Evoking Travel Memory

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Evoking Travel Memory

How do we recall forgotten collections of travel memories?

“Collect memories not things” is a favourite saying with many people who like to travel. It is also good advice to apply to souvenir shopping if one wants to keep luggage weight down and wallet weight up. But memory is a funny thing. Sometimes we are surprised by what we do and don’t remember.

When I read The Travelling Lindfield’s blog post about their trip to Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory, I remembered several things about my own trip to Whitehorse thirty-five years prior. Long hours of July sunlight, beautiful scenery, fresh air, and the hot springs just outside of town. I’d enjoyed that trip, but there were many things about it I no longer remembered. Lyn Lindfield included photos of Miles Canyon. The name was vaguely familiar, but I could not recall if I had seen Miles Canyon or not. Going through photos of past trips is often a good way to jog memory, but I no longer have any photos of my Whitehorse trip.

And yet, photos alone may not bring back all the details. After U.S. President Obama’s December 2014 announcement of the decision to restore relations with Cuba, articles about Cuba began to appear in the paper and online. They prompted me to look through files on my computer with photos of my 2004 Cuban vacation. The photos brought back memories, but those memories became more vivid when I went to the hardcopy photo album I’d created with additional textual information, notes attached to the photographs with information about location and bits of history.

The memories evoked by my photo albums are stronger still when the notes I’ve attached include personal perceptions and experiences in addition to basic facts. I frequently keep journals on my travels. I included bits from that journal in the photo album documenting a 1992 motorhome trip my husband and I took through southwestern England with my daughter, aged four at the time, and my step-daughters, aged eight and ten. The combination of photos and personal notes brings back memories with a great deal of clarity.

There are elements of that memorable trip that come to mind without any prompting. The lesson we received on tides when we camped at Porth Beach, Cornwall, where the water was just across the road in the evening and a long, long walk away the next morning. The way our rented motorhome almost didn’t make it up the hill when I suggested we take the “scenic route”, a hill we later discovered was the steepest in England. Lunch in a pub garden in London with a patient waitress who took the girls’ unconventional orders while they grilled her about her accent. However, I don’t remember the details of that order until I look back at the photo album. My daughter ordered a ham sandwich without the bread, my younger step-daughter a salad and garlic bread without the salad, and my older step-daughter a single piece of chicken.

Evoking travel memories - Porth Campground

Evoking travel memory - hill in England

Other notes in that album make the trip seem like only yesterday. My older step-daughter’s distress at seeing homeless people sleeping in the pedestrian subway at Waterloo in London. Her learning from another girl in one of the caravan parks that bangs are called fringe in England. My younger step-daughter remarking on how I got us lost on the way to Buckingham Palace because “the map was too big.” My daughter wanting to visit the Queen’s cat (from the nursery rhyme “Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been. I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.”)

There are a number of ways to capture and collect your travel memories. Linda Fairbairn of Journey Jottings promotes pictorial Journal Maps as a way to record your journey. She offers three tips to help you remember your trip. She also suggests capturing sound memories.

I am a few years behind in updating my photo albums. I’ve captured several memories from the past three years in my blog, but I think it might be time to start a project to bring my albums up to date. As I go through my current travels, I am thinking more carefully about which techniques I use to capture and collect memories.

How do you collect and record travel memories?

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  1. I never was a big picture taker and I can’t explain why. I just never got into the habit of taking a camera! That translates to now, when only once in a while I remember to use the camera on my smartphone. But I have always journaled and managed to do so when traveling too. I can read some of those entries and be right back there, smelling fresh croissants baking in Paris:)

    1. Jacquie, journalling is a great way to capture memories. My journal notes add a lot of detail not captured in photos.

  2. When we are ‘there’ it always feels as though we’ll never forget so why bother to take the time out from the action to record anything?
    But you’ve only got to experience that dopamine hit when you do find an old journal or a few ancient photos to know the pleasure they give down the track is repaid 10 fold!
    The tricky thing is to work out the best modality that works for *you* so the balance of effort required is repaid in kind when that moment for nostalgia strikes in years to come 🙂

    1. Linda, it is tricky finding what works best for yourself. I have just finished a very busy, wonderful trip and it was a struggle to take time and record things I wanted to remember. I won’t know for a while how well I have done that.

