For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the ocean and the sky. To think that when I walk along the coastal shore of one of these great bodies of water or fly high above the clouds, that I am only experiencing a fraction of these expanses, has endlessly puzzled and amazed me. The way that we are scattered all over planet earth but yet we remain connected by blue.

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to go. One of my greatest fears has always been that I won’t have enough time to taste and touch and experience all that the world has to offer. I have wanted to be as close to the blue as possible because blue meant exploration and adventure. Blue meant that I was on my way to somewhere else to meet new people and taste new food and experience new ways of living and seeing the world.

I didn’t realize until I was a bit older and had lived near a whole lot of water in Seattle, Washington, that growing up I had felt trapped. The Midwest is certainly a lovely, warm place to grow up, but you are literally locked in by land and a whole lot of sameness. Of course I could not have understood this about myself when I was a little girl, but once my toes had danced on the ocean’s edge and I experienced what it was like to live near a horizon where you could stand and watch and wonder, I understood so much more about myself. All of a sudden I understood that going and seeing and adventuring was not simply something that I liked to do, it was a part of me. A piece carefully crafted and woven into the deepest essence of me by my Creator. Going was not an option for me, it was a way of life. A necessity.

In my 27.5 years I have certainly not traveled as much as many, but probably more than most. I have collected things along the way and today I would love to share a few with you. Sometimes it’s all too much. To breathe in these new scents and taste new flavors and to literally see the world from a different angle. We want to hold onto these moments. We don’t want them to ever fade. We long to carry them with us forever just as they are then. It’s nearly impossible. Which is the beautiful and difficult thing about travel. I am not saying I have found the solution to this paradox, but I have found some fun ways to preserve as best I can the things I learn and gather and the moments that change me along the way.

Here’s the thing. I LOVE to walk away from a new place and a new experience with a memento. I am a sentimentalist to the extreme! I’ve always had shoe boxes filled with meaningful cards and silly things that would mean absolutely nothing to anyone else but that take me back to a specific moment or taste or memory or even thought. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to channel this and so honestly they just ended up being boxes of junk…impossible to hold onto. That’s the other thing. I HATE clutter as much as I LOVE mementos. I don’t like having an excess of things…especially things that hold no memory or meaning. So, I learned to create travel traditions. Certain things or moments I try to create in every place that I go. This way, there is a plan to my collecting and sentimentalizing.

I adore elephants. Most likely because I have always been in love with Africa and they make me think of that magical place. So, I decided that wherever I went, I would find an elephant to add to my collection. This meant that when I visited a place, I was looking closer at everything in search of that one special memento and that I wasn’t just picking up silly, meaningless things because I wanted to walk away with something.

The other thing for me is, I have always felt that I probably wouldn’t settle…at least for quite some time. This added a challenge to my world wide elephant searching…I needed to be sure that whatever I was collecting was simple and small and could be packed among sweaters and towels to take with me on my next big move. This was also important to me as to not end up cluttering my home with things I felt the need to keep.

This tradition began for me on my first overseas trip to Africa. I enjoyed so much wandering shops in search of my special little travel tradition. And the tradition has continued for a decade. Mexico. My hometown. Seattle. Bazaars. And now when I arrive in each new space and am faced with the challenge of making it home, I unwrap my sweet little elephants made of wood and stone and glass and metal and I surround myself with little moments of joy and pieces of the world that I have experienced.

Another tradition I began in Africa, was taking a picture of myself on a swing. I decided something most countries would have them and as another fun travel challenge, I would attempt to find a swing and take a photo there in every place I visited. Not only is this a fun and silly tradition, it also meant I was really getting to the heart and soul of a place. If there were swings, I was most likely removed from all of the touristy sections and somewhere where real life was happening in that place. Parks are normally the heart of neighborhoods where people do their everyday living. This is what I want to see when I visit a place, not simply what they have set up for me to see. I want to see how life happens there on the norm. Swing sets usually land you in those sorts of places.

I am a little bit obsessed with photography. I am pretty sure it’s in my blood. I remember my dad pulling out old slides of endless photos he had taken while hiking the Grand Canyon and other way out west places. I remember being annoyed to no end as he relentlessly snapped photos on his “super high tech” (for 2000) digital camera with the “cool” little mini disks. I remember loving my Auntie’s house (his sister) scattered with charming photographs that seemed to come from storybooks. And of course as soon as I felt it appropriate, I asked for my own camera to carry with me. And that is exactly what I did. I carried it everywhere. And ever since I have been stopping mid sentence and mid sidewalk to snap photos and attempt to capture the life I am living. I am not shy. I will lie down on my back in a public place or stand on things I probably shouldn’t in order to capture the moment the way I want it to be preserved.

