I’m Leaving Home For 10 Weeks and Bringing These Pens with Me

By the time this post goes live, I’ll be on a plane to Bulgaria, where I’ll spend the next 10 weeks living out of a carry-on bag. I’ll also be 9,771 kilometers away from my stationery stash, and it’s been quite the puzzle figuring out what goodies to bring with me.

I’ve always packed lightly, be it for a backpacking trip, motorbike adventure, or jaunt across the Atlantic. The whole idea of bringing a bunch of notebooks and pens clashes with my minimalist packing tendencies. As I only started bringing paper back into my life within the last couple of years, finding balance here is something I’m still working out.

First, I must apologize for reusing the following photo from last week’s post. It’s been crazy busy at Penster HQ as I’ve scrambled to prepare for my trip, and I didn’t get a chance to gather everything for a nice photo shoot.

For paper, I’m taking the Hobonichi trio I wrote about last week. This is a case where Hobonichi’s dedication to making compact notebooks really shines. Space is at a premium in my carry-on bag, and these three cram a lot of pages into some wee little books.

I was really torn about taking my Traveler’s Notebook, and ultimately decided against it. Spending 10 weeks in Europe sounds like the perfect chance to get my TN on, but due to certain particulars about this trip, I won’t have the time to do much travel journaling. I think I can get by with my Techo alone. But who knows — this might come down to a game-time decision. [Update: I changed my mind because of course I did. My TN is tucked into the last remaining space in my bag.]

When I started thinking about what to pack, I set a limit of six pens. Even six feels like too many, but I have some reviews in progress where I need to give the pens more of a workout before I can pass judgment upon them. Bringing the pens along will kill a few birds with one stone.

Here are the fountain pens I’m taking:

  • Pilot Metropolitan (F nib)
  • Lamy Vista (EF nib)
  • Namiki Vanishing Point (M nib)
  • Wing Sung 698 (F nib)
  • TWSBI Vac Mini (F nib)

The Metro, Vista, and VP are workhorse pens that I use on the regular. They’re traveling empty and un-inked. The Wing Sung 698 and TWSBI are newer acquisitions that hold gallons of ink. They’re on the flight with me fully inked because I like to live dangerously. (I also want to test the TWSBI’s ink shutoff valve.)

Mathematically-inclined readers might have noted that I’ve only written about five pens. That’s because the sixth pen I’m taking is not a fountain pen.

This sleek beauty is my everyday pen at work. It’s a vintage Pilot 2+1 multipen and I’ve never seen anything else quite like it. I don’t know much about it — not even what its real name is. I’ve been told that it’s around 40 years old. Despite its age, it takes most D1 refills.

Speaking of refills, I’ve packed a few spare D1s. For fountain pen ink, I have a nearly-full bottle of Waterman Inspired Blue, a few Lamy cartridges, a pack of Pilot Blue-Black cartridges, and a small 8ml bottle of Iroshizuku Yu-yake. That should be plenty.

If I run out of anything, I’ll just buy more. I’ll be scoping out the stationery scene regardless. If it’s anything like the bookstore scene in Sofia, I’ll be in great shape. If not, there’s always the Pilot G2 I stash in my laptop bag as a spare. And the other G2 I keep in my carry-on. And the other G2 I clip inside the top of my sock, like a shiv.

Always be prepared, I say. See you on the other side of the pond.


How Many Techos Does It Take to Get Through a Year?

Not sands through the hourglass, or licks to the center of a Tootsie Pop, but pages in some expensive little books?

I ask this rhetorically, but of course you can admit your journal addiction too. Please, come in and have a seat. You are welcome here. Can I get you a warm beverage? A generous pour of bourbon?

That’s the spirit! While you were sipping, I took a moment to retrieve my Techo from its hallowed place on my vintage 1980s writing table. See me cradling it in my arms? Hear me whispering sweet words to it in babynese? (“Who’s a good little notebook? You are! Look at your cute widdle bear face!”)

Ahem. My apologies. You see, this is very hard for me, but I have to admit that I… that I… am… a… Hobonichi stan.

I admit it! It’s the cutesy websites. The oddly quirky English. The fact that I secretly dream of having a pretty Techo like these ones, even though I can’t draw worth a damn.

IT’S THAT SWEET, SWEET TOMOE RIVER PAPER. (And the nibs sing, “Glidin’, glidin’, glidin’ on the river…”)

This Hobonichi trio’s going to see me through 2018.

  1. The Hobonichi 5-Year Techo. I wrote a lot about this one recently.
  2. The Hobonichi Steiff Edition Planner. I wrote a lot about last year’s edition, and my opinion hasn’t changed — it’s just aged like a fine wine.
  3. The Hobonichi Techo Weeks. I started using this planner in December strictly for work stuff. I’ll write about it once the honeymoon phase is over.

