My Two Cents on Scents (While You Travel)

I first wrote this article a few years ago, and since then have had more thoughts and realizations about the interesting role that various scents can play in our vacationing. There are many ways to enhance your vacation, and to keep wonderful memories of your vacation fresh in your mind after the vacation is over.  Taking photos of your vacation is probably the most familiar example. But, while affective, and certainly something to continue doing, it may not actually be the best way. 

Our sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Most of us are able to think of smells that conjure particular memories; the scent of pine evoking Christmas, for example.

One reason this might be has to do with the way our brains process odors and memories. Smells get routed and analyzed through one’s olfactory bulb, which is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. It’s closely connected to one’s amygdala and hippocampus, brain regions that handle memory and emotion.

When a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. 

So now that you understand the science behind smell and memory, here is a great way to use this phenomenon to your advantage, and particularly, to enhance your vacation as well as the memories after. 

Before your next trip, either buy a bottle or acquire samples of a cologne or perfume that you have never worn before but that you find to be pleasing, and bring that with you on your next vacation. You might even decide to bring a scent that has some relation to the destination you’re visiting, such as bringing a scent with heavy jasmine notes on a vacation to India, or Bali… Lemongrass notes in Vietnam…  Or even better, buy scents on your trip to India where essential oils are a great bargain.

While on your adventure, you’ll enjoy smelling great, but what’s more, later when you’re back home and you have a day where you decide to wear the scent, you will likely be cognitively transported to wonderful happy memories of your vacation.  In fact, a breeze may pick up your own perfumed scent from your skin throughout the day, carry it to your nose, and you may find yourself suddenly inexplicably happy or relaxed, or an image from your past trip may pop in your mind.

After you start wearing the scent more and more, you may not always have connotations of your vacation when you’re wearing the sent. But, you’ll be surprised that even years later you may wear the scent and suddenly have a flashback and emotional connection to the vacation you took when you first wore it.  There is a scent that I wear that has a lot of neroli notes in it. Ironically, I bought it in South Africa, but when I wear it, it reminds me of the Imperial Hotel in Delhi, India.  Like many hotels around the world, the Imperial has a signature scent which one can even smell as you approach the hotel from outside. It’s heavenly.

In addition to colognes and perfumes, another great way to incorporate wonderful scents into your vacation is by bringing a travel candle.  I am a firm believer in replicating your creature comforts from home into your vacation, including bringing your favorite snacks, games, book, or pillow (especially if you have a special pillow for neck or back issues).  Many of us burn scented candles at home, especially in our bathrooms.  One of the things I love doing most when traveling is pampering myself with a lazy bath in a great hotel.  Lighting a scented candle takes it to the next level.  Also, there have been times when I have been given a room that smells musty, and burning a candle can help a lot!

Another thing I do to help keep all things smelling clean and fresh is I pack dryer sheets and lavender bags in my luggage. These things take up virtually no room, and it truly helps keep your clothes from smelling stale.  And while I am on this topic, always, always pack your shoes, flip-flops, etc, in a plastic bag within your luggage. For one thing, they’re dirty, but they also usually don’t smell that great, unless you’re into that, of course.  During your trip, used socks, underwear, and anything else that has become smelly should also be put in a plastic bag, and avoid packing any clothing that is moist. Do your best to air it out and dry it in your room first.  Lastly on the topic of bag freshness, sometimes when I have time to kill before a flight, I will go to an airpot perfume counter, spray some colognes on paper fragrance strips, and then pop those in my bag too. Yeah, I am classy like that.

Vacations are often multi-sensory experiences, and with a little planning, you effortlessly put your sense of smell to work on your brain.  If this isn’t enough reason to make perfume part of you packing list, there is the added benefit of smelling good for your travel companions as well.  After all, no one likes a stinky traveler.

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