Travel Journals & Art Supplies For Your Next Adventure

travel journals & art supplies that fit in your carryon

Every trip calls for a lovely stash of portable art supplies and a travel journal to keep on the journey.

My travel journals are visual. I do a lot of painting and collage in them – not necessarily about where I am traveling, but about whatever I’m experiencing that stirs my imagination.

Recently I went to a workshop in Cancun, and here’s what I brought for my travel journal. I do a lot of writing on the road, too, just like at home, so I’ll show you how I wrangle that, too.

Your packing list will likely be different, depending on the materials you like to work with.

What you choose to bring and how you pack and carry your art supplies is so individual—and an important part of your creative journey.

I’m endlessly fascinated by how other artists travel with their sketchbooks and art supplies, so I hope this post helps you pack, plan and shop (!) for your next adventure.

This is by no means a minimal art supply packing list, but it does give you a nice amount of materials to work with, and still fit in your carryon. This is important, so you can work while you’re en route.

Like this:

art journaling on the plane - everything easily accessible on my little airline tray table

On the plane, working on my tiny tray table. Drawing and rubber stamping in my travel journal.

Thank goodness for those overhead lights that illuminate our tray tables on airplanes.

It was a night flight back to Mexico City, with a very rowdy bunch of Cancun vacationers. And me, quietly drawing and rubber stamping in my sketchbook, while sipping mineral water.

Maps are a common theme in my sketchbooks and paintings, whether or not I’m traveling.

All Most of my travel journal art supplies for this trip fit into two small pouches.

The first thing I do when packing for a trip is decide what size bag my supplies will go in, and that determines the limit of what I’ll bring. If it doesn’t fit in the bag, it stays home!

At least this is my usual rule. For this trip, however, I met up with a friend, and brought along extra art journaling supplies to share, including:

  • several sets of alphabet stamps,
  • about a dozen rolls of washi tape, plenty of collage paper, and
  • a couple different paint sets, not knowing what kind of paint she would prefer. It’s all pictured, below.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite an array of small bags for art supplies. You might be surprised to learn that my favorite art supply bags are not to be found at the art supply or craft store. Nope.

First, let’s talk about packing! And bags!

My favorite art supply bags (for travel and just great all-around organization) are those used for cosmetics, like make-up pouches and beauty supplies. I also use office supply organizers like zippered paper pouches and pencil bags.

So when you go looking for packable, lightweight bags for your art supplies, look for cosmetic bags at department stores. Go fancy (I have a Kate Spade tote that I use for paint!) or go beautiful and economical – I find the best little bags at Target. Then take a look at your local office supply for paper and pencil organizers.

Travel toiletry bags are another great organizing wonder for art supplies when you travel. They’re already lightweight, compartmentalized, and sized for travel adventures big and small.

If you like the idea of everything being inside one bag, a toiletry bag might be the perfect thing for your travel journal supplies.

At the end of this post there’s a supply list linked to Amazon. It’s got just about everything you’ll see here in this post.

a purse organizer holds all of my essential travel journal supplies

Purse organizer holds two notebooks, small sketchbook, and all essential supplies

Inside the purse organizer are:

  • Postcards with my contact info to give away to new friends
  • Notebook for note taking during the seminar, plus an extra
  • Small sketchbook made from a magazine
  • Alphabet stamp set and ink pad
  • My favorite pen for writing and sketching
  • Pencils and other pens for mark making
  • glue stick
  • half size plastic ruler
  • date stamp! (if you love date stamps, too, you know they demand and exclamation point)
  • expired gift card or room key card (after I’ve checked out) – I use these to spread paint around, and as a brayer, to slide over collage items I’ve glued down to make sure they stick all the way to the edges
  • small pack of label stickers
  • pencil sharpener
  • small pack of moist hand wipes – I use these for painting and for wiping glue off the pages so they don’t stick together.
Another side of the purse organizer

The other side of the purse organizer I use in my purse – but for travel journal supplies

What do I mean by a sketchbook made from a magazine?

inside my magazine journal

Small sketchbook made from a magazine, with my room key, resort pen, and some of my art stickers

This is the inside cover of my sketchbook made from a magazine. I’ve pre-painted lots of pages. Then I collage and write inside.

Photographed on top of the pages (right) are souvenirs from my workshop: the resort pen (writes in purple!) and my room key. Have you ever seen a room key like that?

