How to Travel With All Your Senses

 SMELL: Shinjuku Gardens in Japan

SMELL: Shinjuku Gardens in Japan

“A picture speaks a thousand words.” Do I believe this is true? Absolutely. It’s very difficult to describe an amazing trip to someone who has not been with you. I often try to figure out the best couple of moments and describe these in a couple sentences, but ultimately everyone wants to see pictures. Photographs help us to see a scene and imagine what it would be like to be there. Our mind constructs an idea of the place from the photograph, but really has no idea of the experience because it’s only an image. We can know what that place looks like (at least from the limited angle taken by a trusty camera lens). But we do not understand the experience of that place- what it smells like, sounds like, tastes like and feels like. A photograph captures a place in a visual sense, but what about the rest of the senses?

Whenever I see photographs of beautiful places, I want to be in that place. If I see an image of a place I’ve visited, it stirs emotions deep within my heart. I start remembering what I was doing when I saw that place- what I was wearing, what the weather felt like, whether I was tired or hungry and then what I ate. When I see a picture of a place I’ve never been, I just want to go. I want to understand that photograph and I believe the only way to fully understand is to experience it with all my senses.

When travelling, I’m very conscious of all my senses. I keep a journal with me and I like to record important events such as monuments or famous places I visited. But I also like to record small experiences such as what I ate for breakfast, what the street smelled like or what I heard on the bus. I write down what art was on the walls of a restaurant or how a local greeted me on the street. I’m privileged to have all of my senses and I believe taking full advantage of them is important in travelling and in any new experience.

Growing up, my parents instilled in me a love for a variety of places, people and food. I might have turned up my nose at fish night or lentil soup, but if you didn’t eat what was on the table, you didn’t eat. I learned to eat and to love many types of food. My parents gave me an atlas book called “It’s a Big, Big World” when I was young. I remember staring over the countries for hours and even planning my routes for “once I’m bigger.” I was fascinated with discovering new things and it seemed exciting to me. I wanted to eat new delicious foods, swim with dolphins and see beautiful places.

 HEAR: Niagara Falls

HEAR: Niagara Falls

When I was nine, my grandparents provided me with my first experience outside of the US. We went to Mexico for a day (a fairly short drive from their California home). I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable and out of place. I think I was slightly annoyed since I didn’t expect to have those feelings. I didn’t understand the language. We ate tacos and I drank an orange soda. We then went to pass out sanitary and school supplies to a place that needed them. I remember I had to walk a bit on a gravel path to get to that place and I was angry because I wanted to go back to California and swim in my grandparents’ pool. I wanted to be back in a place I knew and felt comfortable. I was not very happy or grateful to them that day.

 FEEL: Holding a koala in Australia

FEEL: Holding a koala in Australia

When I was 14, I had my first experience travelling outside the US for an extended time. I went to Malawi for three weeks with my grandfather, mother and another girl my age. We travelled around the country to different orphanages (at the time my grandparents ran an organization that raised money to finance various orphanages around Malawi) to check on them, see how the money was being used and to make plans for the future. I remember crying when I first got to the guest house because despite the beautiful foliage and friendly people, I felt uncomfortable. But after that first night, I decided to try and learn what I could and to write down everything. Writing was my form of self-expression and it certainly worked. I wrote about not only every place we went, but every meal I ate, every creature I saw in my living quarters, every experience I had meeting someone knew. By the time the trip was over, all I wanted was to stay longer and to learn more. That trip changed my life because it gave me an intense hunger for going to new places and experiencing new cultures.

 TASTE: A meal in Chad

TASTE: A meal in Chad

 SEE: A Liberian BEACH

SEE: A Liberian BEACH

Since that time, I’ve been to Serbia, Mexico, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Liberia, Nigeria, Chad, Japan, London and most US states. I am passionate about learning from the world, visiting new places and sharing those learnings with others. Each place I visit, I taste new food, stay in new places and try to learn at least a few words of the native/ local language. I take a journal and I write so that I can look back later and remember those experiences in detail. When travelling, your body is like a sponge for new experiences. But sponges can only hold so much water. I think this is the reason that days or memories can blend together on a trip. If you want to remember each event and experience chronologically, I highly recommend journaling. It helps to organize the mind and it’s a resource you can use later to remember what you did when and how you felt. I also recommend including an experience related to each sense that day. Even if you’re exhausted by the end of the day, pull out your journal and write one smell, one sight, one sound, one taste and one feeling that day. You won’t regret it.  

I would encourage anyone travelling to think about all your senses. Be conscious in a restaurant of not only what you’re eating, but the type of background music that is playing, the decorations or colors of the restaurant, the feel of the table and chair. Being fully cognizant of your surroundings, and appreciating them with all your senses, will bring about a very fulfilling experience. Yes, a picture can tell a thousand words. But an experience can provide a thousand smells, sounds, sights, feelings and tastes. Get out there. Experience the world. Just go.