How to Make a Travel Memory: Set the Scene

The rocks to ascend Island Gully Falls in Jamaica are slick but sturdy. Still, I’m not taking any chances. I step gingerly as I make the climb; firmly planting each foot before lifting the other. I’m the last of eight people in my group. Behind me is one of two lifeguard guides, the other leads the pack and between us are my parents, in their 70s, my husband, and our two kids.

Travel Memory Jamaica

Our group shot just before heading in to start the climb.

My mother, almost 30 years my senior, is way ahead of me. Occasionally she looks back at me tauntingly as if to suggest I’m slowing them all down. I probably am and not just on this climb.

Somewhere between Toronto and Kingston, Jamaica my family completely relaxed. I, on the other hand, picked up their stress and then some.

I can’t help it. When you’re a travel writer (or even just the person who usually plans the trips for your family) and you’re on a trip, there tends to be a certain responsibility you feel to make sure things go well. When the people you’re traveling with happen to include your parents, well,  that pressure can mount. Add to that my Type-A personality on the best of days and you can pretty much guess how in control of our trip I was trying to be. Much of the time I was half drill-sargent, half safety monitor. Roles no one asked me to take on and not exactly the elusive vacation mode I’d hoped for.

Worst of all I was ruining the trip.

How to make a travel memory | Dream it

This trip has been a dream of mine for a long time.

Travel Memory Jamaica

Finding our spot along the roadside in Jamaica.

I’ve wanted to venture back to my parents’ homeland and have my kids see the island with my parents at their side. I’ve wanted to get a better sense for myself, now that I’m older and paying attention, of who my parents were when they lived here and how that life affected the one they built for their three kids in Canada.

But at stop after stop on this trip, I can feel that self-imposed “need to manage things” taking over. I hear it in my voice when I answer their questions. I feel it in my bones as I check and re-check our itinerary.

Sure, things are going smoothly – we are making the stops we need to, checking items off our lists – but time and time again I have to remind myself to stop and enjoy the moment.

Travel Memory Jamaica

Present – from behind the lens – isn’t actually present.

How to make a travel memory | The Mom Planning Mistake

It’s a mistake I see mothers make all the time. We’re often so busy planning and documenting the trip for the rest of the family, that we end up missing out on the memory-making. We are taking the photos, so we aren’t in them. (Sound familiar?) And in doing so we likely don’t even realize that we are actually wrecking the vacation because we are not allowing our family to make the travel memories with us that they were expecting.

It’s not a revelation I came to quickly.

In fact, that smile you see in the picture at the Island Gully sign above? I was smiling for the camera but I was frantic on the inside. The guides were insisting that I not take my camera or iPhone with us into the gully. It was a no-brainer really: Slippery rocks and deep bodies or water aren’t meant for electronic equipment.

And though my Go Pro was deemed okay to carry, they insisted that they – not I – would  be the ones holding it and snapping the pictures. In other words, I couldn’t control this part of the story.

Travel Memory Jamaica

The men making ice cream memories.

How to make a travel memory | Ditch the Device

The funny thing is that once I ditched the iPhone, and the responsibility to document that comes with it,  I realized not having that responsibility was a relief.  Suddenly, I was in the moment, free to notice the things that have been happening all around me and not just through the viewfinder of my lens.  And what was happening was that my parents, my husband and my kids were having the time of their lives. They were together doing things together that I never thought they would; jumping and swimming and laughing until they cried. They were living the dream – my dream – and I almost missed it.

But I didn’t.

Letting go of the gadgets and that need to control every moment meant that I could be in the photo – not just snapping it. I became a part of the memory as it was being made.

Travel Memory Jamaica

The ‘rents and I – out living life to the fullest.

In fact, its not until I got back to my computer later that day, with my family gathered around, that we saw all of the photos the guides had snapped of us.

What a treasure.

Blurry, water-stained, out of focus – but you can still see the love, and in the open-mouthed laughs, the utter joy of being in that moment.

How to make a travel memory | Recognize when you are standing in your own way

I’m not cured.  My travels are usually for assignments and those cameras are often in hand.

But I am trying to choose my moments better. To be conscious of what I’m giving up when I hide behind the lens.

Travel Memory Jamaica

Messy hair, don’t care when surrounded by these handsome gents.

It seems to be working.  When, one evening in Montego Bay, I raised my head from snapping photos of a beautiful dusk to see that five of the people I love most in this world were frolicking in the waves, I threw my cameras down, peeled off my cover-up and joined them without hesitation.

I had to. Those travel memories we are all after ? Well, I’ve learned that they aren’t going to make themselves.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Visit Jamaica, Canada. As always all opinions are my own.