A Guide to Kickstarting Your Travel Journal Habit with Holiday River Expeditions
By: Lexi Dowdall
“Yes, I am a watercolor artist.”
That’s a phrase I had never uttered aloud before. Not until I found myself floating on the mighty Green River, perched atop one of Holiday River’s bright white rafts with my sketchbook spread across my legs. A fellow guest had asked me if I painted and I had replied in turn, somewhat bluffing.
I received an invite in 2019 to my first overnight raft trip with Holiday to float the Gates of Lodore. On a whim, I threw a neglected and lightly used set of watercolor paints, a sketchbook, and a few scrappy brushes in my duffle. At Holiday River HQ in Vernal, I unceremoniously dumped them in the little dry bag provided by our Holiday River guide and before long we were afloat.
After setting off from the boat launch, I extracted my art supplies from my dry bag and scooped a cup of river water to the curious looks of my fellow raft-mates. Overwhelmed by the sheer cliffs, the vermillion colors, and the slowly shifting landscape, I was compelled to paint.
On that trip, each sunrise brought a new vista, each hike a new perspective, and every mile unfolded a new chapter in the eons of Earth’s history. The guides and guests alike all shared incredible stories about geology, wildlife, and river lore. Each day I scooped a little river water into my collapsible backpacking bowl and tried to capture that feeling and flow with my brush and paints.
It was the brilliant starry nights, the ceaseless flow of the river, and the rhythm of witnessing the sunrise, sunset, and the ever-changing canyon walls that triggered my desire to become a painter. A river trip offers no better opportunity to revel in disconnection and focus on the present. Ignited by the emotions of awe and appreciation, your escape provides the ideal chance to tap into your creative streak.
As I embarked on a Westwater trip with Holiday in July of 2023, it was a full-circle moment to find myself, now a professional watercolor painter, back in the environment where it all began. My time on the river with Holiday helped me to discover a long-neglected need for a creative outlet…and a new career! It was also the satisfaction of being able to flip back through my sketchbook and relive the special moments of that trip that converted me into a person who keeps a travel journal.
I encourage you to nourish the primal desire to create while on the water. Be it music, a journal, or your own art practice, jump into your next float with an open mind and a willingness to follow the river’s inspiration. Pack something in your dry bag that serves as a creative outlet on the river. Join me and become one who keeps a travel journal wherever you ramble.
You’ll find plenty of time to unlock your artistic side on a river trip: on the flat sections between rapids, a few moments after lunch on a sandy beach, in the warm afternoon hours after pulling up to camp, after dinner when folks gather around to talk story as the sun sets, or by the moonlit rocks as the river churns by. There are so many moments on these trips that stir the soul and deserve your creative attention!
While on the Westwater Trip and working on my travel journal, all sense of time dissolved as I admired the scenery and recorded the landscape carved by the river with my paints and the river water itself. It’s a way to immerse myself in the experience and be fully present with my senses. At times, I was joined by various members in our flotilla and it was rewarding to see the creativity flow amongst our group. I always feel more connected with a landscape after having recorded it among my collection of adventures and sharing that with others is meaningful too.
I have discovered that keeping a travel journal is a simply fantastic way to remember and commemorate a special trip. It takes me right back to those moments of presence and enjoyment. There is such pleasure in looking back through these memories and remembering what stirred you. It’s possible to tap into your creative zone, even if you don’t consider yourself an artist. It’s a low-stakes way to learn and grow; just give yourself permission to create without the expectation of producing a masterpiece. Let the river be your teacher, just let it flow…
Stay tuned for a follow-up blog that has some suggested gear to bring and a few ideas to get you started with travel journaling. These prompts are excellent for newbies or practicing artists alike!
Lexi Dowdall is a writer and watercolor artist who jump-started her painting career on a Holiday River trip through the Gates of Lodore in 2019. She is a skier who most enjoys painting the mountain and desert landscapes of Utah. You can check out Lexi’s work at www.kapowder.com and follow her rambles on Instagram @kapowder. Lexi also writes for the Ski Utah organization and works in the film industry with Sweetgrass Productions. Her favorite river meal is steak night.