Published On: Fri, Oct 18th, 2019

‘Contemplate, Then Capture’: Readers on Staying in the Moment While Traveling

“What are your ways of staying present and more deeply observant when you travel?”

I asked that question in last week’s Australia Letter, when I wrote about a coastal hike that led me to wonder what I was missing by delegating memories to my camera, not my brain.

It resonated with many of you. Dozens of readers wrote to us with thoughtful suggestions.

So I’m turning the newsletter over to you. Here are some of our favorite responses, edited lightly for length:

“I give myself a quota of no more than 20 photos per travel. That way I think about each and every photo I take.”

Michelle Baltazar

“I stay present when I travel by bringing only a film camera for photos. Digital cameras (even your iPhone camera roll) are the devil, you will never look back on hundreds (even a few tens) of digital photos. But you’re sure to treasure those precious few rolls of 36 exposures when you develop them after arriving back home.”

— Greer Clarke

“Ten-minute rule. Look. Don’t touch the phone or camera for at least 10 minutes before snapping. Let impressions sink in. Contemplate, then capture.”

— Tom Neal Tacker

“I carry notebook, colored pencils and a biro to study a scene, then sketch down — that image stays in my mind years later.”

— Mary Mowbray

“I love the idea of drawing but I’ve never been very good at it. So my substitute is to write stories about places. I take what I’m seeing — the people, the wildlife, the coastline, the atmosphere, the history — and condense it into fragments of fiction that, for me, really encapsulate the feel of a place. As I go back and read them I remember the places I visited, and when I revisit places I can add onto the stories I wrote the first time around.”

— Javiera Scarratt

“At the end of a day of travel, my boyfriend and I wrote separate diaries of the day’s events. We then read them to each other. It was remarkable how different our observations were, like we didn’t experience the same things.”

— Marsha Matson

“In 1980, I spent four and a half months hitchhiking from San Francisco to New York. Two months into my travels I mailed my camera back to Australia — I didn’t want anything coming between me and what I was experiencing and the people I was meeting. Even now with an iPhone in my pocket, a small sketchbook is what I’ll use if I want a visual record.”

— Matthew Martin

“I turn the phone off and only turn it on when I really want to remember the view. The odd thing though is it is the ‘feeling’ of the vista, rather than the vista per se, that holds the strongest memory.”

— Mark Thomas

“Stop and breathe for a second or two longer than is comfortable.”

— Lisa Murray

Now, on to the news of the week.


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