A Travellerspoint blog

Selective Memory: What Will Our Kids Remember?

There Was This Adorable Puppy at Some Temple . . .


Eye Witness Testimony

Eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable. If you talk to ten people who were all present at the same event, chances are no two versions will be identical. As time passes the recounting tends to take on even more of the personality of the teller. I have found that individuals notice different things and take away with them distinct feelings and impressions. This is certainly true for our family.

As four eye witnesses to the same world travel experience, you would need to talk to all of us in order to piece together the real story. Combining our individual memories is like layering transparent images on top of each other. Each sheet can stand alone, but the layered image has a depth and flavor that speaks to the bonds forged by shared experience.

Keeping it Real

There are times when I am listening to my kids describe their version of a shared family experience that doesn't come close to jogging my own memory, although I KNOW we were there together! As adults I think we sometimes pick and choose what we remember - filtering out the more unpleasant aspects. Our tween and teenager apply no such filter, so traveling with them full time absolutely keeps it real.

For Example:
Adult - Remember when we were driving from De Nang to Hoi An and first saw the swarms of motorbikes?
Child - Yeah! That driver had the worst BO ever!

Adult - Wasn't it amazing spending the day learning to weave with that family in Chinchero?
Child - Guess so. It was hot and there was no bathroom.

Unique Perspectives


Leah (age 11) is our intuitive nature girl. She is an experiential learner who cares about animals and identifies places we have been based on the creatures we encountered there. Leah is also part fish and is her absolute happiest in the water. Her memories will most likely be strongest for experiences involving one or both of these factors.

Leah's compassion for animals can make an experience wonderfully enriching or terribly upsetting. When we did a farm stay in New Zealand she woke early every day so she could help milk the goats and feed the chickens. She was perfectly happy and by the end of the week she knew all their names and personalities. In Burma, on the other hand, she spent an entire day on the verge of tears after seeing caged baby owls. We couldn't console her and it really didn't matter what other cool things we did that day - the poor baby owls will be what she remembers.

I see Leah taking what she has seen and learned in the world and becoming something of an activist. She has grown in confidence and is much less afraid to share her opinions with others. After spending two weeks volunteering with elephants and dogs at Elephant Nature Park, she will never let us buy a dog from a breeder, attend a circus, or ride a "trekking" elephant.


Alex (age 13) is our fearless hands-on boy. He wants the chance to master the ropes course, brave the rapids, jump waves, ride a camel, and drive a scooter (we said "NO" to that one). For him, participating in activities (he has been LOVING cooking classes) and the added freedom of a travel lifestyle makes the temple and market visits bearable.

He also thrives on sharing facts with us, for example:

  • "Did you know that in New Zealand the bat is the only known native land mammal?"
  • "Peru has over 3000 different types of potatoes!"
  • "You know, the Great Wall of China really CAN'T be seen from space. China probably made that up."

We aren't exactly sure where he picks these up since he rarely seems to be paying attention - but there are many more where those came from...and he is entertaining.

Alex will probably remember experiences with a few place names thrown in for good measure. I imagine him describing our "big trip" in a list form, like a brochure.

Holding on to Memories

Memories you capture on purpose are always more vivid than the ones you pick up by accident.
- Isaac Marion

As we travel we find ourselves trying to do four things at once:

  • Live in the Moment
  • Share our Experiences
  • Plan the Next Step
  • Keep Memories Alive

The last one is the most likely to get pushed off the agenda, especially during busy times. So, here are some ways we have been attempting to capture our experiences for the future.



A good snapshot keeps a memory from running away.
- Eudora Welty

We travel with two water-proof shock-proof cameras and two iPhones. Needless to say, we take lots of pictures.

Whenever possible we hand off the cameras to the kids and let them chose their subjects. Each of them brings a perspective that is a joy to see and their photos reflect their personalities and vision. Leah's photos are usually of animals, interesting artwork, or nature. Alex takes wonderful landscape shots and videos of himself jumping off boats, waterfalls, etc. Can you guess who the photographer was for each of these shots?

For us, the challenge with photos isn't taking them. It is managing them. We may have 4 cameras, but only one computer. Uploading, editing, and organizing photos is no small task and grows more daunting if it is put off for a few weeks.