Let me tell you, Hobonichi’s a helluva drug. Back in 2016 when I was fully digital, I never used paper. Never. Now look at me: an ink-stained wretch, surrounded by the wrinkled sheets of some expensive little books.

A First Look at the Hobonichi 5-Year Techo

While launching this blog at the beginning of the year was a big moment for me, I must admit that starting (and keeping) a daily journal is what I’m most proud of. As the end of the year approaches, I’ve wondered about my soon-to-be-outdated journal. Will I ever pick it up to revisit its contents, or will it get tucked into my bookshelf, never to be seen again?

Those questions become moot with the Hobonichi 5-Year Techo. It’s an interesting riff on the daily journal concept that forces you to confront your past writings by putting them right there on the page. That’s right — five years on a single page, in one notebook.

There are other journals that combine multiple years on one page, but the 5-Year Techo is the only one that’s size A6 and filled with Tomoe River paper. A new journal in my favorite size with my favorite paper? Sign. Me. Up.

I ordered my 5-Year Techo exactly three minutes after it became available on the Hobonichi Store, and I’m glad I did because these babies sold like hotcakes. The first printing sold out within a couple of days. There’s a second printing in the works, but those notebooks won’t ship until the end of January. (If you want one sooner than that, keep reading.)

The journal is packaged in a sturdy yellow box.

I’m always impressed by Hobonichi’s attention to detail.

Inside is a small instruction booklet. Alas, it’s in Japanese so I can’t read it.

There’s also a loose sheet of Tomoe River paper that looks like a stray page. I have no idea what it’s for, but it’s a good preview of the page layout used inside the journal.

The cover is a leather-looking plastic with the title embossed in gold. I’m assuming the text says something like “5-Year Techo” but due to my lack of Japanese language skills, it could say “you really smell like dog buns” and I’d be none the wiser.

The years are embossed on the spine, and you can see the ribs where the signatures are sewn together.

Speaking of binding, the journal is stitch-bound so it will lay flat when open. This mostly works except for the pages at the very beginning and end; the book is just too thick.

A slim brown bookmark is attached to the top of the binding. It’s long enough to slide around the edges of the cover, so it’s very usable.

The plastic outer cover is glued to an inner cover made of thick paper. The only manufacturing flaw I’ve found is that the outer cover is not perfectly aligned with the inner book, but it’s only noticeable with close inspection.

Unlike all the pre-matter in the Hobonichi Techo, this journal gets right down to business. The very first page is a full year view of the first year, 2018. Four similar pages follow for 2019 to 2022.

After those full-year pages is where the journal truly begins, with a page spread for January 1st.

Each day is given a two-page spread. The left page is a grid divided into five sections, one for each year. The right page is a grid with no formatting aside from a quote at the bottom. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Hobonichi brand, their notebooks always contain quotes from the web magazine Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun.)

The pages in this journal are a cream colored Tomoe River paper with grey printing. The grid is 3.7mm square.

There are two types of people in the world: those who are reading this and saying HOLY CATS THOSE DAY SPACES ARE SMALL, and those who are asking BUT WHAT ABOUT LEAP DAYS?

Calendar sticklers can breathe easy — the 5-Year Techo handles the leap day on February 29, 2020 by adding a page spread specifically for that date. Instead of five spaces on the left, there’s only one marked “2020”. Easy peasy.

As for the amount of writing room this journal provides, the short answer is “not much.” The page on the right makes a nice overflow area, but the spaces on the left are about an inch high. So Ulysses won’t fit in this journal and I’m pretty sure James Joyce had coughs longer than the space you’re given for a single day. Consider this journal a 5-year exercise in brevity.

That’s about all there is to the Hobonichi 5-Year Techo, aside from a few pages of back matter: some grid pages for each year, a page for reminders, a couple of pages for list making, and a brief timeline of world history from the Japanese perspective. (How I wish I could read that.)

There are 752 pages crammed into this tiny tome and that gives it some heft. It feels like an important object in the hand, and it would look just as good on a coffee shop table for your Instagram (#flatlay) as it would on your desk. I mention this because a 5-Year Techo certainly doesn’t come cheap: it’s about $36 without shipping and handling, and north of $50 with all the fees totaled up.

If you’ve read this far and you really want one of these but don’t want to wait until after January to get it, I have two extra 5-Year Techos available for $46 shipped to the US. Both are in brand-new, unopened condition and I’m selling them at cost. (Both have been SOLD, thanks.)

I’m super excited about this journal. I intend to use mine to record a brief summary of my day, and if I stick with it, I’ll see my life changing day by day, year by year, in one tiny but mighty book.

This Hobonichi 5-Year Techo 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.

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.

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.