Take Neither Camera Nor Notebook – a very short Sunday Travel Poem

Documenting the trip is important but it should not take over the trip.


I spend too much time documenting my travels rather than experiencing them.

While I may have an excuse – I need photos and notes to share my stories with you – I think I could improve.

I could live more fully in the moment. I could savour the experience to learn more deeply and remember more clearly.

In this poem by Sheenagh Pugh, we are advised that notes and images offer little upon our return.

At home, eventually, we may ask “where was that cafe when I met that person from… oh, where did I put my notes?

But if we slow down, focus on experiencing rather than documenting, we may be able to retrace such a moment in terms of what the person was wearing, the texture of their skin, the impression they made, some of their thoughts, the sound of their voice and the sounds around you, the smells, the light or lack of it, and how it all made you feel.

This is our second poem by Sheenagh Pugh. The last was “What if This Road“. Today, we have “The Opportune Moment”.

The Opportune Moment

If you were waiting for the opportune moment, that was it” –
Capt Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

When you go ashore in that town,

take neither a camera nor a notebook.

However many photographs you upload

of that street, the smell of almond paste

will be missing; the harbour will not sound

of wind slapping on chains. You will read

notes like “Sami church”, later, and know

you saw nothing, never put it where

you could find it again, were never

really there. When you go ashore

in the small port with the rusty trawlers,

there will be fur hawkers who all look

like Genghis Khan on a market stall,

crumbling pavements, roses frozen in bud,

an altar with wool hangings, vessels

like canal ware, a Madonna

with a Russian doll face. When you go

ashore, take nothing but the knowledge

that where you are, you never will be again


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  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    A truly wonderful moment Lula. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lula

    I can relate to this. On my most recent trip to Germany, the best experience came when it was too dark to take a picture. I was traveling to Munich and at nightfall I stopped in a small town on the way there to get a room at a local motel. In my room, I opened the big picture window (certainly a novelty). It was very dark, and I could just make out the outline of a nearby church and some of the buildings. But I heard lively music, laughter, and conversation from a nearby bar, in an otherwise silent town. I could smell that delicious German food, I could feel that cold air. I could hardly see a thing, but it felt like I was really breathing in Germany. A favorite memory that I’ll never forget.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Lovely addition to this post. Thanks Barbara

  • DJ Starr

    As a travel sketchbooker, I find that sitting in a place, absorbing the ambience, chronicling a moment in time through sketching and journaling makes me totally in the moment. I still catch a snapshot so I can reference it later, but when I look at my sketchbooks or even my photos – they evoke so many distinct memories of the sounds, the people, the fragrances of the moment. I think people miss a lot when they dash about with their silly “smart” phones, snapping selfies and stupid shots, not pausing long enough to drink in a memorialize moments. Life is precious, be present!

  • Barbara Brown

    My experience is that since becoming a photographer, I am much more aware of what I am seeing. I not only see the surrounding area but also see the beautiful light, the shadows, the textures etc. Photography has allowed me to be more “in” the moment and my surroundings.

  • Scott

    I don’t necessarily think that “being in the moment” cannot include my looking through a lens or even making notes . . . indeed, there are times when looking through a lens that I feel my self more “in it” than at any other time. At any given instance I believe that there are a myriad of “moments” happening . . . 😉

  • http://www.jauntingjen.com/ Jaunting Jen

    This is beautiful!

  • Women Travel Mother India

    what a beautiful poem! Thanks for introducing me to this poet janice, I have recently returned to an old pre digital practise of writing poems about places to go with the photos, loving trying to paint a picture with words again!!

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    It sounds like you have the balance of living and capturing memories right.

    Travel well,

  • frogprof

    Last time I traveled abroad, there was no such thing as a blog, and I didn’t have a phone that could take pictures … and when I go Across the Pond again, I will not take a computer [don’t have one] or a Smartphone [don’t have one] or anything else electronic, if I can help it. Well, except for a digital camera … so much cheaper than having to print pictures!
    I love keeping a travel journal in a blank book — opening to the first page on the plane and recording meals, movies, conversations with seatmates — but I only write journal entries at the end of the day, so that I can put some thought into what I’ve seen and done that day. I’ll also have access to those thoughts when I get back, without having to turn on some device!
    During my first trip to France & England, right after college graduation, I kept my journal in French so that my mentor could read and correct it. I STILL read it, to this day, with the slips of paper she inserted with her comments and corrections. (I also cringe at the errors I made …) But I can imagine where I was when I wrote any particular entry, and my reactions to my professor’s after the fact as well.
    I love looking at my old photo albums and journals, and I hope that I balance taking pictures and “living in the moment” BEFORE I take those pictures.

  • http://www.travellingbelle.com/ travellingbelle

    That is beautiful, it resonates with me on several levels, I am about to embark on a round the world travel adventure and find myself giving far too much consideration to what gear to take! It has resulted in me purchasing an SLR with two Pro-quality lens’, a laptop to document my travels and a kindle to read my books… I guess we are all guilty of becoming side tracked from what is actually important when we travel! http://www.travellingbelle.com

  • Tempo Holidays

    Really nice poem. I think to make documentary is not an easy but you did. Great work! Few years ago I had also make one documentary on my Egypt Tour.

  • Sif

    I think one can be TOO “pious” when it comes to travel – if anything, I find my camera and my diary to be an important part of living in the now. I see much more, always looking for the tiny details to be captured. Every night I write an extensive blog, and when I’m home, I can always relive my fondest memories, by reading my words and looking at my photos. They provide a different kind of memory than my brain, one that I would hate to go without.
    If anything, you should ask yourself: Why am I doing this? And then keep right on doing it, if you find that it add to your experience. Don’t go all cameraless because some people think it might not be “zen enough for real travellers”.

  • The Penniless Traveler

    I struggle with this all the time. I’ve gone through periods where I absolutely refuse to take photos for this reason, but at other times I just really want to remember the beauty around me in a more tangible way. So glad I came across this. Thanks for sharing!

  • Em

    Not sure this one was for me….by taking photos, I am transported back to the very moments….senses galore…and can almost recreate my experience in words from these photos…My travel blogs and my photos/trip videos help me relive my experience for years to come. I refer to them often as a means of escape…and it works. :)

  • Spinster

    Good one.