I just returned from a full week in the Bahamas, without phone, Blackberry, or computer. No e-mail, no games, no updates of any kind whatsoever. I brought a watch but rarely used it, and did not always know the day of the week or the time.
More notably, I didn’t bring my iPod either. Instead I read, or just relaxed and listened to the waves, f ootsteps, cars, trees, sidewalks, or storefronts… I listened to the country. I thought it best to take in the place I visited, and not the things I brought with me. What’s the point of travelling when you’re still tied to the comforts, habits, and music from home?
I came to realize this: the composite of all the sounds of a countryside or city is the aural thumbprint of that region’s culture. It’s a nuanced and complex tapestry of sound that includes the cries of specific birds, the splashes of specific types of fish on a specific pattern of migration and schooling, engine sounds of local vehicles, gravel scrapes of cobblestoned and pavemented roadways, subtly accented whispers and yells, the way wind sounds when rushing through buildings or trees, the sound of local appliances and tools… they all form a soundprint. This soundprint is something that cannot be easily recorded, but that you should experience in order to compare against the soundprints of other countries, cities, and cultures.
Here are 3 things you can do to ensure that you are experiencing, and not ignoring or drowning out, the soundprint of a region:
- Don’t Bring An mp3 Player. Well, okay, you might want to bring it for the plane. But sock it away for the rest of the trip and don’t look back. Music from home simply muddles the soundprint of the place you’re traveling to, and confuses it with the soundprint of home.
- Don’t Bring a smartphone. I was unfortunate in that my personal cell phone is also my work Blackberry, so I was forced to leave the whole hybrid machine stateside. While it’s probably safest to make sure you have a cell phone handy, stay free from any form of smartphone or e-mail device. The games, Twitters, Facebooks, and Googling you’ll inevitably do will keep your ears (and eyes) away from your surroundings. Again, the soundprint will be muddled. You’ll also find that when you’re waiting in line for the restroom or for a reservation, and you don’t have your crackberry to feed your attention, you distractedly find details about your locale to fixate on instead.
- Walk whenever possible. Cabs, buses, and boats are not easily replaceable, but they are used more often than is always necessary. If a destiantion or landmark is a 45-minute walk, then block out 45 minutes to get there. It won’t kill you, and the path you take will add more layers to the soundprint. You’ll hear sounds you never would have heard in the first place. It simply makes for a richer experience overall.
Note that it’s not essential that you leave EVERY bit of technology behind. Cameras are great for immersing yourself in (and logging) visual experiences, and voice recorders can log notes that are not easily written down.
The soundprint of a region does not take easily to description, so it’s essential you hear it firsthand in order to appreciate the often overlooked aspects that make cultures so different from one another. The differences you start to log away in your mind’s ear keep your memories of the trip fresher for longer.