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.

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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.

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.

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.