Across the years and around the globe, I’ve snapped thousands of photos and collected countless ticket stubs, flyers and brochures on every trip, but the majority would end up in the recycling once home, or else be stuffed in yet another dusty shoe-box to languish, forgotten. However, one half-term break, over ten years ago, we were set some homework from the boys’ nursery: to create a holiday scrapbook.
With a toddler and a four-month-old in tow at the time, we weren’t going far, but with a short break in the Isle of Wight already booked and with the project in mind, we redoubled our efforts to collect mementos from our trip. Once home, I found a simple, sturdy brown-paper, hard-backed journal, tied up with black ribbon, and started to create our scrapbook.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, a legend had been spawned: The Holiday Book.
What began as a one-time project began to grow and evolve and, with every weekend away or far-flung adventure, the Book began to take on a life of its own. Every now and then, a momentous event, such as a milestone being reached or a special day out, would find its way into the Holiday Book to be captured for posterity, in chronological order and in technicolour glory. It was becoming a beautiful record of our family’s life.
And then we moved abroad.
With every new expat experience or travel tale, the pages of the Book would fill with tickets and photos, wristbands and wrappers, and what had been a couple of volumes soon became five, then seven, and now we’re about to start our eleventh book. Not only were our travels meticulously recorded, but we captured memories of school International Day costumes, swim galas, academic achievement awards, and birthday parties with friends from around the globe. In this transient expat life, these records have taken on particular meaning, as friends have moved on to new lives elsewhere, yet the laughter and love we all shared forever lives on in those pages.
The boys, in particular, love to look back through the books – to times when they were impossibly small – and having more than photos brings back so many memories we’d have otherwise have lost in the chaos of everyday life or the passage of time. The receipt from a truly terrible meal in Kathmandu takes us right back to the courtyard restaurant where monkeys danced along the walls as we waited for our food, and the postcard we bought in the lanes of Galle Fort brings to mind the dazzling light hitting the bright-hued painted houses we passed and the chill of the coconut ice cream that we we tried not to drip as we browsed.
If I could give any advice to young parents embarking on family travel adventures, it would be to start a scrapbook of their own, no matter how detailed. In the early years, you’re so tired and busy that much of the everyday detail gets forgotten, but those first experiences and early memories are irreplaceable. Our multi-volume Holiday Book is worthless in itself, but it is priceless beyond measure to us. As the boys get older, I already dread the time when our whole-family travels begin to dwindle, although we hopefully have many more volumes to fill before then. I’m so glad now that we were set that holiday assignment and often wish I had a record of my own expat childhood and family holidays, beyond the few grainy photos that remain, to look back on.
The contents of the books may be just paper, photos and glue; but the memories in those pages are unique to our family and capture a shared history and a bond of global experiences that no-one else could ever replicate. On the first day of this new year, I hope we get to fill many more books in the months and years ahead.