Towards the end of my 17-day tour of Europe, I felt like the photos I was so eager to take in the beginning of the trip were now becoming an unwanted chore, like ironing my hair or watching the past season of Homeland — do I really need to do this? I wanted to capture every site we visited, but I wasn’t really sure why. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do while traveling?
I had seen tons of pictures of Europe prior to visiting. Mom and Dad in front of the Louvre. Kelly’s year abroad in Florence. Mindy and Nick on their honeymoon in Nice. I thought I’d seen it all and now it was my time to insert my own image into those must-have photos. I didn’t think that seeing the Eiffel Tower could thrill me when half of the girls I know have that canvas painting — purchased for $19.99 at TJ Maxx — of the Eiffel tower hanging in their apartments. But I was wrong.
Europe shocked and awed me at every step of the way. But the fewer photos I took, the more memories I made. It was everyone on the tour’s gut instinct to grab their cameras the second we saw any monument, historic place, or piece of pretty scenery. Our tour was moving so fast that sometimes we stopped just to get a picture. Sure, the view was breathtaking, but the times we hopped off the bus, posed, and got back on really didn’t create a noteworthy memory because it all happened in a quick flash. More often, when we had actual time to visit a site, rarely did those photos taken represent the beauty or the wonder of what we actually saw with our own eyes. Putting down the camera instead of trying to get that perfect shot made the experience so much more enjoyable. I don’t need an actual photo — I can see the vibrant colored homes built into the cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea in the French Riviera just by closing my eyes.
When our tour group, composed of 18-35 year olds, checked into our hotels, the first question the group always asked was “What’s the WiFi password?” Why are we so desperate to be available and feel the need to let everyone know what we are doing? Half of the people on the trip had their photos of the day uploaded to Facebook faster than I could figure out how to use my hotel room shower (Really, the curtain goes around the toilet? The whole room is the shower?!). I too, at first, had the urge to immediately hop on wifi; however, after spending a night in Lyon, France, sipping wine and eating a charcuterie plate outside an adorable cafe, admiring the French way of life, I realized how much better this was as opposed to uploading photos in the hotel lobby. I was liking what I was doing, instead of waiting for the “likes” of others.
Traveling to a new place, if you let it, will envelop you and make you forget about everything else except the present moment. There’s nothing wrong with taking photos, but first, take a moment to take it all in. Don’t let the photo be the goal of your visit, a check off on your list of must-sees. Experience where you are. Let your mind create an image. As our tour guide told us about the history of the Roman Forum I imagined hot Roman men, with six-packs firm enough to make any cast member of The Jersey Shore jealous, before me. To be standing where they once stood, was truly mind-blowing.
You know the episode of The Office where Pam and Jim mime snapping an invisible camera to capture their wedding journey? These “photos,” the ones taken without a lens, are the ones that truly matter. As I now scroll through the endless pictures I have from the past three weeks, I already have forgotten what half of the places are, or the meaning of the monuments I stand in front of. Without the memory of where I am, the pictures feel less significant. It’s the night dancing on the tables in Nice with the new friends I made and the taste of that first slice of authentic Italian pizza that I can still recall, and those memories are what make me smile. Cameras can get stepped on, iPhones can fall into toilets, but create memories and you are guaranteed to bring those home with you.