When I was 4 years old, my family moved hemispheres, uprooting us from suburban Sydney to rural England. My younger siblings and I would spend the next three years growing up on a dairy farm in Kent, attending daycare and school during the week and exploring castles and National Trust sites on the weekends. I look back on these times with fond memories. Often my recollections are little more than vague feelings; a familiar scent that I pick up on my way home from work, or a sensation of excitement whenever I begin to see rain clouds rolling in. But when I want something more concrete to remember, I can turn to my travel scrapbooks.
Growing up in England, making a travel scrapbook after every outing or family holiday that we had together was the norm. My mum would take my brother and I to the craft store and purchase huge scrapbooks with colourful pages. We’d print off pictures of our trips and stick them in, along with information leaflets and drawings. Mum would write captions for my brother and I would write what the pictures depicted in my childish scrawl. My handwriting improved with every scrapbook.
Some scrapbooks would be themed and focus on a particular holiday. Others would be a collection of trips: Legoland in Copenhagen, a stopover in South Africa, an excursion into London. I have many of them, stashed away in boxes at my old home in Sydney.
After a while we stopped making scrapbooks. It was too boring, too time-consuming. I started focusing on schoolwork and extracurricular activities: music lessons, athletics training sessions, hockey practice. Our family road trips up the east coast of Australia were filled with teenage angst and frustration that I didn’t feel the need to document.
We’d moved back to Sydney in 1998. MySpace came around when I was in high school. Facebook, when I started university. Suddenly it was cool to document your life again, though in digital form. Our family would make trips up to Cairns, Noosa and Nelson’s Bay. While inwardly fuming at my lack of independence I’d take pretty pictures of the beach with my Canon PowerShot G12 and post them in virtual albums.
I went to university, graduated, went overseas and travelled like crazy.
About a year ago, when I had to count all the countries I’d visited over the last ten years for a Russian visa application, I realised that I’d visited over forty countries. This realisation made me a little sad. I had countless images from my trips to southeast Asia, the US and Europe. But for years I’d been uploading all my images to Facebook and deleting them off my camera as I went to save space on my camera card. Only a few were saved to my computer. I began to realise that so many of these images I had on social media were not good enough quality to blow up and put on my apartment walls. Heck, no one even looked at these pictures. I felt disappointment that I hadn’t gone to the effort of saving all my images to my computer before putting them on a public platform.
My dad passed away from cancer when I was 20 years old. Soon afterwards I moved overseas, and I cleared out my room of all my old scrapbooks and photo albums, pouring over their contents before putting them into boxes. It was then that I appreciated the effort that my mum had gone to when we were younger to preserve our holiday memories so that we could go back and remember them when our memories began to fade. When you lose someone that you love, things like photos and scrapbooks become all the more significant because they are a tangible connection to that person.
We live in a world now where we live our lives on digital platforms. What happens when computers crash or the existing social media platforms are replaced by new ones? What happens to all our travel photos that we’ve neglected to back up? What happens to all those years of memories? Sure, the memories are still there but we don’t have that picture we can hold in our hand and show to our children and laugh at how ridiculous we looked “back then.”
For the first time in something like fifteen years, I am sitting down to make a travel scrapbook. My partner and I went on a motorcycle trip from Karlstad up to the Arctic Circle and back this summer. It was an incredible 9-day trip filled with adventure and new experiences and I felt the need to document it. So I bought a scrapbook, some glue and cardboard. I printed off images from the trip, and together we put a scrapbook together to remember that time we decided to hop on a bike and explore northern Sweden.
There are countless places I’ve visited that I haven’t documented. I’d like to have at least some recent memories to look back on with a smile and a “what are we doing here?” While I could pine after all those lost images, the ones I never backed up or the ones that got lost, I can at least focus on what I can preserve from now on.
While I won’t make a scrapbook of every trip, I will make a conscious effort to document those really memorable ones. For several years I just roamed through places, marvelling at everything around me without being in the moment; always thinking of what was coming next.
But when you proactively think about documenting a trip, you are aware of what exists around you, of those things that you’d usually miss. You actually think. You question: how can I explain this to others? How would I describe what I am feeling right now? What would I want to remember about this moment in ten years’ time?
I hope that in ten years’ time, when I no longer have a Facebook account and my computer decides to stop working, that future me will go through my travel scrapbooks and appreciate the effort that I went to preserve something in physical form.
Did you make scrapbooks, journals or photo diaries of your travels when you were younger? If so, I challenge you to find them. If you’re not living at home, ask your parents to take a picture or send them to you. Flick through the pages. Remember all those experiences you had when you were younger. Hopefully it will inspire you to create something new now. And if you do keep travel scrapbooks of your journeys abroad, then please send me your tips!