If you don’t remember the details of a trip that you took 10 or 20 years ago, did it ever happen? This was the question that found myself asking when I talked with my son recently about the trips that we took as a family.
When my kids were still at home, I did everything that I could to make travel a part of our lives. We went camping, took road trips and flew to exotic locations – even when we couldn’t afford to. So, you can imagine my surprise when my son, now in his late 30s, said that he couldn’t remember the details of the great majority of the trips that we took together.
At this point, I should say that my son doesn’t have amnesia. He speaks 9 languages, taught himself programming “for fun” and writes better than I could ever hope to. He’s a smart guy. He just doesn’t remember the details of our trips. What gives?
The more that I thought about my conversation with my son, the more I realized that travel had always been an “event” for my family. We went to exotic places, but, we never really internalized them. We never made the memories our own. This may sound a little cryptic, but, by the end of this article, you’ll understand what I mean.
So, what the heck does any of this mean for older travelers who want to get more from their travel adventures? Let’s dig in to this a bit deeper.
As I pondered my son’s comments, I found myself thinking about an interview that I did with Dr. John Medina, a neuroscientist and the author of Brain Rules.
He explained that nostalgia is a powerful brain booster. When we connect with emotional experiences from our past, our brains light up!
The combination of these two conversations – the first with Dr. Medina and the second with my son – made me wonder if, as travelers, we could do more to relive our adventures and solidify our memories.
So, I decided to try a little experiment. The results completely changed the way I looked at travel.
I love to collect postcards. In fact, I have a beautiful little rosewood box that I keep under my desk with all of my favorites. I used to get them out once in a while, but, for the most part, they stayed tucked away.
One night, I decided to start an experiment in visualization. Just before I went to bed, I reached into the box and pulled out a card at random. It was a picture of a lush forest scene in beautiful Bali.
I stared at the card for several minutes, allowing my mind to wander back to my time in Ubud. I stared until the rest of the room faded away and my vision was filled with a thousand shades of green.
Then, I put the card on the table by my bed and closed my eyes.
I started by picturing my plane landing in Denpasar. I remembered the dramatic clouds that surrounded us as we descended. I mentally walked through customs, recalling a conversation that I had with a smiling policeman.
I remembered walking into the public area in the airport and being surprised by the lush vegetation that had been brought inside the building. I remembered finding a taxi driver and the long drive that we took from Denpasar to Ubud.
For what seemed like hours – but must have been just a few minutes – I relived my trip in as much detail as I could remember. I tried to reconnect with the sounds of the monkeys in the Ubud Monkey Forest. I felt the wobbly stones beneath my feet as I mentally walked through the city.
I remembered the smells of heavily spiced foods and the taste of a dozen kinds of green smoothie. I remembered the feeling of sweat on my body as I took my first yoga class in 40 years.
At some point, my recollections became dreamlike. Or, maybe they were dreams. I couldn’t tell the difference.
All I know is that, the next day, when I woke up and looked at my postcard from Bali again, it felt completely different. I was able to access my memories from this wonderful trip more vividly. It felt like I had traveled back in time… and, in a way, I had!
Memories are not gold coins that can only be spent once; they are investments that grow with care and attention.
The more you use visualization to travel back to your favorite places, the stronger your memories will become. Since reliving events changes the physical structure of our brains – in much the same way as “real” events do – remembering is as important as doing. This is especially true when it comes to travel.
Don’t let your most cherished travel memories fade. Make a habit of reliving them. Use visualization exercises. Watch videos. Listen to music. Take yourself on magical journeys to your favorite places, even if you only go there in your mind!
What are your best travel memories? Do you ever close your eyes and imagine all of the amazing places that you have visited? Please join the conversation!