"Beyond the Duty Free perfumery and post holiday washing pile, scent and travelling are inextricably linked."
You step off the plane onto the tarmac in Reykjavik and immediately you’re hit with eggs. Rotten eggs, tinged with the metallic edge of copper pipes. It shoots out of every tap, every shower, every hot spring, infusing the misty, water logged air with a scent you’d never find coming out of an airwick. In the first few days you might even flinch upon stepping into the shower, suddenly remembering ‘ah yes, this is how my life smells now’. But, by the time you leave, you will miss it. You’ll smell your own water back in Blighty and be underwhelmed by it’s aluminium basic-ness, all the natural smelliness bleached out of it.
Beyond the Duty Free perfumery and post holiday washing pile, scent and travelling are inextricably linked. Travel Agents know it, it’s why during the recession they pumped smells into their shops in a bid to start getting you in the holiday mood before you’d even booked. Rudyard Kipling may have said that, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” And that’s true. The smell gives you a window into every aspect of people’s real unedited lives, of what a place is really like under the window dressing. But, I’d go further: If you’re not smelling new things, you’re not really travelling.
"Sure, Iceland already looks like a magical moon land, with its black volcanic sand, goblin rock piles and beer more expensive than beer would be in space. But it’s that eggy sulphur, bubbling up from under the island’s magnificent landscape, that truly transports you. You can’t ignore it. The nose never shuts down."
Scentseeing is what underpins the sights and tastes and sounds of a new place, some of which can often be depressingly familiar. There was a Pizza Hut within 3 miles of my Sri Lankan jungle escape, and a Burger King opposite my hotel in it’s capital Colombo. Bumble is still full of guys looking for a ‘partner in crime’ and it’s easier to get a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast in east London than some parts of the tropical island itself. But, before the plane has even opened it’s doors you can smell the exotic.
You can smell the hot air, the incense, the fires, open drains, tuk tuks, petrol, spice. That scorched earth, the lush mountains, the flowers, coconuts and oils. After day one there’s no point in applying your normal perfume, it makes no sense in this new cacophony, it reads very differently. Ditto the fake mango in your shampoo, or the heavily preserved coco butter in your moisturiser. The new smells don’t just transport you, they change you. You are different here. This is a place where you don’t wear foundation and you actually like smelling of the deet in your mosquito repellent.
Feeling different is what we’re looking for in a trip or adventure right? Smell helps you be different to your core, it helps you breath different. Slowing down to take in the unfamiliar air, in just the same way you bask in the warmth of a hotter sun. It’s these differences that can provoke you to think different. It’s this slowed down space that can allow your brain to fill with ideas. It can help you be your most creative. It’s inspirational.
Creatives of all kinds have long sought travel to help them have ideas. Not just celebrity status designers or ad agency stars, but artists and writers living hand to mouth will find a way. Travel, said Mark Twain, in his travelogue Innocents Abroad, is “Fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” There is no bigger help to creativity than broadening your mind. In fact, a study published in 2014 showed that fashion “leaders' foreign professional experiences can be a critical catalyst for creativity and innovation in their organizations”.
But, you don’t have to journey to international play-girl destinations of the big glossies editorial teams. Whether it’s the hot and dusty mix of trash and sandalwood in India or the heady potion of polluted fog and In’n’Out fries of LA. The wood fire burners in wintry rural France, or the incredibly pungent seaweed of (my home town, and) the classic seaside destination of Worthing in West Sussex. All are equally exotic, and inspirational. You’re transformed just by being somewhere that gives your senses something different.
And, we all try and bring a bit of that home with us. Spices, candy, incense or a local boozy delicacy. Something to help us conjure the magic back up, to stir those nostalgia glands, to hold onto that transformation. Hell, you can even buy fresh air from Dorset in a jar in China, or a Canadian Rocky Mountain gulp in a bag in Japan! It’s called air farming and it’s only partly a joke.
Apart from the obvious health benefits of some country air, the smell and freshness of air, just the idea of that air can be aspirational, part of a fantasy of how you could be living. Of a life you could be living.
Travelling shows us new possibilities, the sights, sounds, experiences and smells offer us a another version of life, challenge our boundaries of good, bad, good scent, bad stink. For creative women everywhere, pushing those boundaries has got to be good for our creativity. By hook and by crook we should try to experience as many different places as we can. “I haven’t been everywhere” said Susan Sontag, “but it’s on my list.”