  3. I’ve put pictures in albums with nothing more than a heading for the event/trip and a year, to in some cases putting captions under many pictures, to writing a blog for each of our 3 big trips – Alaska, USA west coast and USA/Canada east coast. Now that I am able to reread my blogs about the 3 big trips, I wish I had kept journals of past trips.

    What I really appreciate is the advent of the digital camera and being able to take lots of pictures. Back in the “old days” you had to figure out how many roles of film you wanted to carry with you, decide what you most wanted to photograph (and hope the picture turned out) and then face the cost of developing them when you got home.

    I am now quite happy viewing my pictures on the computer. I organize them by trip and days/locations within the trip. This works well for me recalling memories, maybe not lots of details but enough that I get pleasure out of looking at them. Also, having our pictures well organized, my husband never ceases to be amazed at how quickly I can find specific pictures when he says “do you remember when we were … ?”

    The conclusion for me is that technology has opened up a variety of wonderful ways to better capture our memories, we just have to weigh the effort/benefit balance that will satisfy us individually.

    As always, I enjoy your writings.

  4. I honestly rarely ever travel and when I do, I barely take any pictures. Now that I’m on Instagram, I’m trying to at least take a few pictures from time to time. However, I have a really good memory, and I tend to rely on my memory when reminiscing about past travels. Sometimes people are so busy looking through a lens that they don’t really experience a trip until they look over their photos. But if I had kids, I would snap away because they never will be that age again and I know I would want to look back on that some day.

    1. Erica, I take a lot of photos. I use many in my blog and with digital it is easy to take a lot of photos and weed out the “bad” ones. It is a balance between looking through the lens and soaking up the experience.

  5. My mother was not a ‘camera’ person so many events were not recorded. I have no photographs of myself between the age of 12 to 18. These were crucial teenage years and my memories are just in my head. This saddens me. It is like I did not exist during those years as there is no evidence of it – silly as it may seem.

    I did not actively take photographs until I was 19 or so. My husband is a ‘camera’ man and has probably rubbed off on me. I take photographs of my family all the time and store them on a photograph management application. They are filed into year and by the event.

    My children have birth to age one photograph albums. Something for them to look back on in years to come.

    1. Phoenicia, I did photo albums for my daughter too. Each Christmas she got new pages that covered the past year. I loved doing that.

  6. Pictures are fantastic and looking at them makes me remember things about a particular country that would otherwise have forgotten. Have to say though that old fashioned paper photos are much better in this respect. Online photos is not the same experience. Love having a big basket with pictures from all over the world next to my sofas that people can look at.

    1. Catarina, I love the idea of a basket next to the sofa full of pictures from the all over the world. I bet it spurs a lot of conversation.

  7. Keeping more than photo’s is a great way to evoke more memories of a favorite trip. I like little things like a receipt from a capuchin from a favorite cafe, or a stub to an exhibit I might have seen. Keeping hard copies of things are fantastic, though of course now so many of our photos are on the computer it makes things a little harder in a way.

    1. There have certainly been changes because of the computer. In some ways, it is easier to store memories. But some things have been lost – the album full of receipts and stubs, for example.

  8. Like Jacqueline I’ve never been a big picture taker, which is a bit sad when I think of all the countries I’ve been to and never taken a single photo. Most of the photos I do have were taken when I traveled with other people, especially when I used to travel with the Hawaii Visitors Bureau. A couple of years ago I converted all of those photos to digital so now instead of albums I have images stored in the cloud with back up discs. Not as charming as albums, but at least I don’t have to worry about the photos fading or getting damaged over time.

    1. I tend to back up my digital photos as well to make sure they aren’t lost. I haven’t digitalized all my older photos. I’m not sure I will do that although the albums take up a lot of space.

