Six Months with a Traveler’s Notebook

After spending ten years longing for a Traveler’s Notebook, I finally bought one to use as a travel journal. I’ve now had my TN for more than six months, and I love it so much you’ll have to forgive me as I gush all about it right here.

Ten years is a long time to resist a notebook’s siren song, but remember that back in the bad ol’ days before everyone decided analogue was cool, Traveler’s Notebooks were hard to find and expensive to import. At the time, I couldn’t justify spending so much on something I wasn’t even sure I would like. But things are different today: Traveler’s Notebooks are damn near everywhere, including Amazon, where they’re finally available at a reasonable price. An entire cottage industry of knock-off (aka fauxdori) notebooks has sprung into existence, and companies are churning out refills and accessories by the dozens.

But why buy a Traveler’s Notebook now, especially when I already have a Hobonichi Techo that I also love? Well, I had trips coming up, I wanted to start keeping a dedicated travel journal, and after trying to use my Hobonichi for that purpose I found that its page-a-day format was too small for the journaling I had in mind.

So far, I’ve carried my TN with me on several weekend motorcycle trips and a three-week trip to Europe. It’s certainly not the pristine brown it was on the day it arrived.

Motorcycle travel is hard on your belongings. Staying clean and dry is tricky enough, even in decent weather, but it’s the constant vibration that’s the real troublemaker. On my first trip with my TN, I threw it into one of the aluminum panniers on my touring bike before I left, and by the time I reached camp, spots of silvery aluminum had rubbed into the leather from the side of the pannier.

The silver spots have faded with time, but they remind me of that ride whenever I see them.

Right after my new TN arrived, I modified it to move the knot for the elastic closure from the middle of the back cover to the spine. This makes the notebook smoother to write on since there’s no longer a bumpy knot underneath the paper.

I also added a second elastic strap in the spine so I could carry an additional insert and a pair of kraft folders that I bought on AliExpress.com.

The first kraft folder has a pocket with a string-and-button closure. I use it to keep stamps, ticket stubs, receipts, and other ephemera that I want to save during my journeys.

Next is a regular Traveler’s Company insert where I do my travel journaling. I’m not a huge fan of blank paper but I’m using this insert since it came with the notebook. Once it’s full, I plan to switch to a grid insert.

Here are a few pages from some of my travels this summer.

When I went to Europe this summer, I used my TN to hold my boarding passes, itinerary, and some sightseeing guides I put together before I left. Now I understand why the regular notebook is sized the way it is — boarding passes fit perfectly, you can fold US letter (8.5″ x 11″) sheets in thirds and they’ll fit nicely, and the notebook fits on those teeny-tiny airplane tables.

In addition to my travels, I also take my TN with me when I go to pen gatherings. I use it to record the various pens and inks I’ve gotten to try. I’m pleased to report that the paper in the regular Traveler’s Company insert is very good. It’s fountain pen friendly, and it also works well with gel and rollerball pens. It’s not Tomoe River paper, but it’s perfect for travel journaling, which requires a sturdier paper for pasting in photos and other items while withstanding the rigors of the road and the occasional gas station ballpoint.

The back flap of the kraft folder has a simple pocket where I keep business cards and other random papers.

Now we’ve reached the middle of the notebook.

The back half of the notebook is much like the first, with another kraft folder sandwiching a second Traveler’s Company insert. But this time, the insert is the lightweight version instead of the regular.

The lightweight Traveler’s Company insert has twice the pages of the regular. The paper is similar to Tomoe River paper, but not the same. Using a fountain pen doesn’t result in the same amazing sheen effects. It’s still nice paper to write on, and I use this insert to draft longer pieces of writing. I’d love it if Traveler’s Company made a ruled version of this insert. When this one runs out, I’ll probably replace it with a ruled Tomoe River insert from Goulet Pens.

And that’s the beauty of the Traveler’s Notebook — you can put yours together however you want. I’ve seen slim TNs with only one insert and TNs stuffed to overflowing. If you can think of a paper and ruling combination, someone’s probably making an insert with it, and if not, it’s not horribly difficult to make an insert yourself. The original Traveler’s Company notebooks only come in the regular (110mm x 210mm) and passport (89mm x 122mm) sizes in a limited number of colors, but there are plenty of fauxdoris out there sized anywhere from A7 to A4, in all colors of the rainbow.

