In an after-school-craft-club (some might say ‘art-attack’) kind of way, my cobalt blue 2011 diary looks as though it could belong to a sentimental nine year old girl (perhaps the kind who failed to pass her pen licence, isn’t very neat at cutting and pasting, but who has exceptional accountancy skills for her age).

Even though its spine is being held together with gaffer tape, and mid January to mid March seem to be clumped stickily together by some unknown substance, I daresay that after our passports and Bob, it’s turned out to be my most treasured possession for the entire trip.

Hmm, should I have put Joe in that category too?

As well as being the universal source of truth on addresses, phone numbers, dates and memos, I’ve also listed all the places we’ve driven to, noted down mileage and expenses, fellow travellers email addresses and scores from card games played in the tent (although mostly just the games I won). I’ve dutifully pasted in all the ticket stubs and memorabilia that most people just empty from their wallets and pockets straight into the bin at the end of their holidays. It’s a little bit childish, but even now, before the trip is over, it makes me so happy and even a little bit proud to flick through the pages of my indecipherable handwriting and remember it all.

The expenses, which I’ve nerdily scribbled in daily on each page (if you travel for 12 months on a shoestring you need to know how much you’re spending), hide quirky little amusements of how our travelling style has evolved since we began – sadly in the expenses columns of Jan-March there was a whole line item dedicated to ‘Buckhunter’, this line item changed to ‘Pink Milk’ in SE Asia and since we arrived in Germany, it’s more commonly used for Bratwurst. By the time we got to Switzerland our expenses became so ridiculous that I gave up writing them down (couldn’t afford the ink). Certainly most of the expenses explain why I can barely fit into my jeans anymore.

But, in a year when navigation has been of the utmost importance (and where standards have ranged from upto date official Garmin maps to trying to find a black dot on a mapless screen in a city of 2 million people) the best things stuck in the diary, by far, are the hand drawn maps.

I now acknowledge that when a stranger (or a friend) says ‘Do you know where to go? Here, I’ll draw you a map, have you got a pen and paper?’ And you hand them whatever you have (eg, an eyeliner and the back of a Tesco Lotus receipt) it’s a recipe for failure. This is because (a) you think maps are as safe as houses and therefore don’t listen to any of the instructions the map-writer gives you about scale, distance or the appearance of important landmarks and intersections and (b) peoples view of what is clear and obvious in their home town is generally shaped by the fact that they’ve lived there their whole lives and ride a scooter (or horse) everywhere, therefore making them oblivious to changes/road rules/distance/time.

I don’t think a single hand drawn map has lead us straight to our destination without the need for an argument or a 3rd party roadside intervention – in fact some have even sent us in opposite directions. Yet I love the frown of concentration people get when they’re trying to remember a street name, where to cross the railway track, or how far the next village is. I love the fact that people have been so willing to help us, and I love the way a hand drawn map might give you a little insight into their personality – from the brash to the caring to the know-it-all – and most importantly, those who just love where they’re from and want to share it with you.

It’s the reason why time and time again, even if I think I know where to go, if someone offers to draw me a map I’ll always say ‘Yes please! That’d be fantastic’. I’m also just hunting like a Bower Bird for pretty things to stick in my diary… 

Note: When we get back to the land of civilisation and scanners, I’ll upload an album of the best of the hand drawn maps so you can see what I’m on about.