Believe it or not, some of the most intense and lasting memories we have come from the aromas we encounter when we travel. Sadly, most of us tend to disregard the impressions we receive from our sense of smell when we travel, and instead concentrate more on taking pictures or buying souvenirs to remind us of our journeys.
And yet, our sense of smell has the ability to repay the the encounters we have with scents and aromas many times over. Experiencing a particular scent after we return home, or in a different location, has the power to transport us to both a place and time, pleasant or unpleasant, filling our minds again with what we were hearing, seeing and feeling when we inhaled that aroma. It’s the same way the scent of bread baking or other foods cooking can take us back to our grandmother’s kitchen, or the scent of freshly mowed grass can bring back memories of a park we visited or games we played as children.
Here are a few of my favorite travel memories associated with aroma:
- The scent of green tea always reminds me of tea shops in Japan and China. They were calming, comforting and quiet places, even in the busiest of cities.
- Barbecue – The aroma of smoky barbecue still takes me back to a little shack called The Brown Pig, which sold the most amazing barbecue in Millington, Tennessee. I craved it when I was pregnant.
- Temple incense – when I smell incense now my mind leaps to several temple visits in Japan
- Whenever I walk past a tatami shop in Japan, and smell the fresh mats, I’m transported right back inside our off-base Japanese house, where we lived for 18 months in 1990-1991. We had fresh tatami in our dining room and bedroom – heavenly!
- The tang of ocean air and the aroma of sunscreen always remind me of childhood summers spent at our family’s San Clemente beach house.
- Any time I smell dashi, the broth made from dried bonito that’s the basis of Japanese cuisine, I’m right back in Japan. I call it Japan’s “background scent.”
- Yakitori cooking on an open grill (see the picture above)
- The scent of Tiger Balm and White Flower Embrocation always puts me in Hong Kong, having to stay in my hotel room with a very, very bad cold and watching a man across the road practice some kind of martial art on the top of his building. I still use White Flower – it works!
- Campfire smoke = coffee around a morning campfire at Honeyman State Park in Oregon
The smells we encounter when we’re on the road are perhaps our most intense travel experiences, even if we don’t recognize them as such, or pay much attention to them at the time. While a picture can remind us of where we’ve been and what we’ve done, a remembered aroma can put us right back inside a memorable experience.