Why didn’t I buy a fauxdori myself, as a budget-conscious stationery nerd? To be honest, I didn’t want to take a chance on iffy quality leather. I was able to hold a friend’s Traveler’s Company notebook in my hands before I bought one, so I knew exactly what I’d be getting. I ended up paying $32 for mine on Amazon, which is not much more than a fauxdori would cost. As with all purchases, your personal budgetary comfort will vary.

This notebook is one of those rare stationery purchases where I’m truly thrilled by how it turned out. I now feel weird when I don’t have my TN with me when I’m out and about, like I’m missing something important. I’m so looking forward to having this notebook with me for many years to come.

This Traveler’s Company Traveler’s Notebook was paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

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Snap Judgments: Miquelrius Mini Notepads

Now here’s something I didn’t know I needed until I received one in an iPenBox Subscription Box. I’ve received two of these Miquelrius Mini Notepads — one blank, the other graph ruled — and I’ve had them long enough to share what I think of them.

Miquelrius is a Spanish stationery company that I was unfamiliar with until now. These Mini Notepads are a collaboration with Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, a Spanish fashion designer. Each notepad measures 2.7in x 4.3in (7cm x 11cm).

The covers certainly are colorful.

While not my aesthetic cup of tea, the covers are so bright they’re easy to find on my desk or in my messenger bag.

The front cover is made of cardstock. The back cover is even thicker, almost as thick as chipboard without actually being chipboard. The back is plenty sturdy enough to support the pages of the pad when holding it in your hand, so these notepads are well-suited for taking notes on the go.

There’s an elastic band on the back cover for holding the notepad closed. The band is attached to the cover with grommets. In a very nice touch, the notepad comes with a loose sheet of paper sandwiched between the last page and the back cover, to keep the grommets from marring the back pages. This is the kind of attention to detail I like very much.

The outsides of these notepads are very pretty, but we all know it’s what’s on the inside that really counts to us fountain pen aficionados. I’m happy to report that the paper inside is fountain pen friendly indeed.

Each Mini Notepad contains 90 sheets of 70gsm paper that’s glue bound to the outer cover. The glue binding is nice and secure, but individual pages are easily and cleanly removed with a strong pull.

These notepads are available in blank and 5mm graph versions.

I tested the paper with the fountain pen and ink combinations I use the most, along with a few other kinds of pens for variety’s sake. I’m not a pencil user so I can’t comment on this paper’s performance with graphite.

The paper is not as smooth as Clairefontaine or Tomoe River, but it’s pleasant to write on and doesn’t feel cheap. I’d say its tooth is comparable to HP LaserJet paper.

There was no feathering with fountain pen ink except for a tiny bit of spiderwebbing when using Pilot Blue Black. (This was a surprise, since Pilot Blue Black is a rockstar on nearly every paper.) Regardless, the feathering is so minimal you almost need a loupe to see it, and for an everyday note-jotting pad, it’s not enough to bother me, especially when other inks performed so flawlessly.



I saw a little bit of ghosting but no bleedthrough with fountain pen inks. Gel ink, the Retro 51 rollerball, and the Sharpies had some bleedthrough, with the Sharpies being the worst. No surprises there.

These Miquelrius Mini Notepads are well-made pads that look and feel like quality items while performing wonderfully with fountain pens. They’ve become my go-to notepads for quick notes and lists. At $2.49 per pad, they aren’t cheap, but the price is comparable with offerings from Apica and Mnemosyne. Perhaps the only downside is availability; I’ve only been able to find these for sale at iPenStore.com. I certainly hope they keep sending me more in future subscription boxes!

These notepads were sent to me in a subscription box that I paid for with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Snap Judgments: Nock Co DotDash Note Cards

Sometimes, I like to dash off a quick note that doesn’t require a full sized greeting card or a sheet of paper. Often, I like to use a fountain pen when dashing said note. Mostly, I just want some fountain pen friendly index cards.

Enter the Nock Co DotDash Note Card.

After reading positive review after positive review on pen blogs far and wide, I summoned a few packs of the “Standard” and “Petite” cards to give them a try. Now I’m going to share my findings with you.

The Standard cards are the typical 3x5in index card size while the Petite cards are 2×3.5in business card size.

I like the size of the Petite cards more than I thought I would. They’re rather cute, and they’re perfect for short TO-DO and shopping lists.

Both varieties of cards are printed on both sides with Nock Co’s unique “DotDash” ruling pattern: an alternating series of dots and lines that form a 4.25mm grid. The Standard cards are available with the ruling printed in different colors (the ones I have are Dusty Blue) while the Petite cards are only available in Purple. Regardless of color, the grid lines are subdued and don’t overwhelm the writing being put on the card.

