Have you ever returned home from a trip and realized all you have are photos of your breakfast and selfies in front of historical monuments? It’s not a terrible thing to ditch technology and be fully present in a place. It’s admirable even. But, there is something to be said for the inevitable nostalgia of looking back on a moment in time. We can thank our technology for that.
If you’re about to embark on a gap year, study abroad, or other adventure, it may be worthwhile to consider how you’ll store these memories to come. Fortunately, there are many ways we can create a collection of moments to document your year abroad.
1. Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal can be as simple as writing down one or two sentences about the day, or as intricate as writing a short story about something extraordinary that has happened. I’ve found that writing down bits about my experiences abroad help me retain my memories of particular places and moments in time. Besides that, the very act of writing is known as therapeutic, a way to nourish our wellbeing. According to URCM research, journaling can help manage anxiety, reduce stress, or cope with heightened emotions. Sometimes our travels have a way of challenging us physically and mentally—like sitting in a foreign airport all day because of a missed flight or getting an ear infection from sticking your head outside of a moving vehicle in Mumbai—and writing can help us navigate such obstacles.
2. Use Phone Notes
With a smartphone or tablet, you can use the notes app to jot down your immediate thoughts. I did this while hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru and wanted to remember the names of specific flora and fauna that our guide was pointing out along the way. You can always put these notes into a different format later.
3. Start a Blog or Vlog
If you’ve ever wanted to start a blog or vlog (video blogging), taking the deep dive during your gap year or study abroad is an excellent place to start. For sure, creating an online presence for content creation can be a bit daunting. But because of the inherent nature of travel, and the natural storytelling avenues it creates, you are bound to have consistent and exciting content. I use WordPress for blogging, but other user-friendly sites include Wix, Medium, and Squarespace. For vlogging, you can use a video host such as YouTube or Vimeo. Motivate yourself by assigning a self-determined project with deadlines. When I visited Croatia for one week of solo travel, I challenged myself to create at least five vlogs. It was awkward at first! But, I’m happy for the memories embedded into those cringe-worthy clips.
4. Make a Scrapbook
Long before the digital age, we collected photograph prints and put them in photo albums and scrapbooks. We don’t see this as often anymore, because it’s easier to let Google Photos store our chronological albums or use Shutterfly’s seamless software to make digital books. But, the fond memories that bleed from a tangible scrapbook still live on. It just takes a little bit of work to document your year abroad this way.
5. Create a Travel-Related Instagram Account
Instagram at its core is a community-based photo-sharing platform. With Instagram’s explore and hashtag features, it’s effortless to share moments or short videos with communities of like-minded individuals. If you don’t want to saturate your feed with daily travel updates, consider making an entirely separate account. You can create a theme, like the storyteller behind Humans of New York or Rolf Potts who aims to change the narrative behind “Insta-worthy” travel posts.
6. A Picture in Every Place
A fun and unique way to document your travel is to take the “same” picture in each place you visit. Your face or full-body pose stays the same, but the background changes as you travel to new cities and countries. Check out “This is not a beautiful hiking video” by Peter Hochhauser below.
At about 9:00, you’ll see Peter compile a flood of self-portraits from his trek along the Pacific Crest Trail.
7. Start a Collection
I love to collect postcards from different cities. I can always count on finding them at souvenir shops or local flea markets, and they are a reasonably inexpensive collection. A friend of mine collects beer labels from different cities and writes the date and night happenings on the backhand side. He hopes to use all 100+ labels to create a coffee table someday. Whether you collect train ticket stubs or receipts from your grocery store trips, you can find ways to incorporate these things into long-lasting memories. How about decor for your scrapbook?
8. Create Playlists
Whenever I hear Ginza by J. Balvin, I’m transported back to time spent in Central America. Music is a beautiful way to reminisce on memories of travel and stay connected to a certain place. Whether you use Apple Music, Spotify, or SoundCloud, you can create handcrafted playlists that take you back to the quiet countryside of Switzerland or the cobblestone alleys of Granada. If you happen to be traveling to Latin America any time soon, check out Pimsleur’s Guide to Latin Music series.
9. Keep a Phrasebook
Keeping a handwritten phrasebook about keywords and phrases learned throughout your travels is a great way to save a little bit of culture in your back pocket and document your year abroad. It’s something you can continue to add to or pull out when you need a reference. If you’re not interested in the handwritten lifestyle, create a Google doc or online document so you can have access at any time.
10. Master a Language
There’s perhaps no better or more practical token of your year abroad than a new language. In fact, more than 63% of North Americans planning to study abroad cite language as their primary motivator. Your language skills will not only make you more employable but will forever connect you with the land and people in this chapter in your life.
Pimsleur’s research-backed language learning app is the place to kickstart your language-learning journey. Listening to Pimsleur audios while you’re driving, out for a run, or on a plane makes learning easy, convenient and fun.
Free unlimited access to Pimsleur – for 7 Days. Only $14.95/month thereafter.