Features  Adventure: The places you go when you don’t got the dough

Revisiting travel memories to understand why we record what we do

Times are tough right now. I was considering going into Travel Cuts to see if I could find a good deal on a last minute vacation over the upcoming break, but then I realized the only deal I could make was to cut travel out of my economic recession budget altogether. After feeling sorry for myself at the sheer irony of the neon sign glaring above me, I suddenly smelled the sunscreen in my SPF 15 moisturizer and was instantly transported back to Australia, 1991. “That’s some consolation,” I thought to myself. Thankfully, I have an all-inclusive trip I know I can always book with no cancellation fee, to a nice little out-of-the-way place called memory lane. Oh, the places I have been…

There are not that many places I’ve been, really – but as an only child, I’ve been lucky to be a frequent carry-on traveller with my retired dad, and mom. The biggest jaunt we’ve been on was when I was four, and we made a six-month trip around the South Pacific, through New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, and Hawaii.

There was snorkeling with fish bigger than I, between islands off Indonesia that don’t exist anymore due to the tsunami. There were the frequent trips I made onto stages to perform whether I was invited or not, generally in some sort of costume that involved a coconut bra. And then there was one interesting episode that involved me escaping the clutches of a large, Fijian daycare supervisor named Kitty, to run to the local bar where my parents were playing bingo and send them over two surprise beers, charged to our account. I was a precocious child.

I’ve tagged along on bus trips where I’ve strolled through beer parlors and red light districts with a party that has the average age of 45. For some reason, trips with my dad always include vineyards and graveyards, so I’ve tasted my fair share of Merlot and seen my fill of mausoleums. All in all, you could say my trip down memory lane is a nice stroll on the sunny side-street of a retirement community, coloured with piquant moments of intrigue and retrospectively reckless acts, like my father holding me out the window of a rented car to feed a granola bar to a wild kangaroo.

But, marsupial encounters aside, nowadays when I wander into my recollections of adventures past, with my fourth year university student self-consciousness, I can’t help but question my memories in relation to the travels I took. How do the details of what I recall from a trip shape my representation of that place when I talk about it now? Why is what we remember important? And if I were the one writing the travel program/book/blog, how would my experiences shape those of someone else watching or reading my story?

It is true that travel stories are going to be inevitably biased. When I asked my mom about our trip through the South Pacific, she said she remembers that when we went to an ANZAC Day celebration in Australia, we ended up sitting in a section that was informally segregated between aboriginal and European Australians, and that we hadn’t even registered the difference. An aboriginal family and our family had shared picnics and played games all day, and my mom said when she finally saw how segregated the area had been, she was glad she had had the chance to change it.

I didn’t register details like that when I was four, and there are a lot of things that all people can miss out on when they relate their travel memories. When a cousin was recently gushing about all of the extreme sports and surfing he got to do in New Zealand over the past year, all I could do was smile and nod when I thought about my own memories of the place. Somehow, my four-year-old brain only recorded two things: wind and sheep. Neither of us had experienced the place in the way that someone who once lived there might have.

But the difference in perspectives – listening to others’ experiences, comparing them to your own, and keeping those in mind to contrast your own experience if you get to travel there someday – is what makes the exchange of those stories so valuable. I’m feeling optimistic about this fact, especially right now, especially in contrast to my pessimistic bank statement.

So, while I can’t take a trip and make memories for myself at this point, I do value being able to read the anecdotes of travelogue writers like Bill Bryson, or watch a guy dance badly all around the world, like Matt of “Where the Hell is Matt?” fame (wherethehellismatt.com), or listen to Franz Wisner, a man who got dumped on his wedding day and decided to take a two-year, 53-country honeymoon with his brother instead, as told in Honeymoon with My Brother. And then I could always read my own travel journal from the Euro Trip I took after graduating high school – if I can get around the intricately generic descriptions of European men and my overuse of the word “fab.”