By Melissa Hart

My husband and I had been paddling the Siltcoos River Canoe Trail in Oregon without incident for a decade until the day we took our child and our terrier along in our kayaks. We glided past spruce and sand dunes toward the ocean, where seals bobbed in the water and osprey sailed over our heads—until a storm blew in. Then, we fought the wind. My kayak tipped sideways into the river. The child shivered. The terrier fell in. Finally, we got everyone back into the boats and began the long, cold paddle back to the car. The dog and the kid huddled together miserably, and my husband battled the wind with gritted teeth as he paddled back. At the end of the day, I thought, “We’re never going to forget this adventure.”

There are many ways to enrich a vacation experience, both during your journey and afterward, to ensure lasting memories—no disaster required. Perhaps it’s finding a local guide to help you delve more deeply into the culture of a particular setting. Or consider volunteering while you’re on vacation—a few hours spent supporting a local cause can introduce you to a community’s residents and immerse you in a region’s flora and fauna. Purchase local art from each place you visit or create memorable dining experiences whether at a five-star restaurant or a neighborhood food truck. We spoke to several travel experts about how they create vacation memories to last a lifetime.

Seek Out Local Experiences To Create Unique Memories

Young woman sit on tree rope swing on high cliff above tropical lake. Create memories with unique experiences.
Memories of travel evoke feelings of being high above Buyan Lake. Bali, Indonesia. Image courtesy of by Bicho_Raro

Camas, Washington, travel writer Cheryl Landes searches out tours led by local guides, especially factory tours which give her insight into local industry and people. For example, she toured The Phoenix [baseball] Bat Factory in Plain City, Ohio. “I was fascinated by how much detail goes into designing bats for performance and endurance,” she said of the bat factory, which she reviews on her travel blog, “Tabby Cat’s Pawprints.” There, she also posted photos of baseball bats in various stages of completion at the factory. “For those who are fascinated about how things are made, factory tours are great stops to add to the itinerary,” she said.
Landes also looks for volunteer opportunities if she’s going to be in one place for several days. Recently, she spent a morning volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, where she played with adoptable kitties in the sanctuary’s giant cat room. This is a fantastic way to create memories that will last a lifetime.
Ray Williams, director of Black Farmers Collective in Seattle, agreed that volunteering while on vacation is a terrific way to meet locals and get insider information on a place. The Black Farmers Collective runs Yes Farm, a 1.5-acre space along I-5; visitors can volunteer on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Volunteers at the farm feel like part of a larger movement, he said, and if you visit with family or friends, you’ll have a shared experience to look back on. “Volunteering gives you a connection to a place and its people that just walking through does not,” he added. “My travels and the experience of volunteering at urban farms gave me a vision of what we might build in Seattle,” Williams explained. Yes Farm emerged from his experiences. “You might even get some inspiration for an activity or project back home,” he said.

Share Adventures with Old Friends and New

Doreen Loofburrow, senior vice president of travel & operations at AAA in Portland, Oregon, agrees that taking a trip with friends or family members provides common memories of an experience—stories that enrich relationships. “I traveled with a group of six friends a decade ago to Greece, and to this day, when we get together, we relive all of the best memories of that trip,” she said. Loofburrow also enjoys meeting people when she travels. “Connect with locals by doing some activity that you wouldn’t normally do,” she suggested. “Take a cooking or painting class and enjoy that shared experience of learning something new with interesting people.” Your hotel concierge, she said, can offer recommendations for classes, plus send you to locally-owned restaurants and boutiques.


Travel woman choosing lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam. Create memories by carefully selecting souvenirs from the places you visit.
Create lasting memories by bringing parts of a special place home with carefully selected souvenirs. Photo Courtesy of iStock by Yumi Mini.

Loofburrow also likes to purchase art from street vendors or music that reminds her of a particular country. “If I make a special dinner at home, I’ll play that music,” she said. Fragrance, she adds, can evoke powerful memories. Once, she and her husband visited Rome and stayed in a hotel covered with blooming star jasmine. “It’s very fragrant,” she explained. “We came home and planted star jasmine in our yard. Every time we smell it, we think of our time in Rome.” Loofburrow suggested that those who enjoy shopping find a category that appeals to them and purchase a locally-crafted item in every place they visit. “I know people who buy a holiday ornament everywhere they go,” she said. “Every year, they display these ornaments and remember all the trips they’ve taken.”

Create Memories Through Cuisine

spice market in Morocco.
Create memories through food and photos.
Spice market, Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo courtesy of iStock by Florian Fritsch.

Kristin Fintel, owner of Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast in Newberg, Oregon, suggests making reservations for a memorable meal in a restaurant favored by locals. “We have wonderful food trucks in our town or in neighboring Portland that can make a fun adventure, as well,” she noted.
In a region known for wineries, she recommends owner-led barrel tastings or tours during which visitors learn about biodynamic vineyard practices. Getting tips from locals is the key to create great travel memories, she added. “You can Google ‘day trips’ and find basic information about the Columbia Gorge area, but I can tell you about [how to get] the permit—the only way to access popular areas of the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway, including the amazing waterfalls,” she explained. “If a visitor didn’t have this knowledge, they’d get all the way there and then be turned away—not the memory they’re going for.”

Use Photos and Words to Spark Memories

To ensure and embed the details of a journey, make sure to spend a few moments each day documenting your vacation. Landes takes photos and makes notes on her phone, then writes microblogs about her adventures on Facebook. When she’s ready to draft a full blog post, she has already written about the highlights of her trip.
Loofburrow writes down one highlight from each day while she’s on vacation and takes snapshots with her phone. “Museum tickets from around the world can be beautiful souvenirs, so use your phone to take a quick picture of them, or take a picture of a menu when you dine out,” she said. “When you get home, combine these with other photos and make a digital book or calendar.”
Regardless of where and how you vacation, remember to enjoy the moment, document the details and smile in the midst of mishap. The best advice: Should disaster strike and you find yourself paddling a kayak against the wind in soaked clothing—with a chilly child and a river-drenched terrier­—learn to laugh. This, too, is the stuff of which great travel memories are made.

Melissa Hart is the author, most recently, of the
middle-grade novel Daisy Woodworm Changes the World. She lives in Eugene, Oregon. She enjoys hiking, cycling and studying flora and fauna throughout Oregon.

Let AAA Help You Create Memories to Last a Lifetime

Download the AAA Mobile app for maps, discounts, restaurants, and lodging at For help planning your trip, find a local AAA Travel Agent or call AAA Travel at 800-529-3222.