5 Ways To Preserve Your Travel Memories (That Don’t Involve Photos)

no cameras signage
LEOL30, Flickr

If you’re an avid traveler, chances are you’ve experienced some type of fantastical sight, to which no photograph can ever do justice. Talent and camera quality have no bearing whatsoever on the ability to capture this moment, and so you resign yourself to committing it to memory.

Although I love looking at travel photos, I’m not much of a photographer. But I’m also well-traveled enough to know that sometimes, when you try to shoot something stunning, you inadvertently end up depriving yourself of just enjoying the experience. I see this all the time on trips; the guy who’s so busy running around chasing the perfect shot, he misses the entire point of the destination.

I’ve finally learned when to put the camera down and just be in the moment – at a certain point, sunset photos become redundant. Remembering the other sensory details surrounding the actual event, however, may well be something you’ll cherish forever. I’m not saying you should leave your camera at home when you travel. Rather, I’m advocating incorporating other ways to create travel memories that don’t involve Instagram or tripods. Read on for creative ways to preserve “unforgettable” sights or locales.

girl writing in journal
Paul Stocker, Flickr

Write it
Even if writing isn’t something you’re particularly good at, that shouldn’t stop you from trying (not everything needs to be posted to a blog or social media). Whether you scribble in a journal or email the folks back home, the objective is to get your memories written down, without trying too hard.

I strongly recommend writing longhand, as it’s more expedient, practical and, for lack of a better word, organic. So no texting, iPad, netbook or other device. Just you, a pen and a notebook or sheaf of paper. Think about sights, smells, sounds, textures and colors. Whether or not your end result is a list, paragraph or story, you’ll have something that captures a memorable moment from your trip. Not only does this exercise improve your writing skills (which, after all, are crucial in daily life); it helps sharpen your memory and senses, as well.

Verbalize it
OK, I know I hinted at ditching the devices, but many people are articulate. If you’re known for being a great storyteller, record memorable experiences soon after they occur. Whether it’s a mishap, linguistic misunderstanding, touching cultural exchange or incredible meal, recount it in vivid detail, as you’d tell it to your best friend, spouse/significant other or kids.

shells on beach
B D, Flickr

Collect it
Although I’m a writer by occupation, my favorite way to create travel memories is by collecting small, meaningful souvenirs unique to a place. They may be found objects or regional handicrafts, but my interior decor is defined by these objects. They’re my most cherished possessions (next to, I confess, my photos).

Scrapbook it
I also love to collect vintage postcards from favorite destinations, as well as items like ticket stubs, peeled-off beer labels (really), black-and-white photos scrounged from street fairs and antique shops, and cultural or religious iconography. As long as it reminds me of a great travel experience and is flat, I keep it. Some of these talismans are tucked inside my passport; others are in a photo album or stuck to my refrigerator with magnets I’ve collected from restaurants all over the world.

aboriginal art

Barbara Dieu, Flickr

Hang it
Granted, this requires a bit more cash, effort and wall space than collecting shells. But even with a nearly non-existent budget, you can bring home a piece of art as a permanent reminder of a great trip. Here are some inexpensive things I’ve collected over the years:

  • A custom-made, silk-screened T-shirt depicting indigenous art, made at an Aboriginal-owned co-op in Australia.
  • A reproduction of an Aboriginal painting that I picked up for about $25USD at Sydney’s wonderful Australian Museum. I had it mounted for a fraction of the cost of framing.
  • A vintage card painted by a Vietnamese woman’s co-op, depicting war propaganda and purchased at a shop in Hanoi. I’m not actually a communist but the art is captivating.
  • A 4-by-5 piece of muslin printed with a photo transfer of an image taken at the port in Valparaiso, Chile. I purchased it for about $3USD in the artist’s studio, nearby.
  • A slender coffee table book on Italy’s Cinque Terra.

