There I was, in a tiny restaurant in the backstreets of Montmartre. The place was practically empty, save for a couple of locals having drinks at the bar and chatting with an animated waitress. All of a sudden, the music was turned up loud. It was the summer of 2013, and the song was Lose Yourself to Dance by Daft Punk. We watched these French characters sing and dance around us with great joy, feeling delightfully invisible as we quietly ate our meal.
To this day, whenever I hear that song, I time travel back to that moment. I can practically taste the saffron ravioli, smell the faint scent of cigarettes, see the waitress dancing behind the bar. It’s one of the most powerful memories I have.
Then my mind wanders. I think of other songs, other travels, other memories. Play Bossy by Kelis and I’m holed up in a hotel room in Nice, drinking beer and trying to escape the rain. It’s Not Meant To Be by Tame Impala and I’m on a train speeding through the Italian countryside.
The strongest memories from all my travels are tied to particular songs, and it’s something everyone has experienced. There’s a great difference between just being asked how your holiday was and hearing a song that rouses a strong memory. Immediately, your whole body wakes up, you grab your friends excitedly by the hand and find yourself telling an enthusiastic story about your adventures.
So why does this happen? What’s different about music is that it does something that no other stimulus can do — it lights up nearly every part of the brain, from emotion, to memory, to movement. Unlike a photograph, or even a journal entry, you find yourself completely immersed in the moment. Sight, smell, touch, emotion. This musical nostalgia is powerful.
If it’s a happy memory, the memory will also trigger the pleasure reaction in the brain, releasing dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, leaving us in a state of neurochemical euphoria that’s not too dissimilar to a drug.
And it’s not just music that has this power. Capturing short sound recordings on your travels can also transport you back to a particular moment. Think of the sound of waves crashing on a pebble beach, or church bells ringing in a small village. Instantly, you are transported to that moment in time.
We are a fortunate generation of travellers, with the world’s music in our pocket, and the ability to record wherever we are. In years gone by, we might have made a mixed tape for a road trip, now we have Spotify playlists that can be as long as the distance across the Nullabor.
Music and travel go hand in hand, with each one bettered by the other. Make playlists before you leave of songs that you love and want to listen to in transit. Make playlists during your trip of songs you pick up along the way and want to remember. Look for opportunities to record sound and make as many audio keepsakes as you can. Because, while photographs, ticket stubs and journal entries all have their place, it’s time to make music and sound a travel necessity, to make your trip truly unforgettable.
Written by Chryssie Swarbrick