All photos:  (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Saturday
Jan262013

« Digital Breadcrumbs »

I did something the other day without even thinking about it. After parking in an underground lot in Toronto that was new to me, I took out my phone and snapped a photo of the parking spot, showing the number. Then I took a photo of the elevator door with the floor number. When the elevator brought me to street level, I turned around after walking out the door onto the street, and took one last photo of the street entry. Then I put my smartphone in my pocket, and I didn't refer to those photos again.

I call it "digital breadcrumbs" and it's an idea I first had when I was in Barcelona in the summer of 2009. My 80+-year-old mother and I were touring that fascinating city on foot when she decided that she would really like to get her hair done. A short time later I spotted a sign for a "Perruqueria" in the upper window of a downtown building. Yes, it turned out that it was a hair salon, and yes, they had someone available who could look after Mum right away. They told me she would be ready in about an hour and a half and I said I'd return then to pick her up. I took one of their business cards so that I had the name and address of the business, but as I walked away to continue my sightseeing for the intervening time, I realized that I'd better not forget my way back to the salon, because losing my mother in a foreign city would no doubt be frowned upon! 

That's when I "invented" digital breadcrumbs. We weren't travelling with smartphones then, but I did have my digital camera. So first, I took a photo of the front of the building that housed the salon. Then, as I meandered through the streets of downtown Barcelona, I took a photograph of the street sign every time that I turned a corner. This way, I knew that I could just play the images back in reverse order, and they would lead me to my mother! Of course, I probably also could have taken a cab back, or asked people on the street to give me directions, or even found a police officer if really desperate, but any amount of time that I left my mother waiting past the appointed hour would certainly have increased her stress level. And considering the language difference, maintaining my own independence seemed the best idea. Yes, I could also have just pulled up a chair in one of the many outdoor cafes and sipped Sangria for that hour and a half, but considering the short time we had in Barcelona, I wanted to see as much as I could. 

The truly interesting thing about taking those breadcrumb photos was that I didn't need to refer to them at all. I think two things happened. One was that I actually paid more attention to where I was BECAUSE I took the photos, and so I remembered more than I expected to. But the other aspect I think is even more significant. Because I knew that I had the back-up of the breadcrumb photos available to me if I did lose my way, I was much more relaxed about the whole thing. I wasn't obsessing over remembering each turn and each street name, because I didn't have to memorize them. But, lo and behold, when the time came, I did remember everything without even trying, and safely and quickly found my way back to my freshly-coiffed and stress-free mother.

I think that digital breadcrumbs are a handy traveller's tip, made all that much easier by the ubiquity of smartphones today. I'm pretty proud of the idea and hope that others will find it handy. It increases our skills of observation and memory while relieving us of the stress and worry of getting lost in unfamiliar territory. A winning combination. 

Bon voyage!

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Reader Comments (6)

This is another fantastic idea from the woman who exudes them! I am glad that you came up with it originally in an effort not to lose our mother in Barcelona. If you had come home without her you would have had some 'splainin to do!

January 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSherry

Sherry, Mum feels the same way!

January 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterWinestains

You are so smart! Yes, travelling with the digital devices that everyone seems to have now, makes this super easy to do too! Your phone is your hand-held memory back up. Great idea.

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTammy Kruck

This is such a great idea. As you say, even if you don't need to use it, the peace of mind it gives you makes the entire experience so much more enjoyable!

It occurred to me as I read your post, that I imagine you could have a little visual dictionary on your camera too, if you were travelling where you didn't speak the language. A bottle of water. A toilet (!) A plate of food. Then you could just show the picture, and and save yourself a lot of gesturing (though travel theatrics can sometimes be fun!).

I've also seen folks keep an image of their postal address as the first image on their camera, in case it gets lost.

I think you could make an ebook... XX Great Ways to Use Your Camera on Vacation... Other Than Taking Vacation Photos. lol. :)

February 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin Wilson

Erin, I think we have the makings of a handy travel guide here! Another useful tip for people flying is to take a photo of each of your luggage pieces. Then if they are lost (!) you can make an accurate report. Surprisingly perhaps, most people don't know the manufacturer of their luggage, and sometimes, not even the colour! Because your camera/phone is usually in your carry-on, you are likely to still have that!

February 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterWinestains

That is brilliant! I've lost my luggage at the airport in Istanbul, and had such a hard time describing it to the staff... who were happy to help, but a little frustrated at my inability to be clear. I'm definitely doing this!

February 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin Wilson

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