While travel itself may not come cheap, memories are often free (the above purchases notwithstanding). I encourage you, on your next trip, to put down your camera once in awhile, and rely instead on your senses. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Not Quite Legal Souvenirs

Food seized at Washington Dulles
USDA /Ken Hammond

Somewhere in a small town in an unnamed country is the complete skull of a crocodile and a small box of teeth that belong to that skull. The crocodile, who wasn’t using her teeth anymore, was not supposed to make this trip but did so anyway, without a passport, packed in the insulation of T-shirts stained with the red dust of the Australian Outback. The person who checked this partial crocodile knew there’d be some risk of having the bones and teeth seized at the border. Plus, hey, it was free, scooped up at a swampy turn out somewhere. No money changed hands in the acquisition of the croc skull.

What was to lose? Seizure at the border, a protestation of ignorance and slap on the wrist. “Sir, you can not import animal bones without proper documentation.” “I had NO idea, I am sorry, yes, of course, take it.”

It’s a risk. And make no mistake. You may very well be breaking the law. Travelers take it on because what’s the worst that can happen? Well, a lot. Best case? You’ll have your goods seized or maybe get tagged with an expensive fine. Consider yourself lucky if that’s the case.

Here are a handful of questionable souvenirs that seasoned anonymous travelers decided they’d try to get through customs.

Three kilos of flour: “…for culinary purity. When my friend asked me to bring corn flour, I didn’t think much about it, and then suddenly I found myself with two big bags of white powder in my checked luggage. Not only was I bringing in an unlabeled agricultural product, but it resembled something else entirely.”

The USDA allows you to bring in baking mixes and the like, but requirements are that it’s commercially packaged and properly labeled. Certainly, flour won’t set off the drug sniffer dogs, but explaining those bags of white powder isn’t something you want to find yourself doing in any airport.

Ten pounds of cheese: Cheese is tricky. Hard cheese is okay, soft cheese isn’t, and the USDA guidelines on what a hard cheese is or isn’t aren’t exactly clear – they say “like Parmesan or cheddar.” Brie is probably out, as is Camembert, but what about a blue cheese? Unlcear. Good luck.

Italian olives: “They are officially not okay to bring back, but I found some that were vacuum packed and decided to give it a go. I listed foodstuff on my customs form, and when the officer asked what kind I started off with all the things that I knew it was okay to bring back (wine, hard cheese, olive oil, etc.). By the time I mentioned the olives he had already tuned me out.”

It’s fresh fruit and veg where the trouble lies, packaged, processed products are less likely to raise eyebrows. But if you don’t declare your fruit or veg, it could potentially set you back a $300 fine, plus, oops, there go your olives.

Various kinds of meat: “I packed the salami wrapped in socks and tucked inside my shoes, and sailed past saying not one word.” Meat products are strictly regulated, with a mind towards preventing the spread of disease. Multiple travelers fessed up to squirreling all kinds of fancy product past the border, not just salami, but pate, rillette, prosciutto and more.

Bones, bones, more bones: “A llama vertebrae.” (Taste in souvenirs does vary.) The crocodile skull. A handful of seashells. Ivory and tortoise shells are especially tricky and require special documentation to prove their antiquity. This stuff is all governed by Fish and Wildlife in the US and, in some cases, can only come in through certain airports. To complicate things, there are additional guidelines for “Individuals Wishing to Import Non-Human Primate Trophies, Skins or Skulls” meaning should do your homework before tossing that monkey brain bucket into your bag.

Antiquities of any kind: “I snitched a tiny black and white marble mosaic tile from a heap that looked destined for Ostia Antica’s dump. I feel guilty, but 30 years on still love cradling in my palm something an ancient Roman once touched. It’s like holding hands across time.” Stolen cultural artifacts – that’s a big one.

There’s a useful page of information on the US Customs and Border Patrol site, including a Know Before You Go sheet that will send you into a rabbit warren of other places. What about that machete – is it legal? Probably, but you won’t get it past security in your carry-on. Plus, security, that’s a whole different can of worms.

