I’ve always really liked keeping track of life by meticulously documenting and preserving memories. In college, my friends used to call me the group historian because I used to write down people’s funny quotes and because I always had a camera in my hand. As thrilling as my diary sophomore year might have been, it wasn’t until I discovered travel that I realized there’s nothing more interesting to document.
Why it’s worth it
Memory is a wonderful and treacherous thing. Try as you might, you can’t really choose what you remember clearly and what you don’t. Over time, details start to slip away whether you like it or not. And we take for granted the moment in the present because we overestimate its permanence. You think that restaurant will always be there until it closes. You think that street will always look the same until a storm rolls by and takes out all of its defining features. You think people will always be there until they’re gone.
And there’s no better time to immortalize the present moment than when you’re on a trip. If you keep a good record of your travels, whether written or photographed or even filmed, future you will be thankful. Because the beautiful sunset behind the skyline on one particular day may never look that way again. And what you thought when you saw Times Square for the first time will never be as lucid as the day that you experienced it.
But if you preserve it in some way – in writing, in photos – you can always recapture that feeling. When you’re 80 and wondering where the time went, you can look back at your pictures and be reminded that the time went to Europe and Asia and Africa.
So now that we’ve covered the why, let’s take a look at the how.
If you like to capture moments in writing, journaling is a great way to document your travels. No matter how exciting your destination is, you’ll always have moments of downtime to sit and reflect on your experiences. Or maybe just to jot down a funny anecdote. Journaling is fun because it’s a special experience in and of itself. We don’t often put pen to paper, and keeping a journal is a good opportunity to do that.
Journaling is especially suitable for solo travelers because they don’t have constant company keeping them busy. But I’ve found that it can also be a fun group activity. Whenever I travel with friends, my best friend brings a small journal where she glues ticket stubs and other mementos and writes about the day. She has other people on the trip write their own thoughts and impressions, creating a set of funny and memorable notes.
Taking photos is one of the most common ways in which people immortalize memories from their travels. This can be a double edged sword because you can get so caught up in photographing a moment that you miss it. So be selective and be spontaneous in your photography. Capture what you’ll want to remember in 10 years when you barely remember the trip at all. Is it going to be a monument? A beautiful view? The smile on your girlfriend’s face when she looks at you across the table at dinner?
It’s different for everybody, but take a look at your vacation pictures and see which ones are your favorite. Then take more pictures like that. You might be surprised to find you actually don’t care that much for your pictures of Big Ben (because you’ve seen better pictures of it a million times), but you really like the shot of the graffiti behind the train station. So capture more of that! Then again, what do I know? I only photograph bikes and trains.
Technology has revolutionized the process of documenting life. And it affords you the possibility of “checking in” places so you can remember where you’ve been. I don’t say this as a way of oversharing your life online, but of being able to retrace your own footsteps. I’ve been using Foursquare (now Swarm) for years, not in a social way, but privately. Because sometimes I think about a random bar or restaurant that I went to in Texas and without my app, I would have no idea what it’s called. It makes blogging a whole lot easier as well.
Outside of the ability to pull up information that is several years old on command, apps like that also give you fun factoids, like “You haven’t been to this movie theater since 2013.” And “This is your 4th bar tonight. GET YOUR LIFE TOGETHER!”
Scrapbooks and crafts
Though I don’t do this personally, I love the idea of curating an experience into an adorable book that you can put together after a trip. Because let’s face it, you’re probably not going to go through your 1,713 pictures of China very often. But if you pick out your best ones along with some maps, postcards, and other mementos, you could make yourself a really sweet way to remember your trip.
For items that don’t fit flat in a scrapbook, you can find other inventive ways to commemorate your travels. Just use all the random stuff that ends up coming home with you after a trip. Keep jars of foreign currency or make a tabletop out of coasters. I don’t know, I’m not Pinterest.
A good combination of a few of these is blogging. Blogging allows you to organize thoughts and pictures, and simultaneously share them with the world. If, like me, you’ve decided to abandon real life indefinitely, blogging is a good way to let your loved ones know that you’re alive and eating scorpion on top of a mountain somewhere. Blogging is nice because as you document your travels, you can also impart knowledge and tips on hopeful travelers: some friends, some acquaintances, a lot of random strangers.
And while there’s something rewarding in knowing that someone might find value in my writing, I don’t do it for anyone else. Blogging is largely how I document my travels, and I do it for me.