Our five basic senses are the way we as humans immediately engage with our world. They are how we process what’s around us, how we store information, and they are all, in their different ways, powerful triggers to mental and emotion stimulation and memory. Read on to see ho you can consciously apply your senses to transform a vacation or journey into a richly detailed, multi-sensory experience that will last a lifetime.
1) Sight: Lose the camera, grab the pen.
Everywhere you go, every city square, monument, and famous view is thronged with people who are wandering around, seeing the world through a lens. Do they ever look through these hundreds of photos? Maybe, but my hunch is that people throw up the better ones onto a Facebook album and play comment-tag for a few days before looking at them once in a blue moon. Seriously; how many pictures of scenery do you need? Of different angles of a statue? Instead of taking three dozen pictures, take three. Then put the camera away, find a bench or bit of grass and just look at the place. Jot a few observations in a notebook. What does it look like from where you are? What is the weather like? Is the place/event the way you thought it would be? Just a few sentences to that effect will take you back more powerfully than any photo could.
2) Sound: Soak up the vibes.
There are many ways to associate sound with an experience or a memory. You can make a travel playlist before you leave, finding local or national music from your destination. You can set your own favorite songs to act as a personal soundtrack. When you’re at your destination, try and see a local band or live music at a bar or outdoors. Sound doesn’t even have to be about music. Find a nice patio or park and instead of just people-watching, try people-listening. What languages do you hear? Is it a murmuring crowd, or a loud conversation? Pay attention to birdsong, background noise, wind and traffic. We miss out on a lot by over focusing. Tune in to your surroundings.
3) Smell: “Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.”
We humans don’t pay much attention to our olfactory senses. More’s the pity, because smell is the most powerful and evocative memory sense we have. Training yourself to think about what your nose is picking up is a new way of experiencing a destination. Does it smell hot, dusty, with sweat and spices? Like the sea? Does it smell like food cooking, or a type of tree or plant that is flowering at the moment? Noting these things and recording them in a journal or notebook is a sure way of linking your mind to that experience.
4) Taste: Eat the food! Drink the drink!
North American culture has pervaded just about every major city and tourist area on the globe. Even in the most beautiful and ancient places, odds are you won’t be far from a McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut, or corner store that sells Twinkies and Pepsi. Forget it!
For good restaurant or meal ideas, ask locals. Go to a morning market, or have a walk around a grocery store and see what’s different. The same goes for drinking. Whether you’re having a Savannah Dry in Cape Town, a Malbec in Mendoza , or a Caiphirinha in Rio, trying the local brew, cocktails, or wines is an experience in itself. Find an outdoor patio, order a glass, and people watch. Teetotaler? Have a local tea or cup of coffee. Also, don’t be afraid to buy street meat! Even on the slight chance something makes you a bit iffy, that’s why you pack some Tums and Imodium. Don’t live off of sandwiches, buttered noodles, and fear.
5) Feel: Become a regular
Rather than tactile sense of touch, we’ll use a more internal sense of feel. An excellent way to ‘get the feel’ of a place is to find somewhere to become a regular. A bar, coffee shop, or breakfast or lunch joint that you can visit at the same time a few days running. This is where longer stays come in handy. It’s hard to justify devoting three days of a weeklong trip to the same area when you want to pack in as much experience as you can. If you have the ability to try, though, it’s worth it. Being recognized by staff, seeing the view from different angles, noticing who comes and goes and being able to pick up a vibe that tourism doesn’t always allow for, is a much more intimate way of experiencing travel at its best.
And Most Importantly, Enjoy it!
Whether you're part of a pre-arranged tour, a solo month-long backpacking gig, or heading to a sun destination for a week, getting the most from your time away from home will elevate that experience in a deep way. Keeping your senses in mind not only helps create deeper and more lasting memories, it gives you a different perspective on travel, life, and worthwhile experiences as a whole. And that is sensational.