On the left, images from my own art that I make into small pieces to give away to people. They get glued in other people’s notebooks, or onto the postcards I give away.

The little pieces of art with the word for Thank You in a bunch of different languages are also given with gratuities and left behind for people giving such amazing service and making our creative adventures possible.

alphabet stamp set

Rubber stamp alphabet set, date stamp and black ink pad fit inside the purse organizer


Art supplies inside the purse organizer bag

Art supplies inside the purse organizer bag

Far right, front, is the small sketchbook I made from a magazine. Under the sketchbook is the pen from the resort, in their purple branding colors, with purple ink, and the custom room key cards from the retreat.

The “muchas gracias” art is my own, small printed instagram images that I paste inside my journals and give away to people I meet on my travels.

For this trip, I brought a couple of blank notebooks for note taking, longer written journal entries, lists, and contact information for people I met on the trip.

Yeah, I know most people exchange contact info with their smartphones, I do, too. But I also like to have the contact info inside my notebooks — preferably written by the person whose contact info it is. It’s like a souvenir from that person. If they have a business card, I tape those in, too.

My other art supply bag isn’t anything fancy – it’s from the office supply:

Paper organizer from the office supply hold art journaling travel gear

Paper organizer from the office supply holds the rest of my travel art supplies, and my laptop!

This organizer has one main gusseted pocket in the middle, and two pockets (this one shown, is see-through and zippered) on the outside.

I put the ruler there for reference – this one didn’t travel with me.

The box cutter did. Accidentally. Security took away my small craft scissors after going through my carryon meticulously. But when I got on the plane, there was my utility knife. Oops. Sorry!

Here’s what else is inside:

paper scraps - yes, I travel with these for collage

A stash of decorative paper scraps inside the green art supply bag

Small scraps of paper from my studio get saved for travel. You never know when you’ll need to collage something! I also carry some stamps, stickers and whatever small paper ephemera is delighting me at the moment. Even if I don’t use it on this trip, I’m always glad to have it with me for inspiration.

Small tubes of water-based paint for art journaling

Small tubes of water-based paint (gouache) go into their own spill proof plastic zipper pouch


Portable watercolor paint set with water brush

Portable watercolor paint set with water brush

Other contents of the large zipper paper pouch include: a few rolls of washi tape, a roll of clear tape, small scissors, small utility knife… and…. my laptop! See shopping list below for more details on that…

paint pencils!

Plastic pouch filled with water soluble pencils and paint brushes

Often my paint pencils are stashed in one of the pockets of the purse organizer. But I put them in their own bag because I had the space, and it makes for easier sharing.

The extra sets of alphabet stamps are in their own little plastic box, because the clear stamps tend to fall off their plastic wrappers.

extra sets of alphabet stamps.

A “few” extra sets of alphabet stamps.

I probably unpacked an extra pair of sandals just to fit these in my carryon.

There was also a little mesh bag of washi tapes, that I can’t believe I forgot to photograph.

altered book travel journal cover

Cover of the altered book I used as one of my travel journals

I’ve been working in this book on and off for years, and it’s developed quite a nice patina, with lots of painted and collage pages, and frayed maps peeking out.

The image at the very top of this blog post was painted inside this sketchbook. You can see the text from the original book peeking through.

Painted and collaged pages of my altered book sketchbook

Painted and collaged pages of my altered book sketchbook

I keep several sketchbooks at a time, and since this trip was just a week long, took a couple of sketchbooks that were already worked in.

For longer trips, I create a separate travel journal.

working in the altered book poolside

Working in the altered book sketchbook at my poolside table

There are these tiny beverage tables with loungers by the pool. Perfect for commandeering for an art date.

Two water bottles – aren’t I hydrating nicely?

My create perch by the pool, after being in the sand and ocean.

My create perch by the pool, after being in the sand and ocean.

I’m mainly showing you this photo so you can see the view, and also observe that I’m having this art date with a margarita. Or two. It’s Cancun!

I’m not showing you this photo because my hair is completely ocean and wind swept, unwashed and sweaty. But I am in my happy place.

Note to self: Next time you go a beach resort, just pack this one dress, because this is what you wore all week in 90 degree weather and as a cover up after swimming. More room for art supplies.

in-flight magazines are yours to cut up and keep!