One thing we found that really helps make the process smoother is making sure each camera is set for the correct date and time. iPhoto automatically groups photos into "events" based on date and we can then add a specific tag describing that group of photos. One of us then goes through the photos, picks the a selection, and exports them to a desktop folder. From there we upload to Facebook, Shutterfly and our Travellerspoint blog photo gallery.

When we have a chance for a little down time and internet connectivity, I put together photo books on Shutterfly. Then when there is a sale I order a few shipped to my parents. Of course there is a major time delay -I just put a book together of photos from December - but It feels good knowing that we have some physical reminder of our experiences. It will be especially lovely to look through them when we return.

We're also looking forward to an experiment that we're going to make using YearlyLeaf to convert our Facebook page into a physical book. That should be a fun way to keep the memories alive...


My original idea was to have the four of us keep written journals describing our daily life as we travelled. We chose notebooks together and set aside time when we would all write. I have to admit that it just didn't fly. Each writing time would leave us frustrated and angry at each other. I would never even get a chance to write anything because I would be nagging the kids the whole time.

Taking a step back, we decided that if the primary goal of keeping journals was to allow the kids to practice expressing themselves, we could try something different. Introducing - Video Journals!

Alex and Leah work together to come up with a basic script, practice, and then ACTION!
The result is an authentic capturing of their personalities and insight into a specific place and time.


By sharing our trip in "real time" with family and friends we are also helping to preserve memories. Both children contribute to our blog entries and often help choose our Facebook updates. True to form, Leah wrote "Cool Animals" and Alex, "Favorite Places"
One of my favorite blog entries was a family writing project about our trek to Machu Picchu. Keeping current on the blog is not always possible and we'll have some catching up to do on a number of places and topics we keep meaning to write about!

What Will We Remember?

Our individual memories may indeed be selective, and we will each walk away changed in different ways. However, we have done this together and together we will treasure our long lasting family memories.



This post was written as part of group writing project on the subject of what our kids may remember and take away from the long term travel experience.

Check out these fabulous posts by other traveling families of all shapes and sizes!

Nancy from Family on Bikes

Catherine Forest from Catherine et les fées

Alisa from Living Outside of the Box

Melissa from Break Out of Bushwick

Bethaney from Flashpacker Family

Jenn Miller from Edventure Project

Heather Costaras from Living Differently

Kalli from Portable Professionals

Kirsty from Barts go Adventuring

Sharon from Where's Sharon

Lainie from Raising Miro on the Road of Life (and Aimee from Suitcases and Strollers)

Nichola from We Travel Countries

CoreyAnn Khan from Adventure Bee

Tracey from The Expat Experience

Mary from Bohemian Travelers

Kris from Simon Says

Posted by annevl 17:14 Tagged dog education elephant family volunteering teaching memories family_travel homeschool worldschool

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Hi guys,
To me, talking about my experiences is key. Whether it's a book I just read, or a movie I've seen, or a trip - having a discussion about it with other people is imperative for keeping it fresh and clear in my memory. This might seem obvious, but in our digital age, so much is online instead of spoken out loud. So expect mucho quizzing upon your return!
Side note: Noah, do you remember playing with the filthy mangey kittens in Vieques, more than 35 years ago?? I do!
love to all from Auntie Em!

by Emily

The unique perspectives are the best part! Our family of six can be in the same place and the same time and have six completely different stories to tell... I love that!

by Jennifer Miller

I enjoyed your ideas on how to help your kids remember rather than just say they won't remember. I need to look into Shutterfly--that sounds like a great gift idea.

by Kalli

You will be hearing an earful of Van Loen travel stories, amusing anecdotes, and family jokes when we return. Miss you!

by noahv

@Emily - of course I remember those kittens. And the mangy dogs that we played with too. Those are memories that will never fade...and I'm sure it will be the same way for our kids.

Looking forward to sharing the trip memories with you and the cousins when we get back...

by noahv

I LOVE the idea of video journals! I want so badly for my children to record their thoughts, but my 8 year old is adamantly opposed to keeping a journal, so far (and the next youngest can't read/write, yet). A video journal is a fantastic idea!

And I agree...the memories can stay alive by capturing the memory via photos, posts, videos, etc!

by Living Outside of the Box

What a beautiful entry Anne. I so enjoyed meeting you guys and I loved reliving the kids through this post. Remembering Leah being a fish, although I remember Alex as a Minecraft guru;) Great idea to show exactly the differences in their perspectives. Thanks so much!

by Mary

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