I've been tempted by the idea of a 'Traveler's Notebook' for a long time. They always look beautiful, and it's a nice simple idea. I'd drifted away from using notebooks much in the last few years, which reduced the temptation a bit, and each version I saw had some sort of problem that put me off - an odd shape and size, perhaps, or the elastic done in a way I didn't like.
I should probably step back a bit for those who don't know what these things are - a Traveler's Notebook is a simple leather cover that holds multiple notebooks. They can usually hold at least three books, and while there are some in large sizes like A4, they're most commonly seen in smaller pocketable sizes (well, pocketable for those with large pockets). The best known brand is Traveler's Company, previously known as Midori.
The construction is usually fairly simple - a piece of folded leather forms the cover, and one or more elastic straps holds the notebooks in place. There's usually another piece of elastic for holding the cover closed. The exact method of attaching notebooks varies, and there are diffent ways of holding the book closed.
The most important features to me were that any elastic parts could be replaced, because elastic can wear out; that the whole thing can lie reasonably flat, without the notebooks sitting on a knot; and that plenty of alternative notebooks are available to fit.
When the stock from new brand Paper Republic arrived, I thought their notebook covers were very close to what I wanted, but just about missed. The elastic loops were perfect, and the leather looked beautiful. The green, especially, looked great, if perhaps a little lighter in shade than I'd really like. The only problem was the size - the smaller 'Passport' size was almost perfect, but just not quite the same size as the commonly found 90x140mm notebooks available from Field Notes, Calepino and others. When I checked, though, the difference is less than 5mm, and these standard notebooks actually fit quite well. There's a bit of extra space on the edge, but adding a pen loop holding a small pencil filled the space nicely. They didn't miss at all, it was a direct hit!
A little note worth mentioning on sizes - the Traveler's Company notebook covers also have a size they call 'Passport', but it's a little smaller than the Paper Republic version, and they can't use standard sized notebooks.
Paper Republic's own notebooks are very nice quality, and would be a perfect fit without the little pencil, but being able to use a variety of different notebooks was an important feature to me, so I'm glad the standard ones fit. The photo shows a Field Notes notebook with a Paper Republic notebook behind - the Paper Republic is only a tiny bit wider. I love the designs of Field Notes notebooks, and Calepino have a lovely simplicity to them. We also have some amazing value notebooks from Rhodia and Clairefontaine, with some of the best paper available.
The other thing I did before actually buying one was to carry one of these notebooks (a spare Field Notes I had handy) with me for a while. I made myself write some sort of notes each day, and soon found it was a good way of thinking. I still like my iDevices for my reminders and calendar, but writing down my thoughts is a good way to have thoughts. Some things are just lists, and some are a few paragraphs of writing about what I did that day. Some things can be mind maps, thinking through an idea, with the paper just helping to keep my mind on the job. Sometimes the notes are useful later, but often it's the act of making them in the first place that's useful - or as Field Notes say, "I'm not writing it down to remember it later, I'm writing it down to remember it now."
I used to use notebooks all the time, years ago, and it was easy to slip back into the habit. Trying to take the time to write a very small entry each day turned out to be a good way to get the process going - once I've got the notebook out, and pen is touching paper to write down something rather pointless, something more useful may well occur to me. Sometimes it's something I need to do, and my phone comes out so I can make a note of it in my Reminders lists, but it was still the pen and paper than brought the idea out.
So, what's in my Paper Republic? Well, at the moment, it contains two Field Notes notebooks, and the Paper Republic Card and Cash Holder. The holder has a Leuchtturm1917 pen loop on it, which holds a small clutch pencil. Inside it are a few index cards from Exacompta, a few small Post-IT Notes and a couple of business cards. The two notebooks are currently a lined Shelterwood edition from Field notes, which was the one I started with; and one of their recent Lunacy edition notebooks, which has been my favourite Field Notes special edition so far. The Lunacy book keeps photography-related notes, and the Shelterwood one has everything else rolled in together.
I generally prefer squared notebooks to lined, but the Shelterwood was there when I needed one, and starting with something that wasn't quite want I'd prefer seemed like a better test to see if a notebook would work for me again. It never matters too much with this system, because each individual notebook is only temporary - when it's filled, it will be replaced with another, in a different style, maybe from a different brand.
I swapped out the red elastic for orange, because I like the way it looks against the green leather. I also got some beeswax for treating leather boots, and worked the wax into the outside of the leather, which gave it some extra protection and darkened the colour a bit. The photo of two Paper Republic covers shows the difference - the top one is mine, the bottom one is a new one, unwaxed, unused, and with the red elastic.
I already had the Kaweco Liliput fountain pen and ballpoint in the Brass Wave finish, in a nice little Kaweco leather pouch. The pouch goes perfectly with the Paper Republic cover, and I keep it tucked in under the elastic. The 2mm mechanical pencil in the loop is from Koh-I-Noor. It's their Notebook Automatic pencil, but part of the finish wore away on mine, showing the brass underneath. I decided the brass looked better than the black, so I started scrubbing and scraping. Now it's just steel and brass.
Calepino's Line Markers in copper add the final touch - I use one at the top outside corner to mark the current point in each notebook, which makes it easy to open the right page to start writing. I also use a second one further down on the side to mark the point where I've got to in indexing the books, by making a note of what's in them in a computer-based note. I create a note for each notebook, giving it a number, then just keep some simple record of what's in there. It doesn't need much detail, just enough to make it possible to search for a subject later. I don't number pages, but because things are in date order in the book, and in the same order in the note, it shouldn't be too difficult to find something later. I don't expect to need to use this index often, but it doesn't take much doing to update either.
I keep a couple of extra line markers attached to the bottom of a page towards the back of each notebook - 4 or 5 pages before the end. When I reach the spares, I'll know I'm close to running out of pages, so I can get the next notebook ready.
The result is a kit I really love. The whole thing looks great, and fits in anywhere. I always have a notebook with me for general notes, and one for notes about my photography. I also have business cards and index cards handy, which often come in useful. Most importantly, it gives me somewhere to think.
If you want one of your own, now, you can get them here. Remember you'll need the extra ribbon kit to put more than two notebooks in there.