The paper is bright white 80lb cover stock. It’s smoother and heavier than cheap no-name index cards. That’s a good thing because these Nock Co cards cost quite a few pretty pennies.

According to Nock Co, “[T]hese note cards can handle almost any pen and ink you throw at it. Yes, even fountain pens.”

Let’s put that to the test.

I took a bunch of pens and wrote on a Nock Co card.

writing sample on Nock Co note card (original size)

Then I took the same pens and wrote on a cheap no-name index card.

writing sample on cheap no-name index card (original size)

Look closer.

Nock Co note card (original size)
cheap no-name index card (original size)

Look even closer.

Nock Co note card (original size)
cheap no-name index card (original size)

Writing on a cheap index card with a fountain pen is a tragic experience. You know it. I know it. The ink feathers like crazy. Nibs seem to catch. It’s enough to make the Lamy Vista throw up its tines and say, “Mein Gott!”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t much thrilled when using my fountain pens on the Nock Co cards either. While the nibs wrote smoothly, I saw a lot more feathering than I expected, and I just didn’t like the “feel” of my pens as I wrote on the cards.

Conventional wisdom holds that finer nibs lead to better results on uncooperative paper, but most of my pens are the Japanese kind of fine, and if I’m seeing feathering with those, then I wonder just how much fountain pen handling these Nock Co cards are really up for. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Tomoe River and Traveler’s Notebook paper and my standards are impossibly high.

That being said, there was no show-through or bleed-through after my fountain pen test. And my trusty Pilot G2 and Uni-ball Signo gel pens write beautifully on these note cards. I also really dig the DotDash ruling — the 4.25mm grid is perfect for my writing style.

Here’s how the Nock Co Standard cards price out against some other brands of index cards.

The Nock Co cards cost nearly twice as much per card as the next most expensive brand, Exacompta. For that premium, you’ll get decent paper that’s mostly fountain pen friendly, a really nice set of grid markings, and a product that’s made in the USA. Whether that’s worth it will be up to you to decide.

Obviously, I did not conduct an exhaustive test of every pen/nib/ink/Nock card combination on Earth, but with the fountain pens and inks I use most often, the Nock Co cards fall short of my lofty standards.

These note cards were purchased with my own funds. My opinions on this blog are always my own. Please see my review ethics statement for more details.

Six Months With a Hobonichi Techo

The Hobonichi Techo is not an economical notebook. It’s a luxury item. If you live in the US, one of them will cost you $33.50. It’s a good thing my tastes don’t include expensive pens, or else my stationery budget wouldn’t have any room for it.

I’m bringing up the Hobonichi’s price now because I want you to have all the bad news up front, before I go on to tell you what an awesome little notebook it’s turned out to be for me, and how much I’ve enjoyed my first six months with one.

The Hobonichi Techo is the little notebook with a cult following, and plenty of words have already been written about it. (Go on, search for “hobonichi review.” I’ll see you next week.) With that in mind, I wanted to share how I use mine on a daily basis. So this is not a review, but rather a statement of what works for me.

For the uninitiated, the Hobonichi Techo is an A6 size notebook, made in Japan, that’s filled with 450 pages of sweet, sweet Tomoe River paper. Its general format is that of a page-a-day planner, plus some specially formatted pages at the beginning and end of the book. While you can order a Hobonichi directly from Japan, as a US resident, the best price I’ve found is at JetPens (the aforementioned $33.50 with free shipping.)

I must admit that I didn’t buy a Hobonichi to use it as a daily planner. At the time I discovered the Hobonichi Techo, I was looking for motivation to write a little every day, and I wanted a small notebook filled with Tomoe River paper. The Hobonichi seemed like a good fit despite its price. So I bit the bullet and ordered one, and like an expensive gym membership, knowing this thing cost me THIRTY-FOUR DOLLARS has proved to be just the push I needed.

After six months, the result is a hybrid diary/commonplace book/bullet journal that’s been a joy to use. I find the A6 size perfect for a notebook I’m carrying to work every day, and despite all the travel in my bag it’s held up pretty well — though I’m careful with my notebook since I don’t have a cover for it (yet!)

