The smell of a freshly-baked chocolate croissant, the sound of waves crashing against the sand, these memories alone are enough to take you back to your favorite vacation. Oscar Reveles from Buzzfeed shares his most memorable trip, inspired by his grandma, while Tammy Snow, Expedia’s Sr. Director of User Research, discusses how traveler research has shown us that memories aren’t just the result of vacation – they’re the reason we take trips in the first place.
Watch Oscar’s Hawaii trip inspired by his grandma:
Nisreene Atassi: Go ahead, think of a trip you’ve taken, the first trip that comes to mind. Are the memories flooding back in yet? I remember one of my fondest memories of travel is when I took a road trip from Madrid to the Andalusia region of Spain and my friends and I stumbled upon a little beach town called Tarifa and we decided to go sit and have lunch and you could smell the sea air, you could hear all the amazing sounds of the different languages in the music, and I remember at that moment I thought, this is the most perfect scenario for me. Ever since then, every time I think of a European beach vacation I think about how can I possibly recreate that experience? That’s what we’re here today because memories play such a critical role in travel, it even inspired one of our guests to recreate a trip that his grandmother took that was three decades ago.
Today we’re gonna take a trip down memory lane, so get ready for takeoff. Joining me on our journey today are two guests, we’ve got Tammy Snow, who’s a colleague of mine at Expedia. Tammy is the Head of User Research and she does a ton of research like this. I’m incredibly excited to have her on because she’s obsessed with how memories inform our travel. We also have Oscar Reveles, he’s a casting producer with BuzzFeed. Oscar recently went and recreated a trip that his grandmother took to Hawaii and even recreated a handful of photos. We are super excited to have you on the show.
Why don’t we start with you Oscar, tell us a little bit about this trip, what did you do in Hawaii that was similar to your grandma’s vacation? I think she took it in the ’90s right?
Oscar Reveles: Yes, she took it in the mid-90s, but there were a lot of things that she told me to do that I did as well. The biggest thing remembered was getting on stage and dancing and having so much fun and she said that was one of the best experiences she had, so I really wanted to do that. She also went parasailing, but I am deathly afraid of heights, but I did that and a bunch of other little things here and there like trying out the local food and shopping., my grandma is a shopaholic and I visited certain parts of the island that she remembers seeing.
Nisreene Atassi: So before you went on this trip, you were getting everything planned and you were asking her all these questions. What was her reaction to revisiting these old memories and replaying them back to you?
Oscar Reveles: She remembered most of her trip after I came back and I took her out to lunch and gave the gifts that I bought her and she started to remember more as I started talking about my trip. She’s like, “Oh I did that too!” She talked a lot about the culture. That was her favorite thing about the trip and so her main thing she wanted for me was to immerse myself in the culture, talk to the people, make connections, build bonds, and things like that.
Nisreene Atassi: When you came back and were telling her about all the fun things that you did and giving her all those gifts, were there one or two things in particular that jogged her memory that she seemed overly excited about?
Oscar Reveles: Yes, she got excited about the smallest little things, but it just made her happy and it made her actually cry. She showed me one of her photos initially of her at the resort pool in this bikini by the pool, posing like a ballerina. I recreated that photo at my resort and she just started bawling. She said, “Oh my gosh I can’t believe you did that, it’s really sweet of you.” It was the biggest thing for her, the simple thing about the photo, but it was cute.
Nisreene Atassi: Do you feel almost like you’re closer to your grandmother now that you have these shared memories?
Oscar Reveles: Oh yes, Going to Hawaii was a really huge moment for me and I know it seems silly, but I’m not really much of a traveler and my grandma is. My grandma has traveled day and night, I can’t even count the number of countries that she’s been to. After that Hawaii trip which was like a first big trip of mine, I decided to be more like my grandma. She has always told me, “Always travel because you never know how long you’re going to be on Earth for and you should experience as much culture as possible.” I told myself after that trip that I must start going to countries that she’s been to and so this year I’m up to seven countries. The Hawaii trip was last November and I told myself I want to be more like my grandma and so I’ve been doing little things here and there and I’m recreating her photos. Having this experience has definitely brought us together.
Nisreene Atassi: I love that you now have this ongoing thing that you share with her. What an amazing bond that you’ve been able to create just by taking this one first trip. Tammy, I really want to get your insights here, I know you did a lot of focus groups on this so after hearing Oscar’s story, how does this resonate with the research that you’ve been doing?