Take your in-flight magazine with you for route maps and travel journal collage words and pictures

Finally, stock up on some magazines to use for collage images – and great text, too.

I like to buy several magazines at the airport (I’ve already had my carryon weighed!) before I board. If you are traveling in foreign countries, definitely stock of on visual magazines on your way home. It’s so much fun to have the imagery and words in another language, even if you can’t read it!

Those in-fight magazines are your to keep – and include wonderful travel journal collage fodder.

I also save each and every luggage tag and boarding pass to stick inside my sketchbooks and travel journals. These are reminders of trips and routes and I just love the black and white graphics.

Travel & Create with Me

If you want to travel together AND make colorful, layered, wonderFULL travel journals, check out the upcoming workshops I’m leading in Italy and Mexico.

You’ll also learn the visual journal techniques I use in the Dreaming on Paper: The Creative Sketchbook workshops, LIVE or online, and in The Wisdom Journal workshop.

Following are links to many of the supplies I use (or their substitutes) on Amazon. The links are affiliate links, which means Amazon give me a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything to use the links, and does help support my art supply (and art supply bag) habit!

Art Journal Supply Shopping List

1. Contain your art supplies

Zippered Pouch, 14 x 9 Inches
This is legal-sized pouch, which is great for magazine clippings and and decorative paper sheets you want to remain whole without wrinkling.

Shhh… I also keep my MacBook Air 11 inch laptop tucked inside. It keeps my travel laptop hidden away and protected in my carry-on.

Handbag Organizer with 13 Compartments
This is similar to the one I bought years ago, only better, because it has a zippered top. It’s on my shopping list, can’t wait to try it.

Clear Vinyl Rectangular Travel/Cosmetic Bag
for storing paints

Pretty toiletry bag organizers
If you’re Libra, like me, or another double zodiac sign, don’t be surprised if you end up choosing two of these. Warning. Well, you could actually use one for it’s intended purpose, the other for art supplies. Right?

2. Journals and Sketchbooks for Travel

Moleskine Cahier Journal, with plain paper. For writing, journaling, note taking. These are sold in sets of 3. You can also get them with lined paper. Size is 5” x 8 1/4” and tucks into the purse organizer with my sketchbook.

For sketching, drawing, painting, collage, you’ll need a heavier paper.

The paper in the Moleskine sketchbooks is wonderful to work on, it’s a little bit like heavy cardstock with a smooth finish – which I love for writing on after I’ve painted and collaged.

For travel, I recommend the “large” and “pocket” small sized Moleskine sketchbooks:

Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbook, Large, Plain, Black, Hard Cover
5 by 8.25 inches, about the size of a folded piece of letter-sized paper

and even smaller, about the size of your passport:
Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbook, Pocket, Plain, Black, Hard Cover, 3.5 x 5.5 inches.

If you want to work larger, they have an A4 size, 12 x 8.5 inches. A larger size is great if you’re going to a workshop, are going to be in one place for a week, or don’t mind toting around a larger sketchbook.

When in doubt, and if you can spare the room in your luggage, take several different types and sizes of sketchbooks, and then you can decide on the road which one wants to be worked in. Maybe all of them!

I’m known (to people who’ve seen my luggage) to travel with more sketchbooks and art supplies than clothes. So I usually make room for art supplies in my luggage by taking out a clothing item or pair of shoes. Hey, we all have our priorities, right?

3. Make Your Mark

If you can only bring ONE pen, bring this one: (but pack several of them!)

Uni-Ball Stick Micro Point Roller Ball Pens, Pack of 12 – Black Ink

This is my all-time favorite black pen for writing and sketching. And by all-time, I mean I’ve been using this same pen for over 20 years. (Not the ONE same pen, of course, but this pen model. I buy these by the dozen, and it’s one of those products where if I’m down to my last box I start to feel nervous.)

This pen is pretty water resistant, it doesn’t smear when I write, and it doesn’t smear when I even paint over my writing, which I am prone to do.

Also, it does not leak on airplanes or react to humidity or high altitude. Very important.

In addition to the above ink pen, I also pack a few different Sharpie markers, graphite pencils and water soluble pencils — these allow you to draw and paint, without getting your paints out.

Inktense Watercolor Drawing Pencils

Derwent Watersoluble Sketching Pencils

Derwent Metallic Watersoluble Pencils
I didn’t know these came in metallic until I went searching for product links – so I swooned and then added them to my shopping list.

