Making sense of the world
We’ve never been more attuned to our senses. For many of us, the potential loss of smell and taste—side effects of COVID-19—has us checking in with our bodies more frequently (is this soup just really bland, or do I have COVID?!?). More than that, our worlds have shrunk. Though when we do venture forth—ahhhh. The scent of freshly baked bread is a little more precious, the sound of the wind through the trees on a morning walk a little more soothing, the touch of a loved one’s hand a healing balm more than ever. So let’s put all the deprivation—the lost hugs, the missed meals, the longed-for aromas—of the past two years to use, shall we? Here’s how to make use of your heightened senses when traveling in 2022. —Aislyn Greene, deputy editor
To know a place is to smell it
A single sniff can trigger a decades-old memory. Author Maggie Downs explores what makes aromas so enduring—and how we can put our noses to work while traveling.
Downs was traveling in Egypt during the tumult of Arab Spring and having trouble leaving the country. Enter Abdullah, who secured a place for her to sleep and way to leave the following morning. “Neither of us had eaten, so [Abdullah] produced a makeshift dinner of fruit cocktail, hot dog buns, and foil-wrapped processed cheese cubes. When I confessed I was frightened by the uncertainty of the situation, he promised I would be safe. Then he taught me an Arabic proverb about the connection that is formed between people who have dined together: Between us, bread and salt. It means we’ve nourished ourselves at the same table; now we have a bond.
When he left, as a departing gift, Abdullah gave me the shemagh that had been coiled around his head.
The fragrance woven into the fabric is musky shampoo, briny sea air, sunshine, sweet grass. But there’s also a comfortable quality about the aroma, like hugging a longtime friend. It smells like trust.
A decade later, the scent can still conjure that moment in time.”
For the full story from Maggie Downs, read Smell Your Way to Better Travel Memories.
A master class on savoring the world
Each time you take a bite, your taste buds and brain work together to create a map of what you’re eating and where. Sensory evaluation expert Orietta Gianjorio explains how you can sharpen those flavors—and that map.
“I remember talking to my mom a few years ago when I realized I can smell and taste things that maybe a regular person can’t,” Gianjorio says. “She said, ‘I couldn’t give you something that I didn’t make or something in a can. [If I did], you would taste it and tell me, ‘There’s something wrong with this. What is it? It tastes like preservatives or it’s too sweet or it’s not what we’re used to.’
. . . . The more you do it, the easier it becomes. When I do talks about supertasters, I’m trying to make people understand that the equipment they have and the ability we all have to look, smell, taste, touch, hear—those are all the senses we use when we taste, say, chocolate.”
You, too, can be a supertaster if you follow these five tips. Just be sure to avoid the spicy stuff otherwise it’ll all go to hell.
For the full interview with Orietta Gianjorio, read Taste Your Way to a Better Trip.
Can touch tether us to memory?
Of all the senses, touch is the most immediate: You have to be close to something (or someone) to engage. So why not embrace that intimacy while traveling? In the immortal words of Busta Rhymes: (Just) touch it.
“We tend to direct relatively little attention to our nonvisual senses,” writes Dr. Hutmacher, one of the researchers behind a study that linked touch and long-term memory. Modern travelers are accustomed to sharing pictures of their food or the beach they visited. “If you travel to a new place, there is more to this new place than ‘meets the eye.’” To get the most out of our travels, we should pay more attention to our nonvisual senses—and “the sense of touch in particular.” The first step? Touch everything.
For the full story, read Engaging the World Through Touch.
New ways to tune into the world
Even if you pride yourself on your bat-like hearing, you’d be shocked by the number of things you tune out. Here’s how to properly hear a new place—without prejudice.
Professor and author Louis Chude-Sokei has spent years listening to the world, first as a layperson and later as an audio researcher specializing in the link between culture and sound. “Wherever I was in the world it was also taken for granted that Black people heard or listened differently. A preference for bass was an early assumption, and as I walked through streets in urban communities it was hard to argue with the fact that areas demarcated by Black sound often featured the lowest of frequencies. I took to occasionally closing my eyes, noting the sounds but also the spaces between them, and the time lag of echo that conveyed the shape and texture of whatever space we were in. What could you tell about people or places exclusively by listening?”
For the full story from Louis Chude-Sokei, read The Next Time You Travel, Try a Soundwalk.
Seeing a city from a different angle
There are dozens of ways to improve your vision: You can Bugs Bunny your way through a bag of carrots, reduce your screen time, even embrace yoga. But how do you actually see?
For travelers, the most critical part about “seeing” a new place is knowing how to go beyond the shapes and colors our eyes take in and get at the deeper truth of the destination. Here’s how writer Valerie Luu and photographer Andria Lo did just that—using fashion as their lens.
They decided to hit the streets, Lo with a camera in hand; Luu with a pen and notebook. The original goal was to stop any senior citizen with that certain je ne sais quoi and document their outfits on a blog, ‘Chinatown Pretty.’ They quickly discovered, however, that “the fashion is really a good lens in which to learn more about their immigration stories, their life histories, and their values.”
The pair started to do deeper dives, to spend more time with the people who agreed to talk with them. As they did, the project evolved from a style blog to “this love letter to Chinatown as a neighborhood,” Lo says.
For the full story by Aislyn Greene, read “Would a Chinese Grandma Wear This?”
Let your gut lead the way
No, your sixth sense, a.k.a your intuition, has nothing to do with ghosts and Bruce Willis.
It’s more about understanding the ways in which our bodies unconsciously collect information—and that travel is the best way to crack our intuition wide open. “Being in a completely fresh environment, it takes me completely out of my normal head,” says author and intuition expert Dr. Belleruth Naparstek. “I’m very alive to all of the sensations, and the customs, and the strangenesses, and the sound of the language, and it just puts your brain in a lovely, I would say, altered state—a trance state that’s very receptive. The essence of intuition is, I think, that passive receptivity. You’re not trying to make anything happen, you’re just allowing it to happen. You’re noticing it when it happens because you’re so alive with all of your senses.”
For the full interview with Dr. Belleruth Naparstek, read Listen to Your Gut! A Traveler’s Guide to Intuition.