1. Pictures don’t capture everything

I have taken a lot of pictures on vacations over the years and while they help jog memories of locations, they’re a little static. I must first qualify that I am not a professional photographer, just a practiced duffer, but regardless of how accomplished you are as a photographer, the camera is visual medium and we, as human beings, have other senses to consider.

When traveling there are many sensory experiences that photography just cannot capture: the feeling of sand between your toes, the sound of wind rustling through palm fronds, the smell of humid tropical air. To me, smell is perhaps the most memory jogging sense. On our second trip to Bangkok, I remember arriving at our hotel then stepping out onto the balcony, taking a deep breath, and thinking, “Ah, back in Bangkok.” For those of you who’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about: a combination of fried garlic, sewer gas, purple exhaust clouds, all muddled together with oppressive humidity. This may not sound appealing to most, but it’s Bangkok, and it’s instantly recognizable. Perhaps the most recognizable smell is Canada. Whenever you come from another country, that first “whoosh” of clean Canadian air through the airplane fuselage is truly intoxicating. Even crisp Winnipeg winter air is unique in its relentless way. I’m sure you can all think of a time when you were stuck by a smell that transported you back someplace else. Perhaps you can’t visualize it, but you know and your nose knows you’ve smelled it before.

Once you start writing about sensory experiences, they start becoming part of the places of you visit. You start to notice them and start seeking them out. Instead of taking out your phone and taking selfies, pause and try to describe the smells, the sounds, and the feelings places conjure inside of you. Go back to your room and write them down. You write best when you are in the moment. Eventually you just naturally start noticing your other senses and they enrich your traveling experience. I encourage you to buy a real camera and photograph the lovely flowers, just don’t forget to smell them too. If you’re photographing Scottish thistle, tell me how fucking painful it is!


2 thoughts on “1. Pictures don’t capture everything

  1. Paul, I know exactly what that “Bangkok smell“ is too —- I think all of what you mentioned is correct plus a little shrimp paste mixed it too! I also know the great feeling of getting off a long flight, stuffed up, sweaty and jet lagged to feel and smell that first blast of fresh Canadian air on the jet bridge. Of course on the flip side if coming from here, that first blast of heat and humidity signals your arrival and excitement and that shorts and sandals are all you need to wear! I will never forget many of those moments too


    1. I have no doubt that you must recognize a lot of places based on smells. How did Haiti smell? It was your first time in the Caribbean so it must have been tropical, but unique.


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