How do I make my travel memories better?
April 8, 2009 8:59 PM   Subscribe

I want to know how to remember my future travels better. I look back at some old travel pictures and think it was all a dream. What do YOU do?

My Central America adventures a few years ago include about 30 nondescript pictures in a pub (obviously inebriated), about 40 pictures of pyramids, and 20 pictures tagged "beach", "bus" and other stock photos easily obtainable through google images.

I have a handful of journal entries which in retrospect were begging to be elaborated.

I want to know how you make your past travel memories more vivid instead of discontinuous incidents such as disproportionate photos of mass inebriation in a bar.

I'm not really looking for setting up a blog and uploading a picture every day. I'm looking for creative suggestions like sketching landscapes with markers or something like that. Help me make the past not a big blur!!!
posted by bodywithoutorgans to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
For me, it's pictures of the people I meet, and words written about the places I go. I can always find a picture of Random Building X if I need to, but I'll never be able to find a picture of that crazy old Scottish man I met in Prague who was riding his back across the Czech Republic.

If you're diligent about keeping a blog/journal and taking lots of photos, turn it all into a book when you get home. My future wife made me an insanely awesome photo/blog book out of our last long-term trip and it's always fun to sit and read through my journals with corresponding pictures in a gloriously full color, hard-bound book. I'd imagine that when I'm old, I'll have several these to look through and show my kids and what not. Awesome.
posted by nitsuj at 9:16 PM on April 8, 2009

Riding his bike across the Czech Republic... not his back.
posted by nitsuj at 9:17 PM on April 8, 2009

Yeah, sadly I'm pretty sure I didn't take many pictures of the week I was at Burning Man, and of those I did - I lost the camera on the last day.
I remember a few of the scenes I took photo's of, even though I never got to see them. You have to look at the scene as you are experiencing it, and go 'I want to remember this'.

I have much better recall of the time I went tramping, and the only camera we had, got broken at the beginning of the trip. Everything I saw, I knew I'd only see again if I *remembered* it, and there was no procrastination or thought about 'Should I take a picture or not?'. I also surprised myself by being able to do fairly ok sketches in a journal I had. I also remember choosing through shells on the beach, then leaving almost all of them behind.

For Burning Man, looking through *other* people's pics does help respark my memory.

Best thing for me, is telling people about my experiences afterwards. If I've got some pictures, even by other people, I can launch into cool stories of things I did/saw. If I've got a sequence of events I've turned into a narrative, I can remember a lot.

I have very few childhood memories, and yet I remember a bunch about going to Japan when I was *4* years old. Because when I got back, and for years afterward, my replies to questions about 'Have you ever been overseas?' were all about that trip, and the things I did on it. I also remember the thoughts running through my head when I tried to give myself a mohawk at 4 - because people thought that was a pretty funny event, so constantly recalling it, cemented it in my brain (mostly my thoughts were about wandering into the kitchen for some juice afterwards, and wondering what all the adults were making a big fuss about. I hadn't cut it right, after all).

So to summarise:
- If you can't be bothered getting the camera out, but something is cool. Look at it, and pretend to take a picture.
- Find out what people think are funny anecdotes about the trip, and repeat them (not to the same people).
- Collect memorable items, even if you leave them behind. Draw. Stare. Wonder.
- Have some kind of easy sequence progression that you can link memories to. Eg, usually your itinerary is a good one. I realised most of my memories are sorted by which house I was living in. Have something to hang events off, so you know this happened, then this happened, then *this* happened.
posted by Elysum at 9:31 PM on April 8, 2009

Oh yeah - further to above post. I also heard a recommendation to take pictures of people/events, not places.
There'll be a million and one pictures of that cathedral with no one in front of it online.

