Once traveling has been completed, there are few things more precious than the memories of the experience. I am always giddy when something unexpected triggers a magical moment of Delicious Travel Recall. It can be something as little as sitting outside on a breezy warm night grasping a cup of hot beverage that takes me back to Jose’s front porch in Merida; or the smell of a hookah wafting in the night air that takes me back to Granada; or the meowing of street cats outside my window that takes me back Turkey; or catching a futbol game on television that takes me back to Morocco …

But, more consistently, it is the music.

Within the first few bars, I am whisked away to the moment in time I heard the song … wistfully taken back to the thoughts, the feelings, the warm in the pit of my stomach that quickly takes over my entire body in this brief and amazing bliss.

Now, whenever a song comes on that triggers these fantastical moments of travel joy, I tell my little memory to whomever is in within yelling-at-the-top-of-my-lungs distance.

And, now … a sampling of my RTW soundtrack and little stories to illustrate why each song “rocks” in it’s own little way.  I’ve included links so you can check out the tunes. Enjoy!

1. O.A.R.

This band has longevity with me. It came with me on my first backpacking adventure to Europe in 2002; it returned when I was in Croatia for my 30th; and (so as not to break tradition), they were also loaded onto my iPod for this past Adventure. The band got plenty of play time when I walked about in London.

2. Dropkick Murphys – “I’m Shipping Up to Boston

This is my Ireland Experience in a song. It takes me back to being driven by Abbey through Ireland’s stunning countryside, dotted with old stone castles and vast expanses of farmland, B-Lee, Emily and I intow, headed to Galway to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

3. Milow – “Ayo Technology

The first time I heard this song was the morning after I fell in love with Madrid. Standing in a little store on the outskirts of Plaza de Mayor. This tune came on and I fell in love with it. After a week in Spain, I downloaded the song and, the version I had clocking in at 8 minutes, was the perfect metro song. I would listen to it on repeat as I walked from Anthony’s to the train, on the train, and then walking to my next destination.

4. Rocky Horror – Time Warp

Madrid. With Anthony and Emma. Sitting in her living room and finding videoes on You Tube that took us to other moments in time. We found this, and damnit, we did the Time Warp.

5. Lil Wayne – “Knockout” 

Before I left on my trip, a friend in Atlanta made me a mix for my Walk Abouts. When I took my little walking tour of Berlin (taking the subway to a stop outside the main part of the city and walking back to my hostel in the city), this little ditty came up. I imagine walking down a little side street speckled with naked, spiny-branched trees, and marveling at the Communist-era buildings mixed in with very geometric and artistic, more modern architecture. And eating a pretzel. I was in Germany.

6. Rihanna – “Rude Boy

I don’t know how Bryan, Nicole and I got on the topic of popular music in the US while in Amsterdam [insert comment here], but somehow this song came up. I had never heard of it so Nicole sang it to me. Later, we heard it while sipping hot chocolate in a coffee shop.

7. Shakira – “Waka Waka

While attending World Environment Day and gorilla naming ceremony, one of the babies was bestowed with the name “Waka Waka.” I hear this song and close my eyes to remember driving down bumpy, barely paved roads,  Anna at my side, staring out at the huts and shards of glass lining fence walls.

8. Ani DiFranco – “Every State Line

I had just left Peter in Granada and was on a bus to Tarifa. I was feeling so lonely, so anxious about departing for Morocco in two days time … I leaned my head against the window of the bus with my eyes fixed to the gorgeous green hills and let myself soak into Ani’s lyrics.

9. David Berkley – “Hurricane

I was really nervous the night before I was taking the ferry over to Tangier. I needed to get some sleep and wanted to listen to something to lull me into dreams. This song was the first one that came to mind. I hear this and I remember being on the bottom bunk, head nestled into my pillow, trying to fall asleep while knowing the other roommates had been downing shots of tequila and were sure to wake me … soon.

10. Cee Lo Green – “What Part of Forever

When I was “working” at the hostel in Kusadasi, Turkey, I downloaded the “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” soundtrack. This song’s upbeat (and uplifting) everything took me out of the fear I was feeling … and later stood for the relief that encompassed my body when I boarded the Fez Bus and got the hell out of town.

11. Yolanda Be Cool and D-Cup – “We No Speak Americano

I heard it for the first time while dancing around a fire pit, flips flung into a pile at the outdoor nightclub in Olympos. Then, again it popped up while standing outside another “nightclub” in Goreme. And, again in Bulgaria. And more, and more, and more. I became obsessed and started to crave its infectious little beat.

12. Stromae –  “Alors on Dance” 

This debuted the same time in Turkey, but it wasn’t until hanging with a bunch of backpackers in Budva, Montenegro that this song took over. We sang it on the bus. We listened to it at the hostel. We talked about it always being in our heads.

