I received this adorable traveler’s notebook from Unique HM & LN – they asked me to take a look at it and give my thoughts. But this isn’t just a standard product review. Nope. I took it one giant step beyond just a review. You see, this little passport size traveler’s notebook needed some TLC – some special love to break it in properly. So today I’m going to show you how I took a new traveler’s notebook and beat it up, roughed it up, rolled it, washed it, scraped it, and used a couple scary ingredients to turn it into a gorgeous TN I love.

This passport size traveler’s notebook is a great starter option for those who want to try out the system but still get a quality leather journal cover. It’s an all-in-one package because not only do you get the high-quality leather cover, it also comes with three notebook inserts and a pocket folder, a brass pen clip, and feather bookmark. With four colors to choose from – blue, pink, green, brown – there’s something for everyone.

What makes this traveler’s notebook unique is the waxy coating on the leather. It is 100% genuine leather and called “fog wax cowhide.” I’ve never seen this type of treatment on a TN before and I was intrigued to get my hands on it. I wondered if it would still smell like leather – it does – and if it felt like leather or had a strange feeling because of the waxy coating. I admit that the finish felt a bit strange but not unpleasant. The waxy finish gives the leather a soft cloudy/foggy look that is unique and kind of cool. I was told that the coating will wear off with use and will achieve a patina in a few months. Just carry it around with you and let the oils in your hands wear the waxy coating off gradually.

But you know me. I can’t leave well enough alone, right? I’m also not very patient. I didn’t want to wait for a few months while the patina came through. I wanted to know what it was like right away. So I took matters into my own hands … literally.

If you’ve ever had a beautiful piece of leather — whether it’s a bag like my beloved tote, a pair of quality leather shoes, or a traveler’s notebook – you know that the more you beat up a piece of leather, the more beautiful it becomes. I love rustic leather. Give me ripples, creases, scars, color variations, and a buttery smooth feeling and I’m in love. There are ways to speed up that process, of course. Usually, I just let nature take its course and let the leather age as I use it. But not this time.

Two Things Happened

I’ve been playing with this notebook for a while now so this aging process actually happened in two phase. The first phase was to literally beat up the leather by roughing it up, rolling it, and getting violent with the notebook. The second phase happened the night before I was finishing up this article. I was Googling around (cuz that’s what nerds do) and came across a tip list on a leather website. I won’t ruin the surprise, but let’s just say that the end result is amazing!

But first, let’s take a quick look at the before-and-after.

distressed leather before after

Pictures on the left are from the Amazon listing. The first image shows the waxy cloudiness of the leather finish.


Aging and Distressing my Leather Traveler’s Notebook

I learned about this rolling technique from the internet (of course). Since then I’ve broken in several TNs and even my leather tote bag. If you are one of those people who love their leather in pristine condition with no marks or wear and tear… you might want to look away. When I say “beat up” that’s what I mean. Let’s get started…

First, you need to remove the notebook inserts and any accessories. If you plan to change out the elastic bands at the spine, now is a good time to remove those too. I didn’t plan to change those out so I left them in. Lots of people like to personalize their TN by adding various colors of elastic. Or if you’ve been using your notebook for a while, the elastics wear out over time so it’s not unusual to remove them and put in new. But we’re not doing that today.

Once you have your leather stripped naked, it’s time to put it through its paces. There are really no rules here. You can start by literally rolling the leather into a cigar-shaped tube – starting at one end of the notebook and rolling to the other. Then unroll and roll the other way. Roll diagonally in both directions. Roll inwards and outwards – meaning turn the leather over and roll with the finished side out, then flip it and roll with the finished side in.

You’ll begin to notice that the leather will get softer and there will be ripples and texture appearing in the leather. For some people, this is enough. For me – I want more. So I fold the leather onto itself and use the palm of my hand to roll each part of the leather. I’m being very aggressive at this point. Using force and lots of erratic motion. I just keep rolling and moving the leather until I feel like I’m “done.”

The main purpose of the rolling effort on this TN was to see if I could speed up the process of the waxy coating being worn off the leather. It worked a bit, but not completely. I wonder if it needs to literally be held in your hand to fully wear it off. But I wanted to try one more thing…

I grabbed a terry cloth towel and got it wet with plain old water. Then I started scrubbing the surface of the leather …. just to see what would happen. At the time I didn’t have any leather conditioner or leather soap, so water was my only option. It worked a bit. It definitely evened out the appearance of the leather and give it a more uniform look once the leather dried.

Side note – don’t panic if you get water on your leather. I learned from a leather craftsman that if you get leather wet in one spot that you should just get the rest of it wet. Not wet like dipping it in water – but use a soft cloth and apply an even coat of water across the entire piece. Then when it dries you’ll have a more uniform appearance. It might be slightly discolored but at least the discoloration will be the same everywhere.

At this point, I was pretty happy with the result. The leather was soft and pliable and most of the waxy stuff was gone. I figured I’d just use it for a while and the rest of the waxy stuff would come off on its own. But apparently, I wasn’t done yet…

blue leather travelers notebook

Now the surprise ending

I should probably start this section with a word of caution. DO NOT try this on your expensive traveler’s notebook – at least not until you’ve tested it on some cheaper leather. This notebook costs around $15, so I was pretty adventurous with this step.

As I was wrapping up the writing of this review, I wanted to see if there were other ways to distress leather that I hadn’t talked about. Oh boy, was there!

I found an article on Buffalo Jackson’s website – they sell handcrafted leather bags (which are AMAZING) and various leather accessories including leather portfolio binders that I’m already in love with. OK, back to the article. They have some tips on how to distress your new leather bag and make it look old. How to Distress Leather in 5 Steps. I admit that I was shocked at the first suggestion – the rest I had heard of or tried before.

Apply rubbing alcohol. Using a spray bottle, lightly mist the leather with rubbing alcohol. You may also apply it with a cloth or even a toothbrush. Be sure to not drench your bag – you just want to dampen it with the rubbing alcohol, which will then dry out the leather and begin producing a weathered look.

What?! Really? I was so intrigued that I went immediately to the bathroom closet to find my rubbing alcohol. Except… I couldn’t find it! Do I even have any? Dang it! What could I use instead? Mmm… I bet fingernail polish remover is the same as rubbing alcohol, right? Sure, why not!

nail polish remover on leather

So I grabbed an old rag and the nail polish remover, I dove in to see what would happen. I know the instructions said to lightly mist the leather using a spray bottle and not to drench it. Oops! I must have forgotten that part because I used the dampened cloth and rubbed it all over the surface of the leather. OMG! The wax was coming off! So I did the back and edges and let it dry.

It only took a moment to realize how GORGEOUS this leather really was. The rolling and creasing I had done in the first steps were now shining through and there was so much detail and character to the leather. The leather still smells like leather.  The leather was shiny and textured. Wow! I know I should have grabbed the video camera and filmed all that – but it was 11:30 p.m. and I was in my pajamas and … well, honestly I didn’t even think about it in my enthusiasm to give it a try. Next time, OK?

What do you think?

Have you ever purposefully distressed or aged leather to get a certain look and feel? Was it a traveler’s notebook or something else made of leather. Did you like the results? What else have you tried that I should do?