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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.

Popular Gondogoro La Trekking Route Closed In Pakistan

Pakistan trekking route is closed to travelers
Courtesy Shikari7 via WikiMedia

The Gondogoro La trekking route, located in a remote region of Pakistan, is considered one of the most demanding and beautiful hikes in the entire world. The path often draws adventure travelers from across the globe, most of whom come for its legendary mountain views that are amongst the most spectacular on the planet. But in May the route was suddenly shutdown by the Pakistani government without explanation, preventing travelers from visiting the region and putting the fragile local economy in a bind.

The trek traditionally begins in the village of Askole and winds its way up the Baltoro Glacier before crossing over the Gondogoro La Pass into the almost completely uninhabited Hushe Valley in northern Pakistan. The route rises to a height of 19,488 feet and offers stunning views of the Karakoram Range that at one point includes four peaks of more than 8000 meters in height. Those mountains include Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and II, and the second tallest mountain in the world – K2.

While not as crowded or well known as the trek to Everest Base Camp or a climb up Kilimanjaro, the Gondogoro La route is nonetheless quite popular with hikers and climbers visiting Pakistan. The trail is well known for being technically challenging and can require more than three weeks to complete, depending on pace, weather conditions and the experience levels of the hikers.

It is not unusual for the route to be closed as avalanches have sealed off the path in the past. But this time the Pakistani government has simply stopped issuing permits for the trek on May 23 and hasn’t been particularly forthcoming as to why. The route does wander close to the border with both India and China, although the mountains make it nearly impossible for someone to cross into one of those countries from Gondogoro La. There is some speculation that the move was made for security purposes, although there have not been any indications of what security threat may exist in the area.

Many adventure tour companies in Pakistan rely on regular hikes along the Gondogoro La trail for steady income, as do the small villages that fall upon the route. With the path closed off there is very little income, even now at the height of the tourism season in Pakistan. Tour operators are increasingly frustrated by the lack of information about why the trail was closed and how long it will remain that way. Many of the guides and porters that traditionally work the route are now unemployed, while small inns and teahouses remain empty.

The closing of this route predates the shutdown of Nanga Parbat, the mountain where militants killed 10 foreign climbers recently. Whether or not a similar faction is operating in the Gondogoro La region is unknown, but it is possible that the government has ceased to issue permits in an effort to keep travelers safe. This part of Pakistan has a history of being peaceful and receptive to visitors, so hopefully this closure is only temporary and adventurous trekkers can return soon.

Archaeologists Unearth Treasure-Filled Tomb In Peru

Archaeologists in Peru uncover lost tomb
Patrycja Przadka Giersz

It has been a busy couple of weeks for archaeologists across the globe. First, a team of researchers discovered a lost city in Cambodia and then a week later another team made a similar find in the jungles of Mexico. Not to be outdone, a group of archaeologists in Peru have unearthed a tomb filled with mummies and treasure that dates back to a pre-Incan civilization known as the Wari.

The thousand-year-old tomb is located approximately 185 miles north of Lima, not far from a dig that revealed two similar finds back in 2010. The burial chamber is located two meters below the Earth and was buried beneath 33 tons of gravel. It is believed to be the final resting place of three Wari princesses and the first undisturbed royal tomb from the Wari civilization. Because of the wealth that was contained within, the archaeologists who discovered the site toiled in secrecy for months fearing that if word got out about their discovery tomb raiders would surely strip it clean.

When they opened the tomb, the Peruvian and Polish archaeologists found 60 mummies sealed inside. The majority of those mummies were women and had been buried standing up, which belies their royal stature. Many of the mummies were wearing jewelry made of precious metals while well-preserved vases and wicker baskets filled with other treasures littered the floor at their feet. All told, more than 1200 silver, gold and ceramic objects were uncovered inside the royal tomb, which also contained pots, ceremonial knives and other more mundane objects that remain priceless in terms of cultural value.