Tammy Snow: One of the key things that we’ve learned is that creating memories is a goal of travel. What I love about this story is Oscar’s trip happened because his grandmother had memories that she’d obviously shared with him and it inspired him to go take a trip and I would imagine, Oscar that you created some new memories of your own and you’ve shared your memories that may be different from your grandmother’s which may inspire her to do things as well because memory has that effect on all of us.
Nisreene Atassi: It’s almost like a “travel pay it forward.”
Tammy Snow: Exactly, it’s really a pretty amazing story.
Nisreene Atassi: In this world where we share everything on social media and everybody says, “I wish I had that experience,” how influential are those things on other people’s travel decisions?
Tammy Snow: They’re influential to the extent that they’re able to convey some level of emotion which often travel memories do, especially if somebody had a really fantastic time and they’re sharing pictures of beautiful places or pictures of themselves doing something fun. What ends up happening is we imagine ourselves creating those same memories for ourselves and we’ve done research that has helped us to see that the power of imagination can sometimes be as strong or stronger than the memory and the motivation to create a new memory.
Nisreene Atassi: Oscar, you mentioned that she was really focused on having you immerse yourself in the culture and I’m sure a big part of that is just the food and the sights and smells and the sounds of Hawaii, which I think we can probably all actually envision. What are the smells and sounds of Hawaii? I think people would say coconuts, suntan lotion, and the sound of a ukulele. Tammy, I’m curious is there anything that was really surprising to you when you were doing your research that spoke to the impact that these sensory experiences can have?
Tammy Snow: One of the things that got us very interested in understanding the role of memory in travel was a study that we had done very early on in measuring people’s emotional responses to our products. We were testing a prototype of a product and we had a woman who was shopping for a trip to Paris and she didn’t know exactly where in Paris she wanted to stay. She was scrolling through all of these images and every time she’d come across an image that had a cafe or pastries or a pastry shop, we would see very positive emotional responses. We asked her about that and one of the things that we learned is that as a young child her mother had taken her on a trip and they visited a bakery. She could still remember the taste, the smells, and everything about that pastry shop, which was why she was having such a positive emotional response to seeing those images.
Nisreene Atassi: Wow that’s amazing, how we seek out those travel experiences. Was she in the state where she was like I want to find the best croissant and I’m going to travel all over the world to find it? By the way, there is actually a woman out there who has literally traveled the world just trying croissants so this all feeling very true to me. What an amazing job that would be traveling the world tasting croissants.
Tammy Snow: I think it may not be so much that the sensory part is what informs people’s travel. I think sensory makes our memories a little bit sharper there is research to suggest that because of the way memory works, but most certainly the desire to create new memories and to have experiences impacts travel decisions. We see people seek out destinations where they believe they can create long-lasting memories. They seek out properties to stay where they can envision themselves. In one study we did a woman was looking for a hotel to stay in and she was looking at the images and she saw an image of a crocodile slide and a child going down and his arms were out wide and his mouth was open and he was laughing and her response was, “That’s the one I need to stay there because I can imagine my son going down that slide over and over again while I just sit on the deck in a pool chair and relax and watch him.”
Nisreene Atassi: We talked a lot about the images but what about actual tastes and smells? I’ve had that actually happen to me where I’ve tasted something and I was like, Oh my gosh this reminds me of my childhood.” You’ve done a chocolate study that’s super interesting, tell us about that.
Tammy Snow: Yes I can talk about that study. That came about because early on in measuring people’s emotions we created what we call a happiness score and one of the leaders of our product team said I love this happiness score, but I need to know how it compares to other experiences where a large amount of dopamine is released. He understands the role of dopamine in habit formation. We thought well we can’t test that, but at the time we were using facial electromyography to measure emotions and that’s little sensors on people’s faces that picks up on very subtle muscle movement, so we couldn’t have people chewing and get a reliable read on their emotional responses. So we tried something and I invite everyone to play along with this and see what it does for them.
We asked people first to tell us about their favorite chocolate and to reflect on the memory of their favorite chocolate. They did that and then we asked them to please close their eyes and imagine a box of their favorite chocolate sitting in front of them. Imagine yourself reaching in and taking out a piece of chocolate, unwrapping it, the feel of that chocolate in your hand, the smell of the chocolate as you bring it up to your mouth, the feeling of the chocolate the minute it goes into your mouth and it’s melting, finally you taste it. So how’s everybody feeling just imagining that? I can tell you what we saw. We saw several instances of very high happiness when people were just imagining themselves going through that process.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah I can imagine. Oscar, since you’ve been back from your trip have you tasted things or smelled things that have re-triggered your memories of your trip?