  9. My wife tends to take most of the photos when we travel, and I don’t use any documentation. Hence my memory of events and details is much stronger than hers. My wife is just beginning to understand digital photos but not so much the many options available to add captions. Technological baby steps for us.

    1. Edward, it’s interesting that your memory of events and details is stronger. Is that because you pay more attention and aren’t distracted by trying to record the event or just because of a naturally good memory?

  10. We love our digital cameras and have made a habit of downloading them frequently to our computers so that we can get rid of the not-so-good and geo-tag as well as add a description to the ones we want to keep. Afterwards we upload them to Dropbox into folders of each country or the month they were taken to further jog our fading memories. Staying super organized helps us remember details about past travels but, I’m with you, it’s still astonishing how much gets blurred! Anita

  11. The trip that started it all…The Jackie and Rosemary Italian Road Show. Yes, when my sister and I went to the Cinque Terre, Italy hiking in 2007, we took over 700 pictures between us! Every evening, I would write stories about who we met that day and those encounters, sights, foods, that we experienced that day.

    If I’ve gone on a trip (and I blessedly get to travel a lot!), and don’t take a lot of pictures and write nightly stories, I miss things. There’s too much in my head to not remember unless I have photos and notes.

    For my blog, I went through hard copy pictures and pulled dozens of pictures to prompt childhood memories. How fun!

    Thanks, Donna, this was a great blog!

    1. Thanks Rose Mary. It is surprising how much we forget when we don’t write nightly stories. I sometimes jot a few things done during the day, something I’m worried I won’t remember fully enough by the end of the day.

  12. I loved taking pictures and making photo albums with comments for years, especially when the trips involved my children. People these days don’t tend to have actual, hold in your hand pictures and that’s too bad but they like their own customs.

  13. Excellent post, Donna. I used to keep remarkable photo albums from our travels, that included pictures along with memorabilia I’d picked up along the way. That process ended with the introduction of digital photos. I don’t think I’ve created one of those lovely albums since 1999, when I began taking digital photos. Too bad.

    1. Doreen, when I first started taking digital photos, I used software to create digital albums that I printed and kept in hardcopy. Sadly, that’s fallen by the wayside now too.

  14. I have a penchant for taking a unique rock from many of the places I visit to serve as a reminder. I used to keep pamphlets and ticket stubs, but have fallen out of that habit. I still enjoy putting photo albums together thought. There’s something so satisfying about flipping through pics that just doesn’t happen with digital photos on a screen.

  15. Blogging certainly seems a good way to record and document your travels. Who knows where we’ll be with that 10 or 20 years from now and if it will really have the shelf life of those old photo albums.It’s surely a lot easier.

    1. Ken, I doubt the blog will be accessible 10 or 20 years from now. I suspect it doesn’t have the shelf life of a hardcopy photo album.

  16. I take pictures. I have a couple journals. I also save pictures to my computer and dropbox. I have a lot of back ups. I have so many great travel memories. I don’t want to forget them.

  17. I like to take pictures now. I often put them on my blog about places I visit.
    Speaking of saving them, I have some special pictures, nothing dramatic, but I want them passed on. I have them inside the backs of painting I have collected.
    Someday, long after I am gone, people will find them. Might be a relative, might be someone I have never met. They will find these pictures, and notes which describe where I went and what I was doing. I guess it is a kind of photo time capsule, and am passing my photo to the next generation.

  18. Donna, I hope you do more of these ‘memory’ posts. I loved your daughter ordering a ham sandwich without the bread or your stepdaughter ordering the salad and garlic bread without the salad – those memories are the best.
    The one about the cat visiting the Queen and more – I loved it all. Places are great but experiencing them with children is something special, right?

  19. I love the idea of capturing the mood of the moments in your life. That’s such a wonderful idea . I imagine that’s why scrapbooking is so popular. Connecting a story to images gives depth to the experience,

  20. Awesome Post Donna! I love taking pictures now. Years ago I couldnt be bothered. I think my love for photography started when i began blogging which was May 2014. I love your blog and how you capture the moments in life. its high time I set up a journal, save pictures on my computer and dropbox.
    Thanks for sharing x