In our shoes: Traveler appreciates the intangible

I used to love those little stands full of touristy pamphlets and maps in hotel lobbies. They were a myriad of brightly colored advertisements for tour buses, plays, and “family friendly” restaurants—an assortment of activities that would allow any tourist to “see the city”.

I would stand in front of the brochures and pick out one of each just to make sure I remembered everything about the city.

I thought I needed these physical reminders to assure myself that I would always have the memories I had made. I was afraid that I would forget the way the skyline of New York looked at night, or Pike’s Peak at dawn.

When I would first open the door to a new hotel room I would make a beeline for the bathroom. I used to judge hotel rooms based solely on their collection of free little shampoos, conditioners, and body washes.

The third drawer down on the right side of my bathroom sink was left exclusively for my collection. I would never actually use any of these hoarded items, but I just couldn’t let them go.

Like the tour brochures, I thought I needed to keep a small piece of my hotel room to make sure I remembered every little part of my trip.

When I got a digital camera in fifth grade I thought I had finally found a way to capture every moment of my trips, a way to make my experiences eternal. I took blurred pictures out taxi windows until I got carsick, pictures of every corner in the hotel room until check out time, pictures of every tree and flower on hiking trails until I had tripped over too many roots to count.

But when I would get home and put my camera chip into the card reader and download the hundreds of photos I had taken, I realized that the pictures never really represented my memories, and I had missed so many of the real experiences by obsessing over trying to capture everything physically.

I realized that I needed to see my trips and memories outside my camera lens. I still love pictures and the physical reminders they give us, but the very best experiences can’t be captured in a photograph.

I understood then that my travel brochures, and mini hotel shampoos, and photographs didn’t really mean anything to me, because the very best of memories aren’t tangible.

I remembered the things I marveled at. The way the very first redwood tree I saw humbled and awed me. The feeling of loneliness I got when I first stared into the ocean in Boston. The pit I got in my stomach the very first time I flew in a place, and the three-hour trip I spent crying into my mother’s lap.

These are the memories I think of when I look back on my experiences. I no longer have any meaningless brochures in my desk, or miniature shampoo bottles in my bathroom drawers.

I have realized that it’s the moments in life that you can’t capture that are what you live for.