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  • Writer's pictureImogen Hall

Why your family's collective travel memories are important and how to keep them alive

Every photo tells a story, right? This one is from an eight-hour (yes, EIGHT hours, thanks Ryanair) delay flying home from Rome in 2016. Fun it most certainly was not, but it has a permanent place in our collective stories of 'trips gone wrong' and regularly gets wheeled out as a positive shared memory.

Given that we still can’t travel right now it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that spending time as a family talking about past trips or planning new ones is a good thing.

Surely nothing is more frustrating than talking about all the things you did once or would like to do, but can’t right now? Perhaps, but there are also big advantages to reliving old trips.

While the trip itself is over in a matter of days, weeks or (if you are lucky) months, a huge benefit of family travel is the long-lasting shared memories it creates. A British survey conducted in 2015 found that 55% of adults agreed that family holidays give them happy memories which stay with them for the rest of their lives.

For many children, the chance to hang out and unwind with their parents without school, work or daily life getting in the way is enough of a reason why trips away make them happy. But holidays also bring with them a mix of other emotions. Think about that sense of excitement and nervousness of experiencing something new or that huge sense of freedom from being somewhere unfamiliar and out of routine. Life feels more fun, more relaxing and more interesting when you are on holiday - and those are the feelings that you associate with it once you are home.

Those emotions can lie dormant for months or even years but by spending time actively going through the trip together you can take yourselves back to somewhere that has positive associations for you all. Those feelings of being relaxed, having fun, getting excited and most importantly being happy are good emotions to experience right now as we navigate the post-lockdown decompression.

Start by getting everyone to name their best holiday (home and abroad), write a list and work your way through all of them. Ask the kids (and be ready with your own answers) to name their best and worst memory, their funniest moment, the biggest ‘wow’ moment, the place they want to go back to, the place they never want to return to, the best mom/dad moment.

Before you know it you will be reliving a memorable meal, laughing at a memory of something silly or someone’s sense of humour failure, and remembering in-jokes, disasters and things learnt from that particular trip. By transporting the family back to a past trip, you can open up your collective memory bank and bring those happy emotions from the past to the surface.

If you are hungry for more, there are plenty of ways you can retrace your steps:

  • Find the photobook or create a slideshow of photos.

  • Dig out some songs or books you listened to during the trip.

  • Watch films or documentaries on the destination.

  • Take a virtual tour, such as these listed on Lonely Planet, through somewhere you visited.

  • Recreate a meal you had while on the trip.

  • Search for articles on your destinations and discuss their experiences and how they compared to your own.

With all of these ideas, some of the 'work' can be delegated to older children who might get into, for example, creating a playlist or slideshow, or making a meal.

Winnie's first big climb when she was 5, Red Pike in the Lake District, is remembered as a family win.

At the other end of the spectrum, while actually travelling or even booking any travel still seems a long way off for most of us, there’s a lot to be said for a family travel planning session. Having a plan for a big trip the family will take at some point in the future gives everyone a chance to dream of happier times, to glimpse light at the end of the Covid-tunnel and to get all those arguments about where to go out of the way while you’ve got the time to debate it properly. Sure, travel restrictions and the financial impact of Covid may mean this trip won’t be happening for a long time to come but we all know that anticipation is half the fun of a trip. The chance to do some serious research through watching travelogues, films and documentaries, scouring websites and blogs and devouring any relevant books you can get your hands on and actively planning out where you might go together is pure unadulterated escapism.

If you are starting to dream of a big trip, we documented our personal experience in Namibia here and also recommend checking out some of our favourite family travel UK-based bloggers such as mummytravels, the Family Adventure Project and Global Mouse Travels.

A first draft of this article first appeared on Lonely Planet in April 2020.

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