How I Keep the Magic Alive After I Come Back from Vacation

published Jul 11, 2017
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(Image credit: Jacob Lund)

Coming home from an amazing trip can be a huge buzzkill. Planning a trip is so exciting, dreaming about incredible meals and adventures galore, and then you have such a good time when you’re actually there, of course. But then there’s that very real misery that is modern travel and coming home to work and laundry and, well, life. Post-trip blues can be hard on a person.

How to get through? What helps me is to weave the magic of travels into everyday life. And that often entails bringing a literal taste of the trip home — or at least something whose sight, smell, or touch can whisk me back for just a moment.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

Tip #1: Bring back everyday cooking tools and decor.

A whirl around my kitchen is a spin around the globe. Those well-worn copper pots and pans? Each one was carried home from kitchen supply shops in Paris (except that one we bought in Quebec the year the dollar was so bad and we couldn’t swing France), and I can’t pull out the giant mixing bowl without recalling the bakers making music with their whisk and bowl for admiring onlookers at Mont St. Michel.

The oil lanterns hanging near my kitchen windows take me to a sun-drenched day on the Greek isle of Rhodes, where we lingered in a shop with the proprietor who beckoned us to sample quince jam. The tagine on the shelf over the stove? At the conclusion of a 12-hour cooking class in Marrakech, I was steeped in the scents of cumin, mint, preserved lemon, and rosewater when I counted out my dirham to buy the tagine (about 10 dollars!) from the class instructor. I may have only used it a handful of times in the years since carrying it home, but the souks of the medina are never far when I catch sight of it.

The humble little cedar spoon kept always by the stovetop? A leather-faced man with the most sparkly blue eyes made it at his tiny shop in the hills of western Turkey. My good friend and travel-mate had read about him and insisted we take an hours-long detour to get to this master spoon carver. Every so often I rub oil in it to keep it supple and remember those laughing eyes, and everything I cook gets a stir with the spoon.

The magic of travel isn’t just about your physical location. It’s how you feel when you’re there.

My kitchen staples sit atop a round chopping block I bought on a searing hot day from a woman at a market along the Mekong Delta outside of Ho Chi Minh City. She didn’t have the right change for the sweaty wad of Vietnamese dong I paid her with so she gave me two packages of chopsticks instead and told me she liked my nose. When I trace the wood’s smooth lines I’m 10,000 miles away in a cacophony of traffic and street vendors.

My set of little jewel-red tea glasses are a reminder of how bad I am at bargaining. With only an hour to spend in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar I made a token lower offer and quickly capitulated to the vendor’s counter.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

Tip #2: Bring back spices.

Smell is one of the most powerful memory inducers, and I pack my suitcase full of the scents of the places I go. Open the pantry and take a whiff – the chiles are from a night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the mysterious unlabeled brown powder is from a spice stall outside Mexico City, and there’s a bag of ras el hanout that I bought because it’s a ticket to Morocco (but I actually picked it up at my nirvana, La Grand Epicerie in Paris).

(Image credit: globalmoments)

Tip #3: Don’t wait for the right occasion to use your food souvenirs.

The gravest sin of travel food souvenir shopping is buying things that you never have the occasion to open. The tube of fleur de sel caramel from the shop with the best eclair ever that’s stashed in my fridge expired a year ago because when is it a special enough time to open a tube of caramel so heartbreakingly delicious?

I tossed countless jars of truffle this and foie that when I moved last year after they’d rattled around in my fridge or cabinet for literally years. But here’s the thing: When you wait till the right moment, it never happens. Your trip becomes this never-to-be-attained-again dream and you’re just back here in your waking life.

Well, no more! I hereby vow to finish that beautiful Sicilian olive oil if I have to drench a weekday at-my-computer lunch salad with it. I’ll pop that tin of French foie and eat it for an afternoon snack — why not? Isn’t part of the joy of Paris just reveling in blissful moments like that?

The magic of travel isn’t just about your physical location. It’s how you feel when you’re there. And something as simple as a bite of exquisite chocolate — even a macaron you hastily picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport en route home — can ignite that feeling. So can a cocktail you tried elsewhere for the first time; if I close my eyes when I sip my first pastis of the summer, I can taste the dry, lavender-tinged heat of Provence where the sweet drink was an afternoon ritual. Or better still, a full meal. Making Cambodian fish curry for friends as we’d learned it at a steamy rooftop cooking class in Phnom Penh gave us an excuse to relive our southeast Asian adventures for a captive audience. Cooking from a book from a favorite Paris bistro is a chance for my husband and I to connect in the way we only do when we’re far from home.

When you love food, there’s no reason the magic has to stay on the other side of the globe. Capture it — in a bottle, a jar, or a box — and open it up whenever you need a spark.