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The Sweet Smell of Travel: Can You Smell it?

"The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it." - Rudyard Kipling
Floral offerings in India
A destination is experienced with all senses, but we have to agree with Mr. Kipling that smell and travel have a particularly strong connection. It’s the sliver of a foreign place that you can always discern, even somewhere completely familiar and mundane; the faintest hint of jasmine in a local floral shop will suddenly conjure strong, vivid memories of balmy nights in Southern India, even if explored long ago. I like to think of it as our mind imprinting a destination by what it notices first, much like baby animals do when they open their eyes; they never forget the first thing that comes into focus. The travel experts at Wildland Adventures share some of their strongest travel/aroma associations:

“Upon my first visit to Eastern Africa, I instantly picked up on the smoky aroma of charcoal cooking fires – a scent that languidly hangs in the air and seems to permeate everything in the cities and towns. It was a strange adjustment at first, but now a familiar old friend welcoming me back to life in East Africa and much of the developing world.” – Jeff Stivers

India’s smells are hard to define as the destination itself, but memories of the place fill you as soon as you step off the plane to that unique aroma. To me it invokes spices, hot milk and animals. And heat – if heat could have a smell, it would explain India to me.” - Laura Finkelstein

"The Galapagos Islands will forever smell like essence of palo santo, the deep amber-hued resin exuded from the tree of the same name. Related to frankincense and myrrh, it was used by the Incas for spiritual purification. Today it is similarly used in aromatherapy and herbal medicines, or even fashioned into wooden casks for aging wine and beer. In the islands, in the sunshine, I would close my eyes and breathe in the rich, warm fragrance from the trees, mixed with fresh salty breezes carried ashore by the surf. Now at home in my Seattle apartment, I burn smudge sticks of pure, golden palo santo wood from my neighborhood herbalist, close my eyes and listen for the cries of Galapagos sea lions and birds wheeling overhead in the blue Equatorial sky!" - Sherry Howland

Lunch spread on a Turkish gullet
Turkey smells like fish and the open sea. And fresh astringent black tea with the sound of dice hitting the backgammon boards in the background.” – Laura Finkelstein

“In India I distinctly remember the intoxicating scent of Jasmine which many women weave into their hair, the incense which is burned everywhere but especially in temples and of course curry. I prefer not to remember the smell of diesel!” – Anne Kutay

“If you have never smelled a cheroot burning, you have to travel to Burma to know what I am trying to describe. Men and women alike squat along the streets and outside of stupas wrapped in their longyis and smoking long, tree-bark wrapped cigars called cheroots. It smells like old paper and rich earth burning together, with a musty spiciness. Everything that I brought back from Burma has traces of the odor, including letters received from friends. And at least once a year I encounter just the faintest whiff of Burma while walking the streets of wherever I may be in the United States. Distinctive and instant – the memories this tiny thing can produce are amazing.” - Kirsten Gardner

What smells remind you of your favorite destinations? Leave a comment and tell us! For more information on how this whole smell/memory/imprinting thing works, check out this informative article on the amazing powers of our olfactory gland from How Stuff Works.

Keeping it wild,

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