A few nights ago I was down in our basement getting some gear collected up and organized for an upcoming road trip and while doing so, I came across a plastic bag filled with a bunch of colourful papers. I have several bins filled with various maps near where I picked up the bag so I just assumed it was probably more maps that needed to be filed away.
When I first picked up the bag I knew immediately it wasn’t maps of any kind because there was nothing that felt thicker and bulkier, such as a folded map would feel. Also, even though the stack of paper inside was about a centimeter or two thick, it weighed next to nothing. Since I was already sitting on the floor and was in one of those “clean out and throw out kind of moods”, I decided to dump the contents out, inspect what I had, and toss anything extraneous.
I didn’t exactly dump the contents, but I grabbed the stack of paper and before I could even get it out of the bag, I realized what it was. My well-worn ZipLock baggy was filled with a plethora of receipts, bus transfers, visas, immigration papers, peeled beer bottle labels and a surfeit of other things from a long trip around Southeast and South Asia that Jason and I did a couple of years ago. For shorter trips I usually just stick such things in my travel books, but two months away required a large ZipLock! This was certainly the type of stuff that would mean absolutely nothing to anyone but me…and it really does mean the world to me.
Most surprisingly was how I felt a warm blanket of comfort come over me when I saw the immigration/visa papers from Bangladesh, Nepal and India and various other “official” papers from other countries. It’s ironic that I should feel comfort and warmth because at the exact time of acquiring and filling them out, I was ANYTHING but warm and comfy! I think stressed, adrenaline stoked and overwhelmed are the better descriptors.
I found myself sitting in the floor of the basement for quite some time reading absolutely everything on the papers, even looking through the Hindi, Bengali, Nepalese, Thai and Korean writing. Though I couldn’t decipher the words written in the native languages, seeing the letters actually comforted me. It reminded me of all the amazing, caring and beautiful people we encountered along the way. Regardless of how frustrating, tiring or completely overwhelming a day may have been, there was always a caring local face somewhere to welcome us in with a friendly “sawadee”, “namaste” or “tashi delek” — and always have a cup of tea for us. And though sometimes we didn’t understand most words past the initial greeting, just seeing their smile and hearing their friendly voice would make us feel safe and “at home”. As a surrogate until I can get back, I go to our local Asian market regularly just to see the writing, here the languages and wrap that warm blanket of international travel around myself if for a few minutes.
Anyhow, other than some various visa or immigration photos, there was not a single other photograph in the stack. However, as I sifted through the papers and receipts, my heart and soul was taken right back to those border immigration queues, random cafés, terrifying bus rides, chaotic markets, maybe a particular beer with another traveler from another country, some picturesque teahouse in the Himalaya or a sketchy hostel in Kathmandu where we’d spent a sleepless night. Each slip of paper and receipt was a key opening a gigantic box of memories.
I’m really not a souvenir type guy, basically because I like to travel with only a backpack and usually don’t have the room, nor the desire, to lug a bunch more crap around for weeks on end. When I do buy things I usually bring something very small back for family and close friends in the form of a trinket from a local market or something made by some random artisan. For myself, besides taking photos, I tend to keep little things like receipts or bus tickets because obviously I like the way they spark memories. Maybe they won’t seem relevant at first, but just as it proved itself out a couple of days ago down in my basement, when I least expect it, they’ll pack an enormous opportunity to take me back to the places, people and things I loved about a trip — or was stressed to max about.
This little walk down memory lane also comes just at the right time since we’re starting our initial planning for another headfirst jump into a land of loony markets, strange (but delicious) foods, chaotic bus terminals and more languages we have absolutely no command of. And you can bet I’ve got my high-tech ZipLock baggy ready to collect a few more of these little aide-mémoires.
But first this little road trip…..
Be simple. Have fun. Travel far.