I recently made a list of my favorite travel experiences, in order to identify what makes them so memorable. I first tried to recall the specific feelings and sensations I had during the experiences. And then I considered what has made them stick in my mind even after, in some cases, many years have gone by.

I’ve figured out that the factors, events, and emotions that most influence how “sticky” a travel experience will be are:

Making mistakes and getting lost
These travel experiences probably stick in my mind because they are story-worthy, so I’ve recounted them to friends and fellow travelers many times over the years. I won’t soon forget getting lost in the Dominican Republic, or having no money (and no way to get money) in Cuba.

At this point, I’m actually a little disappointed when trips go just as planned.

From Flickr user MissusDoubleYou

From Flickr user MissusDoubleYou

Feeling awake and feeling brave

I’ve written before about the “awake” feeling I get when I travel, that I somehow can’t seem to capture in my normal life. Perhaps my first memory of this feeling was during the trip I took to France with my seventh grade French class. On our first night in Strasbourg, my teacher took us on a walking tour of the city at night. Maybe it was the thrill of being outside with my classmates at nighttime, or of having an academic experience in a foreign country, or of simply being in a place with buildings older than a hundred years for the first time – whatever it was, I will never forget the moment we turned a corner and saw the Strasbourg Cathedral all lit up. It was one of those jaw-dropping moments when you think to yourself, “Oh, this is what everyone was talking about.” I was exhausted from the long flight, but in that moment I felt wide awake.

I’ve done some “adventure-y” stuff like ziplining, parasailing, hot air ballooning, skydiving, and most recently, flying a plane.  These adrenaline-fueled experiences stand out amongst all of my travel memories (especially skydiving!) for obvious reasons. I try not to think of these things as just an “adventure checklist,” though, but rather as opportunities to feel very very scared, followed by feeling very very brave (and relieved).

Spending time with friends and family
I’ve known my friends Maddie and Cady since elementary school, so obviously we have a lot of shared memories. But when we get together, our conversations tend to veer towards travel. We’ve had drinks many times, but we’ve only had drinks on the island of Santorini a special few times!

I remember a trip to Vermont with my mom, uncle, and grandmother; the last pre-Katrina Mardi Gras with my sister and brother-in-law; and many excellent road trips with friends (last summer’s Atlantic Seaboard with Amber, and 2010’s epic Iceland tour with Brandon stand out).

Sometimes when I think I’m thinking about travel, I’m actually just thinking about the people I love.