I don’t know if it’s a common thread, if it just pops up from time to time, or if it’s just a way for some travelling types to snob out over others, but there always seems to be a question about the wandering type about exactly what they (we) are doing: is it ticking off countries, ticking off memories or collecting endless crap from each place? It’s a question of why we go and what we retain from our travels.
I think in the end it’s probably a bit of all three. I’ve had a few conversations over the years that bordered on slating those that travel just to collect a flag (I realise there’s a page on here that does that, that’s probably even partly why I’m writing this, I don’t know); to the point of suggesting that some random dude who flies into a place, hangs out for a day and flies back shouldn’t count as having been there, or even as actually travelling. Now while I can see the angle, I don’t think I really agree. I do enough longhaul flying to be involved in my airmiles, and there are some truly amazing stories on flyertalk.com of people enjoying the flight as part (and occasionally as almost the whole) of their trip. Given they do it in the fancy classes on the plane, I can see where they’re coming from, even if it’s not really my thing to do as the entire trip – it’s nice to enjoy the getting there and away!
There are some who collect stuff – shot glasses seem popular; I get that too. It’s quite cool to have something tangible to remind you that you’ve been somewhere sunny, damp, snowy or volcanic (or any of the rest), but as was recently pointed out in another blog, eventually these things all just end up somewhere gathering dust. For a while I collected flag pins of where I’d been (a bit of a combination of collecting souvenirs and collecting countries, I suppose), but they all disappeared/got stolen so I got a bit bored of that. I pick up a few odds and sods now – I have some Russian nesting dolls from Moscow, I bought honey brandy in Croatia (that’s gone now though!) – but I neither have the motivation, nor the space to collect stuff like that from everywhere I go.
Then there’s collecting memories; I quite like that one, but it’s so much harder. I was having a bit of a twitter day, and was flicking through some photos. I got to one that I clearly remembered taking – of a monument outside a synagogue, but couldn’t for the life of me think when or where I’d taken it. My most recent trip was to Albania, and I had a vague feeling it was in Tirana, but nope, couldn’t find any sign of it in there. After about half an hour of hunting through photo tagging data, trying to find the hard copy on my computer and searching through Lonely Planets, I figured out that it was from 2009, when I was in Budapest! (Also, the lesson here: tag your photos when you take them!).
The point of the story though, is that memories are awesome – they’re absolutely why I travel: to see cool stuff, to remember all the amazing places I’ve been, people I’ve met and things I’ve seen…but the issue with memories is that they fade, five years later they blur and twist and get all mixed up. Even though I’ve now pinned it down, I’m still not convinced in the back of my mind that this golden willow is actually in Budapest…
So what am I rambling on about then? Well, I suppose it’s a bit of a question for myself – thinking out loud and all that – what can I do on my future travels to keep them clear in my mind? Well, blogging probably helps (I didn’t start writing until about a year after Budapest). Otherwise, is it trinkets, toys and memorabilia? Or do I continue to stick with my plan of a few photos, a few beers (although again only fleeting) and the other odds and sods I gather? I suppose at the end, all we have is our memories (not to get too metaphysical), so maybe there’s something to that: maybe I’ll just have to keep buggering off, drinking tea, drinking beer and looking at flashy, fancy stuff so that I can replace the memories that have faded. Maybe that’s the key, just get new ones.