Liz Fleming, Editor-in-Chief, Cruise & Travel Lifestyles Magazine
In the first year or two of my travel writing career, I met a lovely older lady who’d been in the business for many years. When she invited me to her home for tea, I was at first charmed, then amazed, then frankly horrified.
Her house was a nearly impenetrable maze of souvenir fridge magnets, mugs, stuffed animals, brightly painted sombreros, chunky pottery, posters, rugs, hand-painted figurines, beach mats, backpacks, travel brochures and more. She could easily have had a starring role on “Hoarders”. Narrow pathways led through the amazing collection to a tiny, cramped sitting area, where, in order to sit down and have my cup of tea, I had to shift a stack of newspaper clippings, a serape, and a cat.
“Everything you see,” she told me proudly, surveying the mountains of stuff, “is a reminder of one or another of my trips.”
That visit made an impression on me – one that’s profoundly shaped the way I collect my own memories from the road. Our house is small, but the ground I cover on my travels is vast so I know that if I brought home every tchotchke that caught my eye, in no time, we’d be up to our eyeballs.
Still, we cherish the memories made, the new friends met and the fascinating adventures experienced and want to keep the memories fresh. My articles are my best record of things seen and done, of course, and as I’m writing what ignites the sharpest, clearest memories are tastes, sounds and aromas.
Scientific research has proven that memories are sorted and stored by the auditory, visual and olfactory cortices in our brains. Even more fascinating are the experiments that show how those cortices record the strong emotions stirred by sound, sight, smell and taste.
A few drops of lavender essential oil in a scent diffuser and we feel the sense of bliss that comes from wandering the fields of France, with a soft purple haze of flowers surrounding us. A plate of decadently rich pasticcio or moussaka, a dish of kalamata olives and a hefty chunk of feta and we’re lolling in our chairs at a Greek taverna, raising our glasses in a toast to life. The sound of a brass band pumping out “When the Saints Go Marching In” sends us back to the steamy streets of New Orleans with strands of shiny beads hanging around our necks. Even a whiff of coconut oil can makes us feel happily beachy, as if we’re about to sink our toes into white sand and head for the turquoise waves.
And then there are photos – the visual reminders. A laughing face, a sunrise, the view from the bow of a ship…images can bring memorable moments roaring back to life with a power no souvenir can ever match.
So leave the tchotchkes behind (Do you really need another shot glass? Is your wardrobe really in need of a raffia beach hat?) and ask what spice makes the paella so delicious. Then get some! Buy a few small bags of spices, a bottle of rich, dark vanilla, or a tiny vial of essential oil. Fill your camera with photos of all the tiny details around you. Shoot the water, the sand, the trees, the intricate carvings on the cathedral doorway, and the worn cobblestones on the street corner. Take videos of the street performers and the market vendors calling from their stalls. Capturing those sights and sounds and tastes and aromas is the best way to bring back all the color and fun some long wintry night down the road.