Five Senses for Travel: Scent

Tall pine in the German Alps.

Travel is often referred to as sight-seeing. But if that was all there was to it, travelling would be like flipping through a virtual reality guide book. Yes, there’s a picture of Golden Gate Bridge. Ooh la la, the picturesque Montmartre. Look at those Alps, aren’t they grand?

Travel should be an experience of all the senses. It’s not just about seeing a place, but hearing the noisy clamour of a city like London or the soft quiet of the countryside in Scotland. It’s about feeling the sun baking the sand under your feet on a beach in Greece or tasting the burst of flavour from a fusion dish at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in New York.

But let’s start with the sense of smell. For me, the scent of summer in Ukraine has always come from the dry grass heated under the later afternoon sun. Maybe, it’s mixed in with the smell of wild mint crushed underfoot from walking in the floodplains and the earthy hint of farm smells from cow herds grazing far off in the distance. It’s the scent of my grandmother’s flowers at dusk as we have tea on the porch.

When my friend and I visited San Francisco, we went for a rainy walk in Muir Woods, which didn’t dampen our experience but only highlighted the smell of the redwoods. In New Orleans, we spent many days just strolling through the French quarter, which had this humid smoky smell, whether from the bars or from being hosed down every night. My memories of summers in Crete are saturated in the scent of hot pavement and dust, the spray of the sea and the sweet scent of dry thyme growing on the hillsides. Every place has its own aromatic signature.

Here at home in Canada, my mind turns to the smell of winter. As I’m sitting at home typing this, winter is settling in for the long haul outside my window. The air is crisp and sharp, a clean slate of cold stillness. The bare canvas of winter heightens scents, like that of pine trees in the woods when you go skiing. My favourite scent — the permeating smoke of burnt wood — is another cornerstone of Canadian winters. There is nothing more satisfying than coming in from a day of winter skiing or a brisk walk and being enveloped in the smell of a cozy fire.

As someone who is very much in love with her camera, I have to remind myself sometimes to just put the lens away. Travel should be an experience, and the smell of a place is an often overlooked part of it.  So next time you travel, stop to smell the roses, don’t just take a photo.


  1. Caitlin says:

    I love this! So excited for your next installment.

    1. Thank you! I’ll try not to disappoint 🙂

  2. I love the idea of travel, and places, having an aromatic signature. I am going to have to pay more attention to that in my travels, and in my writing. (And thank you for not using the sweet smell of maple syrup to enhance your description of Canadian scenes! ha ha).

    1. Haha! Maple syrup – the ultimate Canadian food cliche (great on pancakes). Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  3. […] to a trip than what you take in with your eyes. I’ve written about how every place has its own scent. The same can be said for taste. Food lets us delve into the culture and history of a […]

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