Did you know the brain “geotags” memories based on location?
When you encounter a familiar place, according to a recent study, “It opens up these memory boxes and triggers a flood of old memories in vivid Technicolor, like they happened yesterday.”
In other words, memory and place are intricately linked, on a biological level.
I looked it up because I had a rather startling chain reaction of memories at Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel last week. I was there with Szaba, researching an article for my friend’s travel blog, Walking on Travels.
I wrote a story on treating someone you love to a spa-and-tea day. You can read it here, if you’d like.
As we sat having tea, I found myself telling Szaba about a date night her father and I had at the Fairmont when she was four months old. Her Grandma Suzy had bought us season tickets to the symphony. Her plan was to visit monthly, so we could go out—and she could babysit and have her granddaughter all to herself.
(That was the only night she had that opportunity. Cancer changed all of our plans.)
On the heels of that memory, I found myself telling Szaba about another time Sue came out to visit, before Szaba was born. Never one to miss a musical, Sue joined us for my friend Matt’s show Into the Woods, after which we gathered with Matt and friends at the Fairmont for drinks.
And then it was Szaba’s turn to reminisce. She reminded me of the Fairmont’s Teddy Bear Suite, which I’d taken her to three out of the four holidays of her young life.
Her own hippocampus cells were apparently firing their GPS signals, too.
Shortly after sharing these stories (moments I had nearly forgotten, in all honesty), the Fairmont’s marketing manager, Casey, stopped by to chat. In the course of our conversation, I was reminded that Fairmont owns the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C., and Raffles Hotel in Singapore as well.
This brought on a flood of even more unexpected memories…
There was the time Ryan and I were “homeless” for a week (between apartment lease and completion of our first home) and escaped to Canada for a few days of English teas and gardens.
And then there was the time we impulsively trekked off to Singapore, weeks before Christmas, for a dear friend’s wedding. Guess where we headed straight off of a 20-hour travel day? To Raffles for the original Singapore sling, of course.
Is there something about Fairmont hotels in particular that ties itself to such memorable moments? Perhaps. Casey did tell me that Fairmont’s tagline is “making moments into memories.” The quality and uniqueness of their hotels certainly lends itself to memorable moments, such as special date nights, outings, and getaways.
But more importantly, I realized the role that a place can play in imparting stories to our children, particularly stories about special people in our lives, past or present.
So keep an eye out for those places. If you feel a warm feeling of nostalgia that temporarily takes you back in time, that’s a good clue. Sit with it. Relish it. Remember. And keep returning to those spots, making new memories while you’re there.
And share those memories. They’re the stories that make up your life. They’re the stories that make you.
Special thanks to Casey and the Fairmont Olympic staff for being such kind and generous hosts. All opinions in this article and the Walking on Travels piece are honest and my own.