This paper explores the strengths and complexities of using solicited journals/diaries with a marginalised, itinerant population in Vietnam's capital city Hanoi. We draw on journals completed by Hanoi street vendors to better understand the everyday lived experiences of a population targeted by state officials for fines and retribution. Since 2008, street vending has been banned on a number of streets and public spaces in Hanoi. Yet concurrently, livelihood options for those without formal education or skills are increasingly limited. Based on solicited journals kept by street vendors during 2012, we find that journals provide a channel for everyday politics and subtle resistance measures to be reflected on by research participants, and for detailed understandings of state–society relations to emerge. Moreover, from an analysis of participants' journal entries as well as de-briefing interviews, we consider the strengths and complexities of this qualitative method, situated within a context of state-induced fear among an itinerant and sometimes non-literate population. While the strengths of the approach became quickly apparent in the detailed and insightful narratives we received, literacy limitations, vendor feelings of inadequacy regarding journal entry style and complications regarding a sense of obligation to us as researchers raise a number of concerns. Researchers must therefore reflect carefully on the practicalities, ethics and power relations involved with this method. Nonetheless, we also note how participants became inspired to rework the journaling process to meet their own needs and were empowered to circumnavigate state controls to voice counter-narratives of their rights to the street.