4. Glue Stuff Down

Pioneer Photo Square Glue Stick
These glue sticks are big in the Soul Collage community, where precise and permanent gluing is important.

I tend to use any brand of glue stick, as long as it’s new, it usually works well. People are particular about their adhesives, though, so try out some different brands before you leave town to see what you like best.

Washi Masking Tape Collection – I have this set with cream and metallic gold colors. If you like chevrons, stripes and dots… these are the tapes I use the most.

5. Paint While You Travel

Reeves 24-Pack Gouache Color Tube Set, 10ml

These are not fancy, expensive artist paints – but they work so beautifully for art journaling and in sketchbooks. The colors are concentrated and opaque, so you can use them to really paint strong colors. If you water them down a bit, they get more transparent, so these little tubes go a long way.

You’ll need a paintbrush, and a water brush will also work beautifully with your water-soluble pencils.

Pentel Arts Aquash Fine Point Water Brush – Large

I also love inexpensive nylon bristle paint brushes for art journaling. You don’t have to worry about loosing an expensive, fancy brush, or forgetting to wash the paint out. These are rather indestructable.

The Sakura Watercolors Field Sketch Set comes with a water brush that fits inside the case.

6. Stamp Happy

Alphabet Letter Wood Rubber Stamp in box

VersaFine Instant Dry Pigment Ink, Onyx Black

These are the best ink pads I’ve ever used. Very long lasting, even when dozens of people in a workshop are using them for days on end.

They have a mini size, too. Adorable and minimalist.

Small-Size VersaFine Instant Dry Pigment Ink, Onyx Black

Date Stamper Old school, library style. LOVE.

Did I forget anything?

Your turn. Tell me:

What’s in your travel journal supply bag?

25 Responses to Travel Journals & Art Supplies For Your Next Adventure

  1. Kathy May 25, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    Thanks Lisa for this awesome blogpost. I’m about to embark on a 24 hour flight across the globe for a 7 week summer holiday in Europe and I’m keen to bring along some of my art supplies. Great list you’ve compiled. I hope I can bring some of my water color paint tubes on the flight – would be great fun to be creative while flying!

    • Lisa Sonora May 25, 2016 at 8:21 pm #

      woo-hoo! gotta love the 24 hours flight plan! I actually think of it as a creative cocoon time. Have fun and show me what you make!

  2. Julie L. May 21, 2016 at 12:16 am #

    I found a pen with a small glue stick in the end that’s great for travel. Made by K&Company.

  3. Darlene Rose May 20, 2016 at 11:36 am #

    Lisa, thank you so very much for all this immeasurably valuable info! How do you paint on a journal page and not soak it out completely? Do you paint or treat it with a base first? I have been wearisome to use paints in my journal. Do you use a special journal itch heavier pages? Please help! Thank you for all your artistic sisterly love and hares, honest, D’Rose

    • Lisa Sonora May 25, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

      Heavier paper is good when using watercolors. The gouache works on any kind of paper if it’s not watered down.

  4. Beth Thompson May 19, 2016 at 7:55 am #

    Good timing on this article, as I’m going on a road-trip this weekend, in the middle of preparing for an artist market. I’m making Beth’s Block Puzzles, out of 8 two-inch wooden cubes. I ordered a small Alvin cutting matte (8.5 X 12) to cut down 4x 4 square pictures to fit on each block. I’ll also need the box of blocks, the packet of pictures, ruler, knife, glue, brush to apply glue, and I’ve found plastic shopping bag protects surfaces nicely from spilled glue. Some paper towels and a cup for water until I can wash out the glue brush, and I’ll be set.
    Also postcards are going with me, and my snail mail list, so I can get a jump on addressing them while the glue sets.
    Thanks for the article, it got me thinking about how I’m going to pack and carry all this. Luckily I’m not flying….

    • Susan May 19, 2016 at 7:34 pm #

      Why wouldn’t you use a glue stick and forget about runny glue, gluey brushes and cleaning brushes and getting glue all over the place?

      I prefer UHU glu sticks but there may be others out there that are great too.

  5. Cynaemon May 19, 2016 at 2:19 am #

    I even take my sketchbooks and pens t church with me. I bet it drives my pastor crazy when he sees me sitting there sketching while he is preaching. I have shared many of the things in my sketchbook with him.