The Wari people were a prosperous and powerful group of coastal dwellers who rose to power in northern Peru around 500 A.D. Internal strife seems to have taken its toll on the civilization, however, and by 800 A.D. they were already in decline. By 1000 A.D. the Wari were merely a shadow of their former self and shortly thereafter they all but disappeared from the region. Archaeological finds like this tomb are helping researchers to piece together more information about Wari culture, however, giving us a clearer vision of what life was like in Peru more than a thousand years ago.

Dispatch From Darwin: Discovering Asia In The Outback

loop_oh, Flickr

I was sitting in the Speakers Corner Café in the stunning (and unexpected) Parliament House in Darwin, a rare marriage between a Southeast Asian bungalow and a po-mo shout in light and glass; all around-as everywhere in central Darwin-were plaques recalling the Japanese air raids on the place in February 1942, and markers announcing, “An enemy bomb fell here and killed 10 people.” The biographies of some of the employees of Darwin’s post office who were lost in the attack were on prominent display on every side. And Sachiko Hirayama, a sweet, elegant and determined young woman from Nagasaki was telling me about how she was hoping to bring Japanese tour groups here to visit the sites where they had lost loved ones and so put old fears to rest.

Hirayama had been appointed by the Northern Territory’s new Chief Minister, Terry Mills, to act as a liaison with Japan-and such is the strangeness of the small town set amidst a huge territory thirty times the size of the Netherlands (with 1/60th of the population) that, within less than 24 hours of my return to Darwin last August, I bumped into Mills at a little café. Just one day before, he had been named Chief Minister and brought the Country Liberal Party back into power in the Top End after 11 years. We exchanged pleasantries, and he asked me where I lived.

“Japan,” I said, and his eyes lit up. “The second call of congratulations I received was from the Consul-General of Japan. I am really interested in Japan. Seriously!” The fact that Japan is the Territory’s largest trading partner-and that the Japanese oil development company INPEX had already sunk $100 million into the exploration of gas fields nearby–was surely one reason; but it really did seem as if Darwin was suddenly realizing how well-placed it was to become a global player.

“Darwin is closer to Jakarta than to Canberra,” Mills went on, pointing out to a local journalist that he wasn’t “fluent” in Bahasa Indonesia, but had studied it at university in Jakarta. Then he began talking about his work with the “traditional owners” of the Territory.This couldn’t have flowed more naturally out of my very first taste of Darwin on this trip: as soon as I got off the plane from Melbourne, on a hot Sunday night, I took myself off to the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, and realized, as I looked at the crocodile-foot back-scratchers on sale, the crocodile skulls being sold for $75, the crocodile-tooth headbands and crocodile-skin earrings, that the Top End still boasts an improbable, fantastic mix of New Agers and old salts.

A guy I might have seen in Goa was playing the didgeridoo, while three Aboriginal kids twirled themselves around in front of him. A strapping local cowboy was flogging whips. The next stall down in the makeshift assembly of shacks on a patch of grass across a ridge from the ocean was selling propeller planes made of beer cans; these were deftly brought into the new multi-culti order by a Chinese boy at the end of the row who had fashioned Mickey Mouse out of balloons.

You don’t come to the Top End, of course, to be part of the mainstream; in a territory larger than Italy, Germany, Japan and Britain combined (with a population 1/80th that of Shanghai), you have to define yourself in bold colors against the thousands of miles of red emptiness. I was offered soy candles amidst the crocodile and mud-crab rolls at the market, and saw tie-dye dresses for 3-year-olds for sale next to “night-display, sound-activated” t-shirts. I could get Chinese-made tacos or Fijian-stirred milk shakes, goatmilk soap or “dragon fruit sorbet.” The only governing assumption-and maybe this spoke for something essentially Australian-was that the one thing I’d never find was anything that was available at Woolworth’s (though the local Woolies, not so far away, was a huge emporium, complete with its own large liquor shop).