Unless you're a professional photographer, take pictures of things that make this a distinct moment in time, which usually means the People.
posted by Elysum at 9:34 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a little unorthodox, but I have recently started creating "scent memories" of a sort. As I said in a previous thread: I know that scent is a serious conjurer of memories, so I will set out to purposefully link events and smell. For example, on my honeymoon, I bought a solid perfume during the trip and wore it often. I have intentionally not worn it on any other occasion. Now when I want to remind myself of the feelings I had at the time, I take that perfume out and have a whiff.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:38 PM on April 8, 2009 [7 favorites]

What's worked for me (though I have not done it the past couple trips) is to sit down at the end of each day before I go to bed, and write up a summary what I did that day. It doesn't need to be elaborate, a few sentences will do. Could be on a computer, or even just in a little paper notebook.

Then, when you get back from your trip, and have rested, sit down and type up your experiences as a letter to send to your friends/family, from your notes. You should do this no more than a day or two after you return home.
posted by fings at 9:40 PM on April 8, 2009

I don't take many photos anymore. For me, it's all about the food I remember:

Paris: capers
London: Marks & Spencer Ginger Beer and Organic Rhubarb Yogurt
Hong Kong: Seafood Congee
Singapore: a pastry filled with fresh oysters, don't know the name, but Anthony Bourdain ate one once and loved it (I learnt that after ordering it)

Once I think about the smells and tastes, all sorts of other happy memories come back too.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 10:09 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keep a journal.
posted by number9dream at 12:02 AM on April 9, 2009

The scent memories idea is excellent. The best scents are created naturally: for years a sniff of sweet orange would send me back to a sunny alley in springtime Rome. However, you can't control spontaneous odor events, so I usually bring perfume sample vials with me on vacation. I choose scents that I never used before the trip and stop regularly using after. A more "authentic" way of doing this might be to purchase local perfume or scented soap to use for the duration of your trip.

As for photography, one way I try to avoid generic postcard shots is by including people. The best choices are locals (be stealth or ask nicely), yourself or your friends. Even random other tourists in your shots can put a style time stamp on your picture, which makes more of an impression down the road. I also try to take iconic shots of things: elements in that country that you find funny or odd or that you'd never see at home. Eg. foreign language signs, weird food, strange vehicles and impossible traffic situations. Pictures like these almost always have good story to go with them!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 12:14 AM on April 9, 2009

Make yourself work a bit harder to get each photo - eg. climb something, lay down on the ground, ask a stranger if they wanna help to make an interesting shot, etc. Odds are by doing this you will actually generate new experiences and meet new people, thus remembering them much more vividly.
posted by mannequito at 2:23 AM on April 9, 2009

Why not try sketching landscapes with markers?

One of my most fondly remembered holidays is when I was travelling alone. To lend myself some legitimacy, or purpose - it's easy to feel out of place when you're on your own in public - I took along a sketchbook. When you have to spend 10 or 20 minutes looking at something, and when you have to decide which one view is worth taking the time to draw, you form quite strong memories of it, and also the location and mood in which you were sitting and drawing and reflecting.
posted by Hermione Dies at 3:22 AM on April 9, 2009

Sounds like you need to do fewer things, and make them matter more. Are you American? The American tourist experience seems to be to blitz through a place. Europeans tend to go somewhere, stay there, and explore.

Don Delillo has a lot to say about this in White Noise. Is it more important to visit a place, or to be able to say that you've visited a place? Is it more important to take a picture of the sign outside the "Biggest Barn in the West", or to actually visit the barn?

I once heard that an American, on a "tour of Europe", turned up at the Tower of London and wasn't aware he was in the UK. He thought it was in Italy, and argued with the assistant that he was — in fact — in Italy. Mind blowing.
posted by humblepigeon at 4:19 AM on April 9, 2009

Seconding 'keep a journal'. Even if it's only infrequent, or even after the trip. I find that when I know I am going to be writing it all down I think about it in a different way; I'll already be thinking about the narrative, and about translating the experience into words as it happens. I think about the key points afterwards and the important stuff comes into focus; my friendship with Pailiots the horse, Islam with his amazing taxi, the weightless curved bridge high above the kyle, (sorry, I am heading off on a memory trip here!).

