A cheapskate's Traveler's Notebook setup

I bought a Traveler's Notebook cover last year, mainly because they released an olive edition and I'm me, but I also liked the idea of a modular notebook. I continued liking the idea and doing absolutely nothing else with it for 6 months. But now I've gotten off my ass and started using the damn thing for real!

I bought a Real Authentic notebook cover from Traveler's Company, but I find literally everything else that they sell to be ludicrously overpriced for what it is. Many people feel this way about the covers themselves as well, but I liked the olive color enough to take the 55 USD hit on it.

There's some debate about whether the Traveler system is even functional or a lame overpriced gimmick — the answer to that question depends on your needs and what you use notebooks for, I think. For my part, I enjoy the Traveler system because I like being able to easily carry a bunch of different books and switch them out when the need arises. If you don't care for this level of compartmentalization, would you enjoy this as much? Probably not.

Anyway, that doesn't change that Traveler's Company sells a lot of overpriced low-quality junk, so I've compromised by doing a whole lot of DIY on the inside. I've found it all to be substantially more pleasant to use than the Traveler's Company-branded stuff.

Notebook closedNotebook from the side

The first thing I've stuffed in there is a homemade fabric zipper pouch that my mom was nice enough to help me make. The zipper pouch that Traveler's Company sells is a horrible flimsy plastic thing with a junk zipper that looks like it's going to break after a month or so of regular use, and it's... nearly $10?! No thanks!

This pouch is made up of two individual ones connected using strips of fabric on the top and bottom so the pockets don't overlap with the spine. I store pens in there instead of on a pen loop because I don't like the idea of them potentially getting banged up, leaking, or falling off completely. I also stuff other things in there like stickers, tape, and receipts that I want to save for later. Storing supplies internally doesn't add too much bulk to the notebook, and the closure is loose enough that nothing gets squeezed.

Stickers on the reverse side of the pouchA view of the pouch inside the notebook cover

I've also made my own inserts because the Traveler's Company notebook inserts are comically low-quality. They're a few sheets of paper wrapped in brown kraft paper and held together with staples on the spine. This construction (or lack thereof) means the resulting notebook is flimsy and doesn't lay flat even with extensive effort (clipping, folding, etc). I was beginning to lose my mind trying to use the notebook that came with the cover.

I use French link binding because it's fast, durable, and allows the resulting book to lay flat without any effort. If I'm making a book for writing, I tear pages out of a Rhodia dot pad because I really like Rhodia paper. For sketchbooks, I've been harvesting paper from unused pads that I have lying around. I'm not particularly picky about sketchbook paper as long as it's thick enough.

I've decided to compartmentalize my notebooks as follows: a planner/bullet journal, a scrap paper book for random junk that just needs to get on paper (and pen testing), and 2 sketchbooks (one regular and one watercolor) in the event that I feel the urge to draw as I go.

Homemade Traveler's Notebook inserts

I never really "got" bullet journaling, probably because I've been inundated with pretty pictures of pristine journal pages with washi tape, lettering that looks like all of these fonts, perfect page layouts, etc. This is not that. This is also not one of those hyperorganized planners where everything goes in a specific place. I've been focusing entirely on functionality, so the result isn't very nice to look at (but hey, I use a different color every day, so that's something!).

I write down whatever I need to remember for the day, along with 3 things that made me feel good or happy (an idea I got from GeekDad). I hate journaling or mindfulness or anything that requires me to write about my feelings, but this exercise isn't particularly deep or introspective, so I've been trying to stick with it.

My bullet journal

The notebook cover can only accommodate one notebook because there's one piece of elastic cord that runs down the spine. However, you can daisy chain notebooks together using rubber bands. Traveler's Company insists that you need their special branded "Connecting Bands" for this purpose; said "Connecting Bands" cost $6.40 for 4 specially-shaped rubber bands, which is patently bananas. You can use any regular rubber band that can stretch out far enough — it looks a little janky if you squint, but at least you're not a sucker who pays $1.60 for a rubber band!

A view of the generic rubber bands I use to connect my notebooks

So far, I've been pleased with both the look and functionality of this setup, not least because I didn't have to give Traveler's Company any more money than I had to. I'm not a fan of planner/journal consumerism, but I think it's worth spending a little more to invest in good quality things that are going to get a lot of use. Outside of the leather covers, nothing that Traveler's Company makes is high quality enough for me to justify the ridiculous prices, but I've managed to get quite a bit of use out of the cover so far.