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Living With A Traveler’s Notebook

I’ve written about the Midori traveler’s notebook before, and I’ve been resisting buying one of these notebooks for a long time. I’ve been perfectly happy with my very large Leuchtturm1917 master dots notebook, but the simple leather lifestyle is very compelling. As I saw reference after reference to the growing cult group of Traveler’s Notebook aficionados, not to mention their Flickr feed, I got this growing feeling that I was missing something and started to crack.

I’d made some leather covers in the past – the poor man’s Midori – but they didn’t captivate me. I made them a different size, and I started thinking that maybe part of the Midori Magic is the size.

Still not willing to spend $60 on less than a square foot of leather, I decided I’d order some refills and make a cover to fit them. So on a Thursday I ordered three refills from mymaido.com, and I received them on Saturday – pretty darn fast service considering they were shipped via regular mail.

In the mean time I made a cover to fit the correct width, but letter height (it’s only a 1/4 inch more than A4), and sewed a few pamphlets to go inside. Also, sometime in there I found Patrick Ng’s awesome photos, and they stoked the flames a bit as well.

So despite that I love my Leuchtturm1917 Master Dots notebook, I’ve decided to try to live the Traveler’s Notebook Lifestyle for a while. Here’s my observations so far:

  • It fits in a jacket pocket. I’ve been using not-jacket sized books for so long that I’d forgotten how nice it is to have a book that fits.

  • It’s nice to have multiple books in one cover. I like to keep work separate from personal, and I’ve replaced the pocket weekly planner from Moleskine with this Midori insert.
  • I haven’t gotten into all the embellishments. It’s a little girly for me and the people I work with. But I might crack yet.
  • I haven’t traveled with the book yet, but on my recent trip to Russia my latest Midori clone got used because it fit on the airline tray table where the Master sized book would barely fit closed.

  • Two inserts is fine, three still works, four starts to become a problem for the first or last one in terms of being able to write comfortably. BUT, for having a past journal in for reference, the first position would be fine.
  • I cannot imagine having both card sleeves and the zip pocket in a book with multiple inserts.
  • I never got into the paper planner habit. By the time I needed a calendar, I was using outlook, and it’s been the standard for me ever since. That might inhibit my adoption of this system.
  • The idea of the leather aging, and becoming a symbol of experience, wisdom, and adventure is like a narcotic. I can see why people are addicted to these and other leather books. I’ve actually become a little obsessive about it. I put wax or oil on the first several covers I’ve made, but on the latest one I used just a little conditioner, to get more honest aging. It doesn’t take much wax to make leather quite scuff resistant. On the other hand, raw vegetable tanned leather is not a very attractive color, and it can take a while to lose that flesh tone.
    I want the dark brown color, but I haven’t a good experience with dye so far.
    The refillable nature of the notebook just enhances the idea of it becoming this indestructible and reliable old friend.
  • I put four ribbon bookmarks in the book and at first they looked silly. Now I’m thinking they’re awesome, and I’m thinking about using four colors instead of two.

  • The Midori sketchbook is a bit thick. I love the paper, but it adds a lot of bulk.I ultimately decided to give it the boot.

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  • Making one’s own refills has a great air of self sufficiency and individualism – I’ve even ordered some bookbinding needles and thread to do a better job at it. It remains to be seen if it’s worth the expense and hassle, if the exact paper used isn’t an issue.
  • This kind of system is like a filofax – it’s supposed to become the center of one’s life. that means carrying it everywhere. Nice for sketching and jotting ideas, but a bit of a pain. The narrow format fits in coat pockets, but the thickness makes it look like I’m Dirty Harry packing a hogleg.
  • I used ~3mm leather for the cover I’m using, because that’s what I had. It’ll probably take a while to get limber.
  • It doesn’t lay flat, but it sort of does. It depends on which book in the stack you’re at, how the cover is sitting, and how limber the paper is. The thin-paper refill from Midori lays pretty flat. The sketchbook is at the other end of the spectrum.

The Leuchtturm and the Midor clone may live together. The new book has already replaced my old Moleskine planner that I use for tracking weight & exercise, and has enough space for some other things I’d like to add. That plus a sketchbook would be a useful combination. But for the time being I’ll leave it in the current configuration: Work notebook, journal, planner.

5 comments… add one
  • Robyn Brown December 8, 2012, 12:47 pm

    Beautiful job. I’ve thought about making my own. I have made some other leather bound journals but I have so many other crafts in the works right now and as you said the cost is about the same to do it yourself. Still I keep thinking about the customization possibilities….

    • Steve December 28, 2012, 5:48 pm

      Yes, once you have the leather on hand, it is nearly irresistable to make several covers. Different sizes, different finishes…it’s a slippery slope!

  • Juan December 26, 2012, 1:59 am

    Great job! I bought some leather from Tandy. It’s not a big deal to buy a large piece of leather because not only will you have enough for your own book but there will also be plenty for gifts for those special people you journey through life with. Check out mine homemade ones, juanestey.wordpress.com! 😀 It will probably be about 10-15 dollars per cover.

    • Steve December 28, 2012, 5:53 pm

      Hi Juan – very impressive!

  • Elga August 13, 2014, 10:11 pm

    Is this camel color? Do you still have it or would you sell it? If so, pls pm 😉 thanks!

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