Then when I get home, print out the pictures, gather the tickets/postcards/mementos and put it all into a phot album, rewriting the journal entries in the right places.

Although the albums are great to look through, it's the process of making them which fixes them in my memory.
posted by BadMiker at 4:52 AM on April 9, 2009

I keep a journal, with the ticket stubs and brochures from various attractions pasted on the pages facing my entries.

For photos, I take pictures of transitional periods in between features: photos of me opening the door to a new hotel room and of the room, photos of/from the transport from place to place, and photos of groups of people on their way somewhere (for example, if we're hiking to a place, I will take pictures of the line of us plodding down the trail). Then, when I upload the pictures, I add the itinerary to the set description. This helps turn the photos into a narrative and the transitions provide breaking points, so Day 3: Our Lady of Something-Or-Other doesn't blend seamlessly into Day 4: Poobah Cathedral.
posted by vilthuril at 7:32 AM on April 9, 2009

I keep a blog and take tons of photos. I remember best when I write things down though, so I keep a sketchbook/journal with writing, sketches of landscapes, people, objects and art that I find interesting. I have a whole page of hairstyles in Madagascar and another with skirts of a certain tribe in Southern Ethiopia. I also paste in ticket stubs, candy wrappers etc. that I find along the way.

I met a number of people that always write one sentence in a journal or on a calendar every night. I draw a calendar in my sketchbook and in each 1" square make a drawing of something that happened to me that day. If I sat in an internet cafe it might be of a computer or it might be a sketch of me sketching in a tomb in Egypt.

You can tell from my answers that I'm a visual person so YMMV. However, the calendar sketches went over big with other travelers (even if I was only doing it to remind myself so I could catch up in my journal). After people started catching on what I was doing they would start bugging me around 6pm to see "the sketch of the day."

To show how ridiculous I am, I also keep a small calendar in which I write down all of the money I spend every day. I use it to put up detailed records of my trips on my website for other people to reference when they're planning a trip themselves. However, it also helps me to remember what I did an day. Maybe I didn't do anything memorable but I look and see I payed for internet or the bus and that triggers memories as well.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yea, like Napoleonic Terrier, food is a big part of my travel memories. If I can, I learn how to prepare the food at home, so I can relive the experiences whenever I want to. I made Liege waffles at home a few months ago and while they weren't as good as the real thing, I was transported (in my mind) to the street corner in Brussels where I tasted my first one.
posted by cabingirl at 9:07 AM on April 9, 2009

I forgot to mention that I take a photo of every place I sleep (the hotel room, train, airplane, sand dune, yurt or whatever) on a trip and try to take a photo of every interesting meal I eat. Photos of food and of design (usually signs and packaging) are the most popular on my site. Man, I sound a bit methodical, but I truly enjoy all of the documentation.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:16 AM on April 9, 2009

I keep ordinaries from trips. I have a small stone from Stratford-on-Avon, a purple shell from an Irish beach where we briefly stopped the car on our honeymoon, coins from various European trips before the Euro, and some British Telecom phone cards. Of course I have ticket stubs, but also pocket-size Metro & Tube maps and my old BritRail photo passcard. I clipped a few things from the newspapers (like the daily Mail headline "YOBS SHAME US ALL AGAIN" that I keep with a picture of friends gary , James, and Ed holding pints). And I have a cursory journal.

Those items give a very good background texture to the photographs of monuments, special events, etc., that are similar to the ones brought home by every other tourist.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:37 AM on April 9, 2009

I keep a simple journal, place, date, what I did, how much a meal or a room cost. I buy a book at different places, as a memento. I send myself postcards. I do a slideshow a month later to some friends, or burn it to a DVD with some commentary.
posted by furtive at 12:18 PM on April 9, 2009

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