13. Florence & The Machine – “Kiss With a Fist

Post-iPod, I had to download new music. I downloaded this and the first time I heard it, I was sitting on a bus, deep in the mountains of  Serbia, en route to Sarajevo. It instantly took my attention while immigration examined my passport.

14. Glee Cast – “Defying Gravity

This song is beautiful and bittersweet. When I first really began to accept my grandma was dying, I sat on the decaying Olympic stairs outside Hostel SA in Sarajevo, put in my headphones (thankful for my new iTouch), turned on this song, buried my head in my legs, and cried buckets of tears.

15. Jon Lejoie – “Show Me Your Genitals

I was lucky to have a travel friend like Katie. She knew I was sad after we left Mostar. While we were on the bus, driving through the Bosnian mountains on the way to Brela, Croatia, she played me this song to cheer me up. It produced the best laugh I had in a while. Note: These lyrics are NSFW or for anyone who is easily offended.

16. MGMT – “Kids

I’m sitting in Fiesta Siesta’s cavernous stone bar, talking with Simon. This song comes on. I always feel so uplifted and happy when I hear this now.

17. Jonell Mosser – “Stop in the Name of Love

Towards the end of my trip, Katie, David and I headed to Solta. The first night there, Katie gifted me with some of her music library. For hours, she and I sat outside, drinking red wine and taking in the Adriatic’s light wind, and listened to some of her favorite music, one ear bud each. This was one of the songs she played — a truly beautiful take on the classic.

18. Mumford & Sons – “Little Lion Man

Zadar was one of my last stops on my trip. I met up with Katie in Trogir and together we traveled up to Zadar. The first night in our dorm, I was laying in bed trying to sleep and this jam perked up my ears. Immediately, I fell in love with the band. Now, any song by them makes me think of Croatia. And summer. And hope.

19. Eminem and Rihanna – “Love the Way You Lie

After Katie and I parted, I had a few more days until my flight home. I didn’t want to stay in Zadar, so I took the bus back to Trogir to go and explore. On the way, our bus broke down. For an hour, I sat on a hot bench at a bus stop while we waited for a new bus to pick us up. A French girl, with headphones on, sang this. To this day, I remember feeling so gross, dripping sweat, and looking over in disbelief at the girl, bopping around on the side of the road, caught up in the music.

20. Citizen Cope – “Sideways

I had never heard this song in my life, but Katie had put it on my iTouch. When I found out my grandma was doing worse, I struggled to find a song to allow me to go numb and cathartic. Each song that came on, I quickly skipped. And, then this song came on. And the guitar, the voice, all of it, instantly spoke to me. When Grandma passed away, it became the only song on my playlist. Until I arrived back in America, it was the only song I would listen to.

What about you? What songs take you back to memories … and what are those memories?

12 comments

  1. I love your list! I’m so glad you included Stop! In the Name of Love. I think people really miss what a sad and great song it is lyrically until you hear it sung like this. I’m so happy to be a part of so many of your trip memories and to have you as a part of mine. You’re a great travel companion!

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  2. A song that takes me back to my time in brussels is the song “Big Jet Plane” by Angus and Julia. I went to Europe for the first time this past August to visit by boyfriend who is from Spain. He was in brussels for an internship and would leave his itunes playing when he left for work. I would wake up to this song and slowly prepare a very European breakfast (yogurt and coffee) while listening to this song. When I hear it now, it takes me back to those very enjoyable mornings.

    ps. I also heard Ayo technology for the first time while in Europe. It became the anthem during the trip because it was playing everywhere; when we went to Spain and France. Everyone was playing it on their radios!

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  3. I am a total sucker for the confluence of music and travel as well. As we speak, I am compiling a list for my friends of songs that remind us of our annual trip to New Orleans. O.A.R is great travel music. kills time cause some of their songs go on for a while and songs like “About and Hour Ago” and “This Town” just make you wanna get going!

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  4. Very late to this post but I absolutely love it! One of these days, I’m gonna have a sit down and make my travel playlist. Whenever I hear Fall Out Boy- Chicago is so 2 years ago, I’m taken back to Northeast Germany (Guetersloh), riding my bike 5 km from my host family’s house and the language class I was going to, and remembering how bad I was at riding bikes and how many times I crashed into one of my friends’ bikes when we were riding together 🙂 Plus so so so many others, including a few repeats from your list. Little Lion Man reminds me of Croatia too 🙂 I guess Poland first because I heard it in Poland first, but my fiance who is Croatian introduced it to me and my cousins and we danced around to it..anyway great post!!

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