“Think about this moment. Exactly how this feels right now.” My friend and I were sitting on lounge chairs on the roof of the liveaboard boat that had been our home for the past week.
I put down my beer and tried to make the moment into a memory. I felt a cool breeze on my arms and the sun on my face, I was relaxed, I was comfortably full from a delicious meal, and I was slightly buzzed from my beer. Looking out over the ocean I saw the sun setting behind the waves.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I used a technique called “mindfulness” to make a lasting memory. Mindfulness is a meditation concept that encourages “living in the moment”. (I’m finding out it’s way more complicated than that, but basically that’s the idea.)
Years later, I still remember how it felt to be on the roof of the boat with my friend. Now when I travel I practice mindfulness so important moments don’t slip away forever. Mindfulness requires little effort, and it’s helped me build vivid, lasting memories of travel.
Here are three techniques I use for making memories that will stick around my brain instead of passing through.
Seeing is Believing; So is Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching
Using five senses makes a memory more complete. I concentrate on what I see and hear (those ones are easy), and try not to forget to notice what I smell, feel, and taste. The more senses I use, the more ties my brain is going to make to a specific memory, and the stronger it will be.
My senses help make memories, but unfortunately I can’t control whether they’ll be pleasant or not. I’ll never forget the sweet smell of flowers wafting from shrines in Bali, but I’ll also never forget the strong smell of urine when I accidentally walked through the men’s bathroom in Cambodia.
Not all my memories of travel will be wonderful, but using all five senses helps them last.
Looking Through My Eyes Instead of a Lens
I love taking photos when I travel: they help me bring memories home with me, and are easy to share with my friends. But I can create strong memories without taking my lens cap off.
Before taking a photo, I imagine I have no way to capture what I see. Then I take a picture with my mind camera. I close my eyes and try to recreate what I see using my brain. Once I’ve got the details clear in my head, then I consider taking a photo to share with my Facebook friends. Being mindful and noticing details helps me make memories of things I don’t need a camera to capture.
In Marrakech, I saw a little old man dressed in a white robe tottering through the night market. He was carrying an old-fashioned lantern in one hand and passed beside my table as I waited for my supper to arrive. Even if I had gotten my camera out in time, I couldn’t have captured how this moment felt both out-of-place and perfectly normal.
Taking photos makes it easier to recall memories I’ve forgotten. But when I put away my camera I can purposely make memories of travel I won’t forget in the first place.
Imagining I’m an Alien from Planet Quizzar
My daily routine bores the heck out of me, but to someone on the other side of the world it’s new and fascinating.
My memories of travel don’t have to be epic to be long-lasting. By being mindful I can create memories of underappreciated experiences (like taking public transit) that I cherish later on.
While I’m sitting on a train or the bus, I pretend it’s all new to me. What are the different things people do while they ride? What are the social rules I take for granted? What advice would I give to someone taking the bus or train for the first time?
I made a guide to using the airport for my parents-in-law who had never flown before, and I wrote down everything to do to get on and off a plane. I’ve flown enough times that I don’t get excited about it, but when I looked at what I had written it sure looked exciting: baggage check, security screening, ticket checks, finding your gate, pre-boarding, boarding… Next time I fly, I’m going to imagine it’s my first time instead of tuning out. By changing my perspective, I can make something that seems boring into a memory.
I don’t want to return home with memories that quickly fade. When I travel I use all my five senses, pretend I don’t have a camera, and I imagine experiencing what I’m doing for the first time (even if it’s not). This helps me make strong memories of travel that last long after my trip.
Sometimes when I’m traveling I need remind myself to be mindful: when I start to feel like one moment is like another, I remember what my friend said to me as we watched the sunset, beer in hand, from the roof of our liveaboard boat, and ask myself “How do I feel exactly at this moment?”