Taming the Paper Tiger: Creating a Travel Memorabilia Scrapbook

18 Aug

I am not naturally a scrapbooker. But, as you have learned, I am a keeper of paper from all parts of my life. For example, as a traveler, I collected brochures and ticket stubs and maps. I marvel at how some friends lovingly organize all their travel photos and memorabilia after each trip into digital or physical scrapbooks. Not me. The souvenirs have gone straight into a file folder in a drawer in the basement; the photos into boxes or once I got a digital camera, into folders on my computer.  In surveying my 2.5 drawers of paper items from 50+ years of travel and in considering the centrality of travel to me, I thought I would spend time on the act of preserving these memories for my future enjoyment. Although some of the principles of preserving memories can easily apply to other areas of one’s life, this blog post will focus on travel. I will describe the overall process I used.

Deciding on a Format: I concluded that the scrapbook format was the right solution. It would force me to make decisions about what was important to convey the shape and feel of my trips, would take up minimal space, and would allow easy access to this important piece of my history. However, given my enormous backlog of unedited photographs-- 4000 color slides, hundreds of color prints, dozens of tiny black and white prints from the 50s, and my digital collection from 2005 on, I decided that my scrapbooking efforts should be limited to the paper items. Because of their size and stiffness, I also eliminated postcards from my scrapbook plans.

I could have gone with my collage format used to honor my family members (See “The Art of Downsizing"), and indeed, I have made many a travel collage. But those are somewhat more artful than I needed. My goal wasn’t to have something for display as much as perusal. Of course, creating a scrapbook page has elements in common with creating collage. One still wants to be mindful of designing something pleasing to the eye.

Type of scrapbook: The next decision I made was the type of scrapbook. I thought about using a loose- leaf binder (of which I have many), but the page size felt too small. I also researched making a digital scrapbook, but the learning curve was too steep for what I wanted to do. So, at Michaels, I bought a 12” by 12” standard size scrapbook (with a handsome map cover) with the pages included. The foot square provides a generous space for varying size items. The plastic insert pages each have a removable piece of black paper, that I can replace with any paper I choose.

Other Items Needed: I bought packets of background papers on sale at Michaels. (There are many online sites for scrapbooking items, too.) These are a little stiffer than the paper provided in the inserts. You can buy plain colored single sheets that are also stiff. White Bristol board works well, too. For adhesive, I use a glue stick. A black permanent pen, like a Sharpie for text, some colored markers for additional design, rubber stamps if you want to get fancy, and a pair of scissors are all you need! To smooth large items down, I use a plastic scraper that you can buy at the hardware store. It’s a messy process, so give yourself room to spread out and lay down newspaper.

Pages per trip: I decided on one page per one or two week trip, as long as the trip didn’t cover more than one or two countries. Longer trips or those that included three or more countries could take up more real estate. This space allowance forces me to choose carefully among the items I’ve saved. Of course, it’s an arbitrary decision, and one that might not work for you.

Images to include: I am fortunate in having kept travel diaries for each of my major trips. These allow me to revisit the highlights and match them with the souvenirs I’ve saved as much as possible. Given how long ago some of these trips were, the reminders are crucial!

I always try to include one or more map segments, sometimes indicating with a Sharpie specific places of interest. (You can find maps on the internet if you didn’t save any.) A country or state map is a good place to begin. It can even be the whole background for the page. I often include a second or third map that highlights in more detail a city I’ve visited.

Some other items I’ve incorporated: travel documents (like tickets), photos from brochures, an itemized bill from a restaurant, a symbol (like a tent for camping).

Not everything makes the cut. Of four ticket stubs, I may include only one, especially if I have some other item that represents the same place. I also might look for images from magazines to complement what I’ve saved, especially pictures of food items. If the image you want to use is too large, you can scan it as a jpeg, as I did with my collages, and size it to your preferences.

Text: In my art collages, I have always kept text to a minimum, as it feels distracting, but on a scrapbook page it can be informative. Of course, I always indicate where and when I took the trip. I include the names of places (often cut from maps or brochures), and if an image does not convey the full meaning of what I want to convey, I might include text from a brochure or add my own with a Sharpie.

Putting it all together:  Once I’ve chosen my images, I cut them out or tear them, especially if they are large, and a smaller piece conveys the information I want. I often tear maps, for example. It’s an aesthetic choice. Personally, I like the variety of shapes created by both cutting and tearing. As with collage, I don’t stick anything down until I have the general layout figured out. I take a photo of my layout so that I can place the pieces in the right spots when I glue them down. I add my own written text last.

The key to this process, as with any other aspect of slow-downsizing, is to have fun or at least to feel satisfied. If it’s painful, find another way to do it. I enjoy going through the bits. Some of them no longer hold much interest or meaning. I’m recycling a lot of unused material. Although brochures may go into a detail about the history or architecture of a place, I decided that I could live without those explanations. If at some point I want to know more, I can always look it up on the Internet. The point of this exercise is to relive the trip as you create, to pare down the paper, and to be left with something that will trigger memories in the future.

In a future post, "The Craft of Downsizing," I will share some specific pages I’ve created and talk about the different decisions I made for each one.

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