I’ve been fairly successful at writing in my Hobonichi every day. Sometimes I miss a few days, but I don’t beat myself up over it. I just start up again where I left off. Most of my entries end up containing personal observations and musings, so they’re not really shareable or photo worthy. However, I also use my Hobonichi to copy down quotes and passages that move me, and I stick interesting little scraps of ephemera on pages here and there. If you’re intimidated by the “scrapbooky” presentations in the #hobonichi tags on your favorite photo sharing site, please know that you can still get plenty of enjoyment out of a Hobonichi without any artistic talent.

Using a fountain pen to write in a Hobonichi is pure decadence. It’s the primary way this notebook bewitches you into wanting to use it more. (As long as you’re a fan of Tomoe River paper, that is.) I like to mix up the pens and inks I use with my Hobonichi, and in some ways the selection is a reflection of my mood, dutifully captured day by day.

I’ve also incorporated some bullet journal-style task tracking in my notebook. While I keep my master schedule electronically on my phone, I’ve found it handy to jot down to-do items and certain events in my Hobonichi. I put these at the bottom of the page, working upwards as new items are added.

The pages are small, but they’re the right size for the amount of writing I want to be doing in this notebook. It enforces brevity.

As for the various specially-formatted pages included with the Hobonichi, the ones I use regularly are the yearly index, the monthly calendars, and the “Coming Up” pages.

The yearly index pages are perfect for habit tracking.

Careful observers will note some ink bleed-through in the March header. That was the result of using a poorly-tuned fountain pen that was dumping excessive amounts of ink. Tomoe River paper can take a lot of punishment, but this obviously pushed it to its limits. Other than this incident, I’ve not experienced any bleed-through issues.

As I said before, I keep my schedule electronically, but I make use of the monthly calendar pages to track the ridiculous number of softball teams I play on. My phone calendar tracks everything, but my Hobonichi has all the fun stuff at a glance.

It took me a few months to figure out what to do with the “Coming Up” pages that appear before the first day of each month. I settled on using them to track the arrival of incoming packages.

I may have purchased my Hobonichi through gritted teeth (seriously, it’s 34 freakin’ dollars!), but when I flip back through its pages with the satisfaction of having stuck with a daily journal for the first time in my life, the price doesn’t sting as badly.

And yes, I’ve already set aside funds for the 2018 edition.

Swabbing Inks With the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book

Now that my ink samples have started multiplying like bunnies, I needed a better way to record them than writing them down in a notebook. The Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book‘s been all over the pen blogosphere for the past few months, so I decided to buy one and see if it lives up to the hype.

I won’t rehash all the details because I’m pretty sure every pen blogger on earth has already posted about these things. But in a nutshell, the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book is a set of 100 small sheets of 160gsm, ink-friendly paper held together by a binder ring.

When it comes to making ink swabs, there are no rules. Everyone has their own method, and it takes some experimentation to figure out what works. After some false starts, here’s what I came up with.

I used a syringe and an X-ACTO knife blade to make the swabs, and a Q-tip to color the bottom edge. Then I used whatever pen I happened to have filled with that color to write in the brand and name of the ink.

To make a swab, I drew a few drops of ink into the syringe, then dropped three drops on the left side of the Col-o-ring sheet. Then I took the X-ACTO blade and scraped it across the sheet, through the puddle of ink. (Similar to using a palette knife to apply paint.)

Next, I dropped one drop of ink below the first and scraped that across with the blade.

The syringe/X-ACTO method really shows off any shading and sheening properties of the inks.

For my first attempts, I used a Q-tip to make the swabs and the results were flat and uninteresting.

Q-tip swab (left) vs X-ACTO blade method (right)
X-ACTO blade method (left) vs Q-tip swab (right)

Then I tried using a paintbrush, but it also produced flat looking swabs. Even worse, it took forever to clean the brush well enough between swabs to prevent ink cross-contamination. The syringe and X-ACTO blade take seconds to clean up in comparison, and the results speak for themselves.

I still need to settle on one pen to use for ink testing. It might end up being a dip pen, or maybe just an easy to clean fountain pen with a broad nib. I left some room on each sheet to draw some figures when I decide what I’m going to use.

Overall, I’m pleased with the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book. The paper is high-quality, the chipboard covers are letterpressed and look fantastic, and the name is so clever it makes me smile. The binder ring means you can easily organize, and re-organize, your ink swabs to your heart’s content. I wish the paper were smoother (what can I say, I’m a Tomoe River fan) and the $10+shipping price tag feels expensive (but I doubt I could make one of these on my own any cheaper).

If you’re looking for a way to keep track of the inks you’ve tested, the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book is well worth your consideration.

Three Good Reviews of the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book: