Seven ways to remember your travels

After all that goes into trip planning, here are our favorite ways to reminisce

My hands get dry in the winter. Rummaging through my bag of toiletries one chilly morning, I resurfaced a travel-size hand lotion that I hadn’t used in months. From an inexpensive motel in Christchurch, New Zealand, this particular bottle had traveled halfway around the world with me because I liked the scent so much. I opened the bottle, took a whiff, and subtle wafts of Manuka honey immediately transported me back to our adventures in New Zealand: the pristine landscapes, the most stunning mountains, and a carefree, lovely few weeks of family time. I remembered Eliza taking some of her first steps and her many falls in the grass with spectacular backdrops. All this from a bottle of leftover motel lotion. The way our brains are wired to remember is, quite truly, an olfactory miracle.

For all the time many of us put into planning our travels trips, dedicating days, weeks, months, and even years in some cases to getting the right pieces in place, there’s often something altogether special about encountering an unexpected reminder of your trip afterwards. And for all the time spent planning, travels can still feel like they go by all too quickly. Luckily, there are ways to help remember trips for long afterwards —  here are a few ways I’ve found helpful to reminisce:

  1. SNAIL MAIL: Send a postcard or short letter to yourself (or your child) on your trip. We have a postcard book that we keep the ones we’ve sent Eliza and a separate (smaller, so far) one for Emaline. We liked to think the idea was ours and ours alone, but Sebastian Modak, the 2019 52 Places Traveler with the New York Times, recently wrote about doing so too, which can only lead us to assume he was inspired by our post somewhere between Tahiti and Calgary.
  2. MUSIC: Create a playlist before you go and listen to it on your trip. Early on in our dating, Sean did this for me before I went away to visit friends in Seattle. The recording and the act left such an impression on me, both at the time and for years to come. Whenever I hear Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show or Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion) by Def Leppard, for instance, I think of our early flirting days — and of course that amazingly fun visit to Seattle.
  3. PHOTOS: Don’t just post the photos you’ve taken online — use them for physical objects. Sean made business cards with his info on one side and favorite travel photos on the other. We have a few mugs made with meaningful photographs. Simply printing photos of your trip and swapping them out with other photos can help elicit happy memories.
  4. WRITE: You may have guessed, but this is a perennial favorite of ours. Buy a notebook to jot down memories during your trip. Keep your memories specific. And while you’re at it, be sure to capture your favorite parts of the day at the end of each; you can even text yourself to make it easy! You can check out my full writeup on how to do this well.
  5. PAPER: Hold onto your tickets, receipts, and other paper memories. Years later, you might be surprised to remember your exact train route looping through Europe, and it’s also fascinating to see how much paper tickets have changed over the years. You could throw these into a memory box specific to your trip or one that you keep for all your travels. (Ahem, Marie Kondo, please don’t judge! I promise there’s lots of joy in there.)
  6. MONEY: Hold onto your spare change if traveling abroad; foreign coins are a fun keepsake and often wouldn’t be worth much if you were to try to exchange ‘em anyway. We have dozens of envelopes with the country and currency written on them. The bonus here is that if you visit the same country again, you’re not starting from scratch!
  7. SCENT: Pick up a new scented lip balm (or cologne, perfume, shampoo, really any scented item) and only use it during your trip; when you smell it months or years later, you’ll likely be taken back to said trip, as I was with my New Zealand lotion. 

But my parting thought is possibly the most important, and it’s about what to do during your trip, not while reminiscing afterwards: perhaps the secret to remembering travel is to slow down and experience each moment. No matter how many things we bring back or ways we try to remember what we just experienced, being present is the best way to live your trip — which ironically helps you remember it afterwards too. Happy travels, and happy recollections!

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