What sense is the most important for travel?

If you could only experience travel through one sense, what would it be?

Let’s do an exercise. You’re going on a round-the-world trip, and you will only get one sense lens to experience it through. What’s it going to be?

Obviously, there are risks if you don’t have 4/5 of your senses, especially sight. However, this is hypothetical, and we’re going to remove all the risks you could face as a result.

So, let’s enter the imagination station.

The Proust Effect

Before we begin, let’s learn a little background on why this happens.

20th-century writer Marcel Proust came up with the term ‘involuntary memory,’ or the triggering of a memory caused by one of your senses being activated.

Proust first wrote about this in his novel In Search of Lost Time.

No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray…when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Following in the writer’s namesake, this led to it being called the ‘Proust effect.’

We’ve all probably experienced this before. Possibly many times, I know I have. And I love it every time it happens.

So, with that said, let’s dive into it.


You taste a chili in the dish you’re eating, and, next thing you know, you’re immersed in a vivid memory. You’re no longer sitting at your dinner table. Instead, you’re sitting on a small stool in Thailand outside a busy market, eating a bowl of Khao Soi.

This doesn’t have to be a moment to remind you of overseas travel, either. You’re in a restaurant in California, and the waitress places a big plate in front of you; mashed potatoes seem to fill the entire thing.

You take your spoon and scoop a big helping and bite into them. Childhood Thanksgivings light up your mind as you remember sitting with your family and how your grandma made those perfect mashed potatoes. The consistency was always just right. Not too lumpy, nor too smooth.


Hearing is essential in travel.
Photo by Mark Paton on Unsplash

Sound is a tough one to pass up. Millions of people around the world connect and relate to music. There are hardly any things that can replicate the emotions music creates.

It is a song that is forever linked with a moment in your life when it meant something to you when it dug into your core and connected with you on a visceral level. It may be a song that was playing in a bar on one of the best nights of your trip. Or a slow, easy song that played while you sat in a café in Amsterdam and watched life passing by.

Someone honks their horn in traffic on your way to work. Your eyes close, and you find yourself in Hanoi, Vietnam. A roundabout in front of you, the constant beeping from bikes and cars creating a symphony only you can appreciate at that moment.


Or is it your sense of smell? Smell is closely linked with memory. In fact, researchers say it’s probably the most essential sense for memory.

The rose you smell as you walk through a garden triggers the scent of your mom, who wore a perfume that resembles the smell of a rose. You stop and stare off into nothingness.

At least, that’s how it appears to any observers. For you, you’re wrapped in your mother’s arms as a younger version of yourself. You can feel her embrace and the love she gave off as it surrounds you like a warm blanket.

Bad smells can do the same. The smell of sewage or trash can remind you of visiting a less-developed country. The raw emotion you felt as you walked around, seeing how hard people’s lives were. But you were amazed. As tough as it was for them, the people were still welcoming, generous, and happy beyond belief.

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Sight would be an obvious choice. We see things all the time that remind us of people, places, things, or even experiences.

A fishing boat will remind you of the gap-year trip you took to Poland, where you joined a group of fishermen to go out and get the day’s catch. You sat on the boat, hearing the stories they tell about their lives and the challenges they’ve faced. It’s one of those experiences you’ll never forget.

A simple sunset could do it as well. You watch it descend over the mountains, and a flashback starts like a moment straight out of a movie. Your brain fills with the beauty of the sun as it dropped over the dunes in Egypt, where you sat with your friends, drinking beers and telling stories.


But what about touch? Your skin is your largest organ, after all.

It’s the feel of sand that transports you back to your honeymoon in Brazil with your husband/wife. The long walks you took on the beach at night, the moon acting as a spotlight and lining your walk. Your body fills with the feelings of love you had at that moment.

Or it’s the feel of a blanket that reminds you of the textiles you touched while you toured a market in India. The colorful pieces of cotton, silks, wools, and jute make up a plethora of items. Dresses, saris, blankets, and various other items hang above the shops. You run your hands along them, feeling the smoothness of the silk and the thickness of the cotton shirts.


If you were to ask me, I think I would choose smell. The smells of a country are always something that stand out to me, and they’re the quickest thing to bring memories flying back into my mind.

So I’m eager to hear your thoughts. What sense would you choose, and why? Let me know in the comments!

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