Turning a vacation from drab to memorable

Turkish lamps are a winner of a souvenir.

Some vacations shine from our memory banks like golden time capsules while others fall listlessly to the wayside. For travelers full of wanderlust, there are a handful of ways you can turn your vacation into something you’ll cherish long after unpacking. The payoff? Memories that will last a lifetime.

Novelty has high value
As cliche as it sounds, do things you’ve never done before. Go hiking through the Grand Canyon or swim with sharks in the Caribbean, but regardless of where you go, to protect your travel investment, it is recommended to purchase travel insurance. Remember your first kiss? Or your first job out of college? New adventures are more likely to become ingrained in the mind than trivial, everyday experiences.

Find your niche: Spontaneous or schedule-savvy
Whether you’re a type A personality who likes to stick to the itinerary or a laid-back wanderer who prefers getting lost in new cities, you do you. Decide what sort of trip you want it to be prior to departing. This will tailor expectations.

Sometimes it’s fun to switch things up too. For the straight shooters, perhaps keep a day open to explore without plans. Go-with-the-flow travelers might want to schedule a guided tour. No matter your style, it’s always a good idea to learn at least a little about your destination beforehand. Chances are, the more you know about a place, the more you’ll appreciate it.

Take a tour
Tours are excellent ways to get an insightful overview of your destination. Garner first-hand information from people who live there – not only will they tell the basic information, they know those extra tidbits that’ll make you sound like a native when you re-tell the places you visited to your family and friends. Do some research on tour companies online or ask your hotel information desk for a list of the best ones.

See a show
Music fans, hit up a concert. Theater buffs, grab tickets to an off-Broadway show. Culinary lovers, see a naked sushi show. Your vacation is meant for you – in addition to trying novel things, embrace some of the activities you love – albeit with a refreshing twist. A good way to find niche attractions is by reading the local newspaper or asking a local.

Try new foods
Your taste buds might remember more than you think. Remember that time you sampled fresh dim sum in Hong Kong? Or jamón tapas in the Madrid café? How about oysters in Boston? Cuisine is a cornerstone of culture, so get to know it!

To dig into the truly off-the-beaten path spots, avoid asking your hotel assistant about the best restaurants; they typically have deals with local spots. Instead, ask a local. Bartenders are great reservoirs of advice, too.

Caveat: Since foreign fare can be as adventurous as it is exciting, be sure to enter the restaurant with travel health insurance. As the old adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Smell your destination
As weird as it sounds, smell your place. Taking a diaphragm-deep inhalation of a place can burrow a city’s flavor far into your sensory experiences. You’ve heard that the sense of smell is the most powerful, memory-evocative of the five senses, right? Take a whiff of a street corner, the musky pews of a church or the smell of the salt water rolling off the ocean. We bet you’re visualizing it right now.

Take great pictures
Our minds can be sieves at times. Pack a real camera or use your smartphone to snap photos of your travels. Although uploading straight to Instagram or Twitter is much easier when you’re using your phone, recording travel moments in high quality will likely prove worthwhile in the long run. So long, pixelated videos.

Pick souvenirs that will resonate
Many people wind up at home with shelves of thoughtless souvenirs yanked from the airport checkout line minutes before the plane departed. But an original, exotic, experience-by-association item can allow the streams the nostalgia flow deep. A great way to pick a winner is to think of an aspect in your trip that means something to you, moved you or that you simply enjoyed. It could be a coffee mug painted with San Francisco trolleys riding around it, a T-shirt bought from the aquarium where your family swam with dolphins, a spice or seasoning from a special corner of the world or a poster capturing the colors of flamenco dancing. Heck, it could even be a postcard.

Like the best presents, top souvenirs are ones you’ll actually use. When reaching for that superfluous trinket on the street vendor stand, remember two things: accessibility and practicality. Where you put the souvenir (if it’s stationary like a poster) and how much you use it (coffee mug) upon your return will draw the line between memorable and forgettable.