being in that situation had an effect on my physical fitness and overall health, as shown in the illustrations above. I confirmed this several months later, when I went on several other physically-exhausting trips after I had resigned from the night job and went back to sleeping at night like most people do. Unlike in Sagada, I wasn’t tired and panting anymore after every physical activity.

I left out a lot of things in my Sagada travel sketchbook, belying the amazing (but exhausting) three days I spent there. That’s what happens when you try to re-capture moments in a trip long after the trip is over; you just can’t quite grasp those fleeting memories as well as you would when you’re experiencing them in that moment itself.

Echo Valley, Sagada

Good thing I had photos to base the drawings and memories on. It’s not the same though, and for future trips (I’ve gone on about 4 other trips since Sagada, and I’m leaving for another trip in a couple of weeks), I hope to actively set aside time solely for sketching while on the trip.

In any case, I’m glad that I at least have this hand drawn and handwritten account of my Sagada trip– I think this really pulls out and highlights all the standout memories and experiences that would otherwise get buried in a slew of batch-uploaded Facebook photos. I’m looking forward to documenting my next trips this way… and actually, I already have. I just haven’t scanned the pages yet ๐Ÿ˜‰