Oscar Reveles: Yes, anything pineapple related makes me want to go back to Hawaii. It’s one of my grandma’s favorite fruits that she just always gave me since I was a kid and I have so much pineapple in Hawaii so obviously coming back every time I have it, which is not often it makes me think about, “oh remember that one time in Hawaii last year when I was sitting down by the beach eating my pineapple bowl?!” So yes, it does bring back memories.
Nisreene Atassi: What’s your fondest memory from your trip?
Oscar Reveles: The fondest memory for me is the one that actually reminds me of my grandma’s personality and her spirituality.
One of the locals set up an experience to show us how to make leis. It was the most incredible experience I’ve had and I told my grandmother the lady teaching me reminded me so much of her.
It wasn’t so much the act of making it but the way that she spoke to me and the way she grabbed my hands or hugged me or just any type of affection she was giving me while we were making leis reminded me so much of my grandma. She was just happy and positive and everything that she was saying triggered my happiness and reminded me I’m in this amazing location and it’s okay to not think about work or my responsibilities, and that to me was the best experience ever.
Nisreene Atassi: Tammy do you have any tips for people who have a certain memory and they want to recreate it, but don’t necessarily know how they would go about refining what that trip would look like? How would you suggest someone process that memory or even break it down to recreate a trip?
Tammy Snow: One of the things that’s true about sensory is our senses play such a strong role in helping inform implicit memory. Implicit memories are the things that we remember not because we set out to remember them. So think about if you’re studying for a test, you’re going to create explicit memories because you’re very actively seeking to create a memory. Implicit memories are things we remember when we’re not even trying to. Well the things we smell, taste, see and hear play a huge role in that so I would encourage people to reflect on those senses. What are the sensory things that come to mind first and are they positive or are they negative? If they’re positive, what you can to build on that. If they’re negative you’re probably subconsciously going to shy away from it anyway, but that’s what I’d be looking for.
Nisreene Atassi: I love that and I’m going to do that. Tammy, we’ll start with you, based on your memories what has been your favorite trip that you’ve had so far and what would be the one tip that you would give travelers going there?
Tammy Snow: My favorite would be a trip I took with my wife and my son to Milan, Italy. It was a bleisure trip, I was there for work and play. Bleisure is business plus leisure. We stayed in a vacation rental on a fairly busy street. We could see the street and the cars going by every day. It was just amazing being a local in a lot of ways and that would be the tip I would give is if you’re going to Milan, you can live more like a local and I think you’re going to have a better experience. We did gelato every day at the same shop, we went to the same pastry shops and the same coffee shop and got the little espressos.
Nisreene Atassi: It all comes back to food, we might want to do some research on that. Oscar what about you?
Oscar Reveles: My favorite trip was actually my birthday trip earlier this year. I went to London and I’ve always wanted to go there and my grandma was the one who pushed me to go. So I went and I was there for about seven days and I did what Tammy did, I basically was a local for those seven days that I was there I went to the coffee shop I went to dinner at the same place and I stayed in a vacation rental. I wanted to feel like a local, I didn’t want to be in a hotel just because I feel like that takes away from the experience of immersing yourself on vacation. I met new people every single day that I was out there, whether it was at a museum or at a bar or restaurant. My advice is immersing yourself in the culture and act like a local. I think that will change your perspective when it comes to travel to new places.
Nisreene Atassi: Well I would love to hear from all of you listeners out there so if you have some amazing memories from vacations that you think have informed your future travel plans please share them with us. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you’ve got a really great memory and you’re not quite sure how to recreate that trip, let us know and we’ll see if Tammy can answer your question and help you recreate these amazing memories.
Thank you, Tammy and Oscar, for being on the show, it has been so great to hear your stories and your wisdom. By the way, Oscar are you aware of how popular your grandmother is? If you read the comments on that video on social media you’ll see that she is a star!
Oscar Reveles: They were all about my grandma it was hilarious to see that the internet was upset with me because I didn’t take her with me, they all loved her. I did the Hawaii video since I work for Buzzfeed and I thought I was just creating a video and then it’s so funny because I thought I was just working, but then out of that I actually want to travel more and I am!
Nisreene Atassi: That’s amazing. Tammy what about you, what trips do you have coming up?
Tammy Snow: My family and I are going to Hawaii for Thanksgiving.
Nisreene Atassi: Do you want to recreate Oscar and his grandmother’s picture?
Tammy Snow: I think I do want to get that bikini shot. I’m probably older than she was when she did hers. I figure if Oscar can do it I can too, 100%
Nisreene Atassi: Thanks for listening to Out Travel The System brought to you by Expedia and don’t forget to go ahead and subscribe to the show for more insider secrets and tips to help you out-travel the system. Happy travels!