That’s the key I want to share here. We are so blessed to live in an age when photography…good photography is so simple and accessible. It’s on your phone for goodness sakes. But here is how I would encourage you…take advantage of it! Don’t just snap photos because that’s what you are supposed to do, take on the challenge of snapping a photo that truly captures what you are seeing and feeling in that moment. That’s the beauty of photography right? I have heard people say so many times that the picture never quite captures how it really was…that is true to some extent. BUT, that’s the joy of photography. You can take the picture again and again from every angle that you can possibly think of until you look at the screen and feel what you felt when you first laid eyes on your subject.

My general rule of thumb with photography (especially when I am traveling) is this: never take a picture that you wouldn’t display on your wall. For me this is quite literal and necessary because most of my walls end up covered in my photography and travel mementos. And not to mention, you will save yourself a ton of money if you do the travel documenting yourself. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have on my wall places and experiences captured through my eyes and my perspective than someone else’s. I want to look around my home and experience all over again those moments and what better way to do that then to capture them as I experienced them.

This is also great advice if you end up moving a lot like me. I certainly can’t easily move large, framed pieces, but I can pack up Ziploc bags of photos and small tokens (a business card, a bus ticket, a boarding pass stub) and some packs of mini clothespins and a couple rolls of twine. And this makes new fun each and every time you set it up. I never quite have the same display. In each new place, I string the twine, and then I enjoy an afternoon with all of my mementos and photos scattered all over the floor deciding which moments I want to return to for now. And when I want to remember other things, I simply pull out my bag and refresh the look. It’s all lovely, it’s all meaningful, and it’s all very simple. But to me it is my way of making a place feel like home, of carrying my experiences and memories with me, and of feeling closer to those blue expanses even when I am “settled” for a time. And it provides lots of fun evenings over cups of coffee reliving it all.

Another travel photography tip is to constantly be looking for the moments that you want to remember The moments from this particular experience that you are certain will change you. Take a moment to breathe it in, reflect on it, think about why it matters so much to you, and then, only then, snap a photo. It’s so silly to me when I see people just whipping out their cameras because everyone else is or because they are passing something that a zillion other people have taken a photo of. That’s what gift shops filled with post cards are for. Make sure that when you travel you document the place from your own heart and eyes and soul. Walk away with a photo collection that tells your story in that place and not everyone else’s. There should be a reason unique to you for every single photo you flip through on your flight home. They should evoke emotion and take you right back to specific moments. I’m certainly not suggesting that you spend the entire time with your eye pressed against the lens or your hand gripped around your iPhone, but make the time that you do spend documenting really count.

My last little travel tidbit would be this: Keep your collecting simple. Like I said, I love to walk away with a fun memento to remember each experience. But, there’s no need to collect a bunch of junk that will get stuff inside boxes inside closets. When you are in a new place, take some time to let it soak in before making your memento choices. Don’t buy the first snow globe or t-shirt you see. Wander streets and shops and neighborhood bakeries. Feel the city and learn the people, and then decide what you want to walk away with. And also, think about your home and your lifestyle. What things will add life and loveliness to your home and not just be another hunk of junk gathering dust on a shelf?

Something I am told rather often is that my place feels so “homey.” This has been consistent. Be it my dorm room, my first or second place in Seattle, or even my little upstairs flat here in Guadalajara, Mexico. (I should let you know that I moved here with three suitcases and never saw the place before I arrived at 4AM on a Tuesday last July.) I honestly believe that anywhere can be home for you and feel like home to everyone else if you are very intentional about filling it with your life. The truth is that I feel at home in this space because it is filled with things that mean something to me and drenched in my stories and experiences. That is something you can’t help but feel when you walk into someone’s home. If they feel at home there and if everything you look at and touch has a story, of course you too will feel at home. Keep that in mind when you are collecting on your adventures.
A lot of times I find myself picking up an interestingly colored rock or quickly placing a lovely leaf in the crease of a book. It might be a sweet little card from a fun brunch memory with friends or a bottle that I sipped from while experiencing a new place that will later hold flowers in my home. Sometimes it’s even as simple as a coffee sleeve from a long overdue coffee date with my bestie.

Sugar packets from a little German diner in Namibia.
My plane ticket from the day I moved to Seattle.
A coffee profile card I picked up on the end of the counter at my favorite Starbucks in Seattle.
A bus ticket from my first solo Mexican bus ride.
We are all connected and separated at the same time by these vast blue expanses. We are all coming and going and living an adventure whether we choose to see it that way or not. Don’t just let it pass you by! Take it all in and tell your story!

Today snap a photo of something
that you have collected along the way! 
Tag The Pearl Press on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter (@tpearlpress). Let’s share our stories today.

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