Privileged urban refugees eager to go back to the land seemed to be bumping into indigenous people taking their first uncertain steps into city life. And kids who had just left Kuta or Ko Phi Phi were walking into Thais and Filipinos and Indonesians who had come here to experience the life the kids thought they were fleeing. As Terry Mills had pointed out, the tag-line here about Darwin being closer to Bali than to Sydney speaks to something deeper than geography; here was an ever more Southeast Asian town that just happened to be talking with an Aussie twang.

I’d been to Darwin before, in 1988, the year of the Bicentennial. At the time, the sudden explosion of tropical green after hours of nothingness below, the Jurassic Park landscape of Kakadu National Park nearby, the scrappy little settlement of ferns and larger-than-life eccentrics trying to market their reptiles (a multi-national chain had recently constructed a whole hotel nearby shaped like a crocodile) had all made me feel I was on a different continent from Adelaide or Cairns. Now, with the prospect of oil nearby, and with Darwin offering the last word in freedom from hustle-bustle with relaxing ocean views, the local glossy lifestyle magazine was shouting “Uber Luxe” on its cover and advertising $3.5 million penthouse apartments overlooking the one-story narrow main streets. I might have been in a piece of Miami Beach airlifted to rural Utah.

Yet for all the gestures towards urbanism, the question the Top End still seems to ask remains: what do you do in an area with a population density lower than that of Pitcairn (an island that boasts all of 66 people)? One answer was afforded by the pungent local newspaper, the NT News, which informed me, on arrival, that one Territory man had racked up nearly 70 criminal charges in 7 months, and which also gave an account of a local hero who had saved a mate the previous day by disabling a croc with a screwdriver. Much of Darwin seemed to have the outlandish air of an Outback chapter of the Hells Angels. A car parked downtown had “X-Men” all over its sides, and a huge portrait of a superhero (or his enemy) on the back, declaring, “An Agnostic, Dyslexic, Insomniac Stayed Up All Night Wondering if there was a Dog”; a “Toyota Rescue Vehicle” nearby had placed a sign on its back window advising, “Patience, My Little Grasshopper.”

When faced with a tabula rasa, people can make of themselves anything they choose, perhaps. So the native strangeness of faraway towns like Darwin seemed interestingly deepened by all the people who flocked there in order to rewrite their destinies. Signs in Hangul script pointed me to one of the town’s ubiquitous churches and three Chinese characters-nothing else-adorned a banner atop a high-rise. The man who took my breakfast order at the Holiday Inn on the Esplanade-and rather amazingly, they were serving up “English Bacon,” fleshy and pink, as well as “American Bacon,” crispy and streaked (I’d never known there was a difference)-was Indian. So was the man who collected the dishes. Even in 1891, I recalled, seven in every ten people here, thanks to the booming gold mining industry, was Chinese.

Australia, for me, is a land that overturns all foreign ideas of what is central and marginal, what the exception, what the rule: at the War Memorial Church, in the center of Darwin, I found signs on every side advising, “Please do not leave Bags or Other Valuables in the Pews Unattended,” perhaps the first time I’d ever been warned against robberies in a church. But the longer I stayed in the country, the more I could see that the real fascination of the lonely continent lay not in the brawny exterior, nor only in the old, deep interior, but in the constantly evolving interplay between them.

One evening I found myself at a chic Italian restaurant, at the bottom of the tallest building in Darwin, across from a quiet man who told me how he had fought in Vietnam as a teenager with the Australian army. He had so lost his heart to the region, he said, almost shyly, that he had stayed on in Laos after his service finished and lived in Bali for some years. He still kept a place in Saigon. “To be honest,” he said-now he was a lawyer offering his expertise to indigenous causes–“the reason I came up here to Darwin was that I didn’t want to live in Australia. I felt more at home in Asia. Just the smell, as soon as you arrive at the airport, the night sounds, the climate; the whole thing is Asia.”