    • Lisa Sonora May 19, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

      🙂 That’s adorable, Cynaemon. We do listen better (or at least differently) when we are allowed to write, doodle, sketch while listening to talks, lessons, why not sermons?

  6. Melody May 19, 2016 at 12:55 am #

    I am missing not having my art supplies. i moved home and thought it would be better to give my supplies to another artist friend so they could be used up as i was unsure what I wanted to do next…

    Sigh! Ok! So I want to get working with paints again.

    Thanks for this post it helps me sort out what I need.

    It will be quite a bit for traveling when you include my writing pens and journals! LOL

    Never mind, I’d rather have creative tools that makeup!


  7. Grace Mendez May 18, 2016 at 10:06 pm #

    I really am a minimalist when it comes to travel and my supplies. My last flight I brought 4 derwent inktense pencils (the primary colors and a grey), two stabilo water-soluble pencils, a water brush, a white gel pen, a black ink pen and a mechanical pencil. I also brought a pencil sharpener that doubles as a pencil cap. For my journal I bound a book with coptic stitch with no hard cover to minimize the weight. The book is tiny and can fit in the palm of my hand. I used my favorite watercolor paper for my book. Everything fit in a flat pouch and was easy to get to on the flights.

  8. Julie May 18, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    Love it! Thanks for sharing and for the inspiration.I love the little compartmented zippered bag ideas.

  9. Marlene May 18, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

    Great ideas! Thanks. What is the brand name of the travel watercolor set? Looks nice.

    • Lisa Sonora May 25, 2016 at 8:24 pm #

      It’s by Sakura. Koi watercolors. Sakura makes lovely glitter gel pens, too.

  10. Marlene May 18, 2016 at 6:16 pm #

    Great ideas!!! Thanks so much. Can you tell me the brand name of the traveling watercolor set in the box.

  11. Patricia May 18, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    Lisa, this is such a valuable post!! I travel a lot & am always in search of better organization! That organizer is awesome – I must get that!Thank you for taking the time to describe all of this so beautifully & adding the links too!

    Aside from the many goodies you mentioned, I also take my Neo Color IIs with me & add them to my sketches on the flights home. Gelly roll pens & index cards are a must for me as well.
    I just might have to print this post out! 🙂

    • Lisa Sonora May 25, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

      I too, love gel pens and index cards. Planning to make a printable shopping list, as I was just shopping the other day for travel journal kit supplies for attendees in my Creative Passport workshops (they each get a kit made by me) and I wished I’d had my own post to reference!

  12. Lisa Taunton May 18, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

    This is awesome! And such perfect timing, too!!! Taking a road trip to the Oregon coast next week for at least 5 days and I’ve been trying to decided what I want/should take as far as art supplies go. This list gives me some great options!

  13. Suzi Banks Baum May 18, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    Dear Sweet Lisa, You are so organized! I have my traveling art kit in a plastic zippered case that a set of sheets came in, so I can see everything, which is nice. I keep a variety brushes to play with and I like those water brushes so much. I usually end up giving those away. Since I make mail art when I travel, I keep a list of addresses of my correspondents and I love finding the post offices in new locations. Always a reason for adventure. One of my personal favorite travel supplies is a partially used roll of clear packing tape. This gives me a chance to make transfers from magazines and newspapers and also functions as a rebel collage tool to just whap stuff on to a surface and get layering. Much love to you! xoS

    • Lisa Sonora May 19, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

      @Suzi – we have to get you to Oaxaca to do some mail art, memoir, and journaling workshops – you have so much amazement to offer!

      • Suzi Banks Baum May 20, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

        Oh yes yes yes to this. I have been sharing your US workshop news with my pals. Let’s get our 2017 calendar out and plan. Hugs and love to you! xoxoS

  14. Melody May 18, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    This post makes me drool…. wishing I were going some place more exciting than work ~ so I could have an excuse to buy cosmetic organizers… and more art supplies!!! Thanks for the smile, I’ll just be here wiping my chin. :))))))

    • Lisa Sonora May 18, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      Hi Melody – Use these supplies and organizers to take a creative journey ANYWHERE – especially at home! I didn’t mention it in this post, because it was already so long, but the second part of my vacation happened at home, in my studio. More to the story on that, but I’ll save for another post.

Leave a Reply