Worms, by the way, will never make it past customs. Don’t even try.

5 Odor-Free Active Travel Clothing Lines For Women

After you’ve been traveling for a long period of time, there invariably comes the day when your suitcase starts to … well, it starts to stink.

That’s where a new generation of breathable, odor-free clothing comes in. Brands like Ibex, Patagonia, PrAna, Icebreaker and Horny Toad are coming out with exciting new fabrics like Ibex’s Synergy (a blend of merino wool and GOTS-certified organic cotton), PrAna’s Bliss (a nylon-spandex blend with UV protection) and Horny Toad’s Samba (a wrinkle-free blend of Tencel, organic cotton and spandex). Such fabrics were particularly developed for versatility and multiple wears – perfect for the pack-and-go nature of the road.

A bonus? In addition to keeping you free from sweat, the brands highlighted below are also sweatshop-free and committed to ethical and sustainable production. Read on and prepare to have your packing routine revolutionized.

Ibex

Vermont-based Ibex describes itself as a “hiking-before-dawn,” “bike-to-work,” “coffee-in-front-of-the-woodstove” kind of company. Sounds like our kind of people!

Beyond that, Ibex produces a thoughtfully designed collection of activewear made from wool and natural fibers. Its new spring collection features a brand new fabric called “Synergy,” made from a blend of about 49% GOTS-certified organic cotton, 48% New Zealand merino wool and 4% Lycra. In particular, the merino wool helps your body manage moisture, regulate temperature and resist odors, while the cotton provides comfort and support, and the Lycra adds a touch of stretch.

Favorites: Synergy X Tank, Synergy Fit Pant

%Gallery-184373%Patagonia

Patagonia has developed a reputation for producing quality outdoors apparel with minimal harm to people and the environment. Perhaps its most popular outerwear collection features GORE-TEX – an innovative nylon fabric that is waterproof, windproof and breathable.

The GORE-TEX technology was invented in 1976, and the versatile fabric has since been used for consumer, industrial and medical purposes. GORE-TEX is particularly well suited as an outer lining for outdoors gear, since the fabric allows for superior protection against the wind and rain, while staying breathable. Patagonia’s more lightweight GORE-TEX products, like the Women’s Light Flyer Jacket, pack easily and make a smooth transition from the city to the mountains.

Favorites: Women’s Light Flyer Jacket, Women’s Triolet Jacket

PrAna

PrAna
initially started out creating clothing for climbing and yoga, but after discovering that their garments worked in multiple scenarios, the California-based company changed its focus to creating “products with a purpose.”

Its new product line features the new “Bliss” fabric – a light, wrinkle-resistant, quick-drying blend of 94% nylon and 6% Spandex, with a UPF rating of 40+ for sun protection. It is perfectly suited for travel bottoms, and the line currently includes capris, knickers, shorts, skirts and skorts.

Favorites: Bliss Capri, Bliss Skirt

Icebreaker

Merino wool is one of those wonder fibers that can adapt to nearly every environment. Icebreaker‘s Merino is particularly good for travel, with ultra fine fibers to cut the itchiness generally associated with wool. When it’s cold out, the merino uses moisture to generate heat, but when it’s warm, the merino transports moisture away from the skin to be evaporated. The result is a breathable, lightweight fabric that is also odor-resistant.

Icebreaker’s line includes pieces for hiking, snow sports and fitness; check out its “Travel & Lifestyle” vertical for versatile travel-friendly gear in fun, bright colors.

Favorites: Siren Tank, Villa Wrap

Horny Toad

Clothes from Santa Barbara-based Horny Toad are designed to be “an expression of ease” – just the kind of clothing we want to be wearing when we travel.

