The Sensual TravelerThere are times that I can't remember what I ate yesterday, but I can easily recall my first taste of durian.
Today, I couldn't tell you if our apartment in San Jose had a particular odor, but I can describe for you the smell of Indonesian clove cigarettes at a cock fight.
There's an educational theory that states that with each sense you involve, it becomes easier to remember something (actually, it becomes more difficult to forget it, which is a little different). We always remember people with funny voices, or strange odors, right?
I once spent a day in Kyoto that proved, to me, that the theory is correct.
In one day, my eyes saw gardens in bloom, businessmen inebriated, and geisha performing centuries-old dances.
My ears were serenaded by masterful koto melodies and drunken karaoke contests.
My mouth savored sake, sushi, yakitori, a big mac, and coca-cola.
I breathed incense rising to heaven and smelled cherry blossoms falling to their death.
My skin felt the warm sun and the crisp air of a perfect April day.
Every time I travel, I hope to have a day like that. A day that is burned into every cell of my body.
Because I know I will never forget that day.......
Travel heightens the senses, and our senses heighten the travel experience. The more senses we activate, the stronger our memory. Obvious stuff, I know, but like all obvious stuff, we overlook it when it's most important.
If a traveler wants vivid memories, he or she needs to activate senses. Seek and sample new strong sounds, smells and sensations.
It's not a co-incidence that festivals rate high on the memory lists of most travelers.
Festivals are the sensual stews of mankind.
They're memorable, not only because of the cultural history and exposure, but also because they are sensory immersion tanks.
Japanese Matsuri, the Hindu Thaipusam, Balinese Odalon, and Thai Festivals all instantly bring to my mind unique smells, sharp sounds, vivid colors and motion, strong feelings and emotions. These are the building blocks of memories.
A catalog of senses:
Once, in Kauai, I played Tarzan and opened a coconut for Angie by throwing it against a boulder. Unfortunately, it was a rancid coconut that exploded all over me. More than the beautiful vistas, the singing birds, and the secluded waterfall swimming hole, it was the putrid milk that has marked that amazing hike in my mind forever.
In the rainforests of Belize, a howler monkey and I once traded roars, at two in the morning. His calls shook the trees, the ground, and my legs. We were in the middle of hot, wet jungle with the smell of unending life and death everywhere (if you've been in the jungle, you know what I mean). I was sweaty, a little scared, and totally exhilarated. One of my greatest wildlife moments.
On the Lost Coast of Northern California, I sat one morning with my friend Brad. He had a coffee. I had an orange juice. We watched and listened to the surf pound, as the sun came up behind us and warmed our backs. Suddenly, two whales rose from the water, a mother and her calf. They did a couple of jumps for us, then disappeared.
My three favorite places in the world are Bali, Thailand, and Japan. In these worlds, everything is a sensory experience. In fact, for many people, the experience is overwhelming. It's easy to get tired from all the stimulation.
God invented Singapore for these people.
Maybe that's why so many people are disappointed by the Grand Canyon, yet can love shopping on vacation.
The Grand Canyon, for most, lacks sound, smell, feel. Standing on the rim, it's a fairly one-dimensional experience. Rafting it, of course, is the stuff of memories. Water splashing. The roar of rapids. The smell of fear.
Shopping, on the other hand, engages all senses. As does a good meal (another vote for Japan, where the slurping of noodles adds an audio component to the dining experience).
If you go to the I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing markets of Vietnam you can see/smell/hear/taste/feel the ultimate shopping experience.
The travelers lesson is clear. Prepare for a sensory experience before you go.
Ask what you can see, smell, hear, taste, touch that you haven't before.
Then do an audit during the trip. Have you satisfied your senses?
Check again during each day. If you are having an amazing day, don't eat at McDonalds, get some horsemeat!
It may be just the thing that turns a day into a memory.