The man next to me-his air of warm confidence and ruddy complexion might have made him at home in a London club-turned out to be another lawyer working with the “traditional owners” in the Tiwi Islands, a 30-minute plane ride away from the town, who had spent years as a patrol officer in Papua New Guinea; hearing that, the woman across from us started reminiscing about growing up as part of a missionary family in so rural a part of New Guinea that she was “educated under the house by my mum.” It seemed an everyday assembly, and yet there was an easy, lightly worn cosmopolitanism here that seemed both the rising feature of Australia and one of the things it could teach the larger world.

I had thought, when I arrived, and shuffled around the Sunset Park, that I was seeing the hyperdeveloped world meet the wilderness, the underdeveloped universe meet possibility, so that each side could check the other out. Perhaps I was. But every time I heard a story of what had brought someone here, I heard the sound of a fresh Australia, which is defining itself by everything that’s around and beyond it. Darwin seemed in large part a mild-mannered Chinese young man-I met them all over town-in specs, politely asking, “How’s yer day goin’?”

The next day, when I woke up, the cover of the N.T. News shouted, “MAN BITES CROC ON SNOUT.” I’d already read about a “community garden activist” who had run for office even though he had been convicted of killing a man. But by now I was able to see that such headlines were partly bluster and mostly about trying to satisfy expectations. I met loud voices and startling attitudes everywhere I went in the Top End; but it was in the silences, in everything people didn’t say, that something much more haunting and unique kept coming through.

The 2013 Tour De France Begins Today!

The 2013 Tour de France begins today!
Tour de France

Cycling fans across the globe are celebrating today as the 2013 Tour de France gets underway for the first time from the Isle of Corsica. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the race and to commemorate the occasion Tour organizers have put together a course that is designed to create drama and test the skill and endurance of the riders. For the next three weeks they will be battling it out on the roads of France, with the winner ultimately being decided on the slopes of the Pyrenees and the Alps.

Typically the first day of the Tour is a short prologue that is over quickly and helps to determine the initial positioning heading into the first real days of racing. That won’t be the case this year, however, as the riders hit the road in Corsica this morning for a 213-kilometer (132-mile) ride from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia. The course won’t feature any massive climbs just yet, but it will undulate through the hills, nonetheless. It does include some relatively flat portions, particularly near the end, that will allow the sprinters in the field to stretch their legs and show off their early form.

Last year’s Tour winner Bradley Wiggins is out of this year’s Tour while he nurses an injury to his knee. That means the race is wide open, although the odds on favorites heading in are Wiggins’ teammate Chris Froome of the U.K. and Spanish cycling legend Alberto Contador who returns to competition after sitting out much of last year for a failed drug test. Contador is one of the best riders of his generation and he has won the Tour on three separate occasions, although one of those was stripped due to the aforementioned doping violation. The Spaniard is riding well this year, however, and he seems as determined as ever to win the race.Other contenders include Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg. Schleck missed last year’s race due to an injury and has finished as the runner up three times in the past. He is hoping to be in contention in the final days once again this year. The 2011 winner, Cadel Evans of Australia, hopes to return to form and claim a second Tour victory, but should he falter as he did last year, his team could rally around 23-year-old American Teja Van Garderen who shows signs that he is ready to contend for the coveted Yellow Jersey worn by the race leader.

The famous maillot jaune isn’t the only jersey up for grabs, however. The world’s top sprinters will be battling it out for the Green Jersey with the U.K.’s Mark Cavendish likely to be in the mix along with Slovakian rider Peter Sagan. The Polka Dot Jersey is awarded to the race’s best climber in the King of the Mountain category, who should be in the mix with the top riders heading into the final stages in the Alps.

The next three weeks will be exciting ones for fans of the Tour. Last year’s race was often described as “lackluster” with little drama in large part because Wiggens and his team were just so dominant. That isn’t likely to be the case this year with more mountain stages to challenge the legs of the leaders. It is very likely that race won’t be decided until the final few days, with the winner enjoying his victory lap on the Camps Élysées on July 21.