Many years ago, I started The Travel File. The rules are simple: whenever I hear of an interesting place I would like to visit — through a friend’s mention, an obscure book, a seventeen-tabs-deep Wikipedia page — I add it to the file.

As an example, this is what’s currently filed under “Los Angeles”:

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Museum of Pinball? But of course. I love pinball. My father used to repair pinball machines, and that first moment when he opened one up, removed the glass and raised the playfield to let me see what was underneath, might have been the realization that our world is made and that I could be one of the people making it.

Bridge to nowhere? Holy shit. I love bridges. And I love abandoned and unfinished infrastructure. This thing — whatever it is — has my name written all over it.

Lora refers to an unlikely friend I made while searching for a location from one of my favourite movies. I enjoy catching up with her. How did this get made? is a fun podcast about movies I discovered this year; they sometimes record hilarious live shows in one of L.A.’s comedy clubs. Atlas Obscura? A reminder to cross-check an amazing database of urban oddities and mysteries. Angels Flight? An odd, troubled funicular railway.

And so on, and so on. There are more places, many more places. Entries for most states, most countries in Europe, most major cities. Way, way too much stuff to just hold in my head. A lot of it too obscure to ever find again. There’s a note to take a canoe down the gross Gowanus Canal in New York — because someone else did. In London, I want to check out all the London Underground stations designed by Charles Holden ever since I read a book about them. In Oregon, I am meant to go to Cannon Beach, famous from that last scene in The Goonies. When in Rome… visit the absolutely stunning Bookàbar Bookshop. The two independently-added lines for Corning Museum of Glass and George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film now coalesce into a promise of a fascinating New York road trip.

Some of these entries are a decade old, some I added just weeks ago. The messy styling betrays the copy/paste nature of the whole progress. There’s almost no rhyme… but there’s a very good reason.

The Travel File is compiled by me, for me. All the things on it mean something to me. There can be no other travel guide that comes even close to being so perfectly mine. So anytime I go somewhere, I quickly search for the city, the state, and the country on the list. I usually find something I once got excited about — and will soon get excited about again — that I could incorporate on that trip.

I picked up a few habits in life that I can’t live without and I’m grateful for. One example: every time I encounter a word I don’t know, I look it up. (So much easier when reading off of a computer!) Another: After finishing a book or a movie, I always read a few reviews to see what others thought about it, and to learn more and put in context my own experiences.

The Travel File is a little habit I came up on my own that I wanted to share with you. Of course, your list would look different. Fewer poor volunteer-run museums, but more great restaurants to eat in. Or parks to check out. Exciting beaches. Places from your favourite books. Locations important in your family’s history.

If you’re anything like me, you will enjoy The File immensely. It won’t start paying off straight away. It doesn’t even have to be a file. (I bet there’s an app or two that you could use, but given the long-term nature of this, I like the flexibility and trust I can put in a pedestrian, messy text file.) But one day, a few years from now, you will need to book a quick flight to Los Angeles to renew a visa and suddenly this nuisance of a voyage turns into another great adventure: going to a live comedy show, exploring a new pinball place, and having fun with an old friend.

I would’ve remembered to check in with the friend. But the rest? I owe it to The Travel File. Perhaps having one would work for you, too. Let me know!

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