Its “Samba” line is particularly good for the road, with a knit fabric made from a blend of 48% Tencel, 48% organic cotton and 4% spandex. Tencel is a sustainable fiber made from eucalyptus trees, which is manufactured in a closed-loop system where nearly 100% of byproducts are recovered. But more importantly for travelers, Tencel helps to maintain body temperature, while preventing moisture from growing, for garments that dry easily and can be worn again and again.

Favorites: Conversion Dress, Chaka Skirt

[Photo Credit: PrAna, Icebreaker]

Intense National Geographic Series, ‘Locked Up Abroad,’ Documents Inept Travelers

muleLast week’s arrest of diaper-wearing cocaine smugglers at JFK proved more laughable than horrifying to those not directly involved. Drug busts are in the media so often, we rarely pay attention to them. They’re certainly not something I care about.

Yet, I’ve recently become obsessed with a National Geographic show called “Locked Up Abroad.” I don’t recall hearing about this harrowing documentary series when it first aired in 2007, but it caught my eye about a month ago, during a late-night Netflix bender. It’s now in its sixth season on the National Geographic Channel.

Each episode profiles one or two subjects, most of whom have been imprisoned in developing nations. While a few episodes detail hostage and other kidnapping situations (Warning: if you’re at all easily disturbed, please don’t watch … nightmares are almost guaranteed), most involve drug smuggling gone awry.

As a die-hard adventure traveler, I find “Locked Up Abroad” absorbing (that’s not an intentional diaper pun) because it’s a real-life dramatization of my worst fears. As a solo female wanderer, I can’t help but worry sometimes about kidnapping or becoming an inadvertent drug mule, no matter how self-aware I try to be. Many of the episodes on “Locked Up Abroad,” however, involve people with the intellect of dead hamsters, and it’s hard to feel much in the way of empathy, given their greed and gullibility.Still, it’s hard to resist a good prison story, especially when it involves South America or Bangladesh, and pasty, bespectacled English blokes or naive teenage girls from small-town Texas. The psychology behind why these people take such enormous risks, and how they manage to survive in inhospitable and downright inhumane conditions is fascinating.

Perhaps I’ve just watched “Midnight Express,” “Brokedown Palace,” and “Return to Paradise” one too many times, but I’ve often wondered how I’d fare in such a situation, and I hope I never have to find out. But documentaries like “Locked Up Abroad” are more than just sensationalism. They’re a window into our desperate, greedy, grubby little souls, as well as testimony to the will to survive.

For some reason, YouTube and National Geographic Channel video links are disabled or broken, so if you want to check out some footage, click here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Svadilfari]

New Art Exhibition Features ‘Banned Booty’ Confiscated From Airport Security Checkpoints

http://www.bannedbooty.com/Ever wonder what happens to the tweezers, sewing scissors and Swiss Army Knives abandoned by hapless travelers at airport security? While most probably ended up in the landfill, some contraband nail clippers have received a second life through a new contemporary art exhibit from California artist Steve Maloney.

The exhibit, called “Banned Booty – Palm Springs Checkpoint,” opens October 18 at the Palm Springs Air Museum in Palm Springs, California. It will feature mixed-media installation pieces created from items, mostly sharp-ended, that were confiscated from carry-on luggage by the Travel Security Administration at the Palm Springs International Airport. The exhibit’s intention is “to ‘continue the conversation’ about present-day air travel,” particularly its relation to everyday lives and the city of Palm Springs, says a press release. According to Maloney:

American travel changed radically after September 11, 2001. The Banned Booty series captures a small aspect of this change. What used to be routine – checking into a flight and passing through the final security check point with no concern for the nail files or scissors stuffed in your bag – was transformed into a drawn-out endeavor.

The exhibit’s opening day will feature guests like Mayor Steve Pougnet, Palm Springs City Councilman Paul Lewin and Shannon Garcia-Hamilton, Federal Security Director for the TSA in Palm Springs, who will gather to participate in that conversation first-hand. For more information, visit BannedBooty.com.