It’s the pens, not the destination

Pens on a yellow table with a view of Cannes

Raise your hand if you begrudge the five minutes it takes to pack clothes for a two-week trip, and then happily fritter away the next ten hours plotting which pens and journals to carry.

I’ve never had a system, only the desire to a) not facepalm for forgetting a pen that would have been PERFECT had I only remembered to bring it and b) not want for as many paper options as possible because the Hobonichi Techo Tomoe River paper isn’t the same as the Traveler’s Notebook 013 refill isn’t the same as the Nanami Seven Seas Crossfield isn’t the same as the MD Cotton notebook and there is a 99% chance I will regret not bringing the Musubi diary with the manekineko on it. By the time the right ink is sloshing in the chosen pens, it is usually only an hour until I need to leave for the airport.

A two-week trip in a location framed with beaches and grand hotels meant I wanted to bring pens that not only performed well, but photographed beautifully. In my world, a pen that performs well has an extra fine (or even finer) nib with flexibility and spring, generous flow, and a non-fussy filling system.

Handwritten list of pens

I ended up carrying thirty-six pens. Passably normal for me, only four pens shy of a 40-pen case for most other people. Of these:

  • Modern pens with vintage nibs: 5
  • Vintage pens: 3
  • Pens with EF or finer nibs: 14 (WHAT)
  • Pens with Gojira nibs: 2
  • Nakaya: 3 (2 with Spencerian grinds)

More restraint showed with the journals. One Traveler’s Notebook, one MD Cotton notebook, one Musubi diary.

Musubi diary

Pens need accomplices, so watercolor palettes and travel brushes tagged along. I also brought the Retro 51 x Dudek System pen for signing immigration forms if needed, and two brush pens (one with de Atramentis Document White ink, the other with R&K Sketch Ink in Carmen). Someone gave me his Blackwing pencil after a group dinner, so I was good for graphite.

“Learning to travel as lightly as possible but accompanied by beauty – this is my tiny struggle always.”

Based on what I doodled, what saw the most use were:

  • Conid Slimline with vintage nib; ink, Colorverse Space Laika
  • Nakaya Sumiko Skull, Spencerian grind nib; ink, Pilot Blue Black
  • Newton Bamboo, vintage nib; ink, R&K Sketch Ink in Frida

(The Pareto principle was more than fair in this case.)

To cover my ink bases, I chose:

  • Pilot Blue Black
  • R&K Sketch Ink in Frida and Carmen (water-resistant and waterproof, respectively)
  • Colorverse Space Laika (which separates into dusky purple and ochre when diluted with water on sized paper)
  • Organic Studios Nitrogen (a strong tint of turquoise when washed with water)
  • Robert Oster Signature in Viola, Caffe Crema, and Purple Soul
  • Monteverde in Rose Noir
  • KWZ Ink in Honey
  • PenBBS in June Pearl
  • Sailor Shikiori in Rikyucha and Yodaki
  • de Atramentis Document ink in White (in a waterbrush)

To carry the pens, I used a Musubi 2-pen case, a Nock Co. Brasstown, plus a couple of pen wraps from Gav & Sav. I made sure the cases traveled upright. The Tom Bihn Maker Bag groaned, but the partitions did their job.


It won’t kill me to carry just two notebooks. (For most of the trip, I used the Musubi diary, followed closely by the MD Cotton notebook.)

Because of ink commitment phobia, pen redundancy happened. I brought along too many pens for ink variety. In the future, I need to stick to a few pens that fulfill the trifecta: right nib, right ink, photography-friendly form. (I might also need to consciously constrain my definition of “few.”)

Watercolor can provide the color variety I want, so I don’t need to fret over the number of inks I might need.

Clairefontaine notebook and two school pens

I returned with more pens and notebooks than I left with, because a papeterie ambushed me, not to mention the school supplies section in Monoprix. So much for restraint. The next trip could be a chance at redemption – or weary affirmation. Who knows?