Whenever I pack for a trip I make a small check list of items I know I’m going to need for however long it is I am away.
Of course, essential items like clothes, camera, passport and travel guides always make the list, but they’re never the first thing to be written down. Important though those things are, the space at the top of the list belongs to my ipod, and always will do.
Music does so much to aid an adventure and most of my favourite memories are accompanied by their own soundtracks made up of music I was favouring at the time.
This means that whenever I hear certain songs I am instantly transported back to the moments and experiences that I associate them with, creating a beautiful audible scrapbook that can instantly revive those memories I cherish so much.
I have taken a scroll through my ipod and reflected on memories from past trips that I associate with my favourite songs and I’ve compiled the following list of songs and the memories I associate them with.
In no particular order, here are the top ten songs on my travel playlist.
10. Million Dead – To Whom it May Concern
Not a tremendously well-known song it has to be said, but I’m sure anyone who does know it will appreciate its selection.
Written by folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner, this number is about the hideousness of having to do a job you despise because you need the cash.
Of course, there are many songs covering this subject (I think Hard-Fi’s entire back catalogue is an ode to working detestable 9-5s) but what sets this song apart from the rest is its climax.
A phenomenal anthemic crescendo of voices singing “I’m only working here ’cause I need the fucking money” finishes off this tune with passionate panache and truly encapsulates the frustration of having to spend months or even years doing something you hate in order to fund the fun things in life.
This song reminds me of the myriad of dreadful occupations that I can boast on my CV that meant nothing more to me than a way to pay for the next trip away and always comes in useful when I’m saving for the next adventure.
9. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Just Like Honey
There are some songs that I’ve been inspired to listen to by other people’s travel experiences and this one comes from that list. In this instance, I was inspired by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johnasson’s experiences in Tokyo in the film Lost in Translation.
The song follows the film’s iconic final scene with Bill and Scarlett’s characters parting for the last time and going back into the madness of Tokyo, once again on their own.
The first time I visited Tokyo I arrived on my own and decided to listen to this song in the taxi on the way to my hotel. As I was consumed by the enormity and the vibrance of the city, I understood how easy it could be to feel small and insignificant in such a place.
Tokyo is hands down one of my favourite places in the world and this song reminds me of how awe-struck I was when I witnessed it first time around.
8. Moby – Porcelain
This song is one of my absolute favourites and is a regular on my travel playlists.
There’s something about the delicate piano, the soaring strings and the achingly beautiful vocal sample that makes gazing upon the world’s breathtaking landscapes even more of an inspiring experience.
I’ve listened to this song in so many different situations that it would be impossible for me to pick a favourite memory to go with it. Simply put, it’s an absolute peach.
7. Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road
This song is the best thing written by anyone ever. Because of that fact (and it is a fact), I listen to it a lot.
However, in the summer of 2010 I experienced a truly mesmerising moment listening to this song.
I was in Vietnam and I had paid for a man called Minh to take me up to the mountains of Da Lat on the back of his motorbike. We spent the day climbing up long winding roads that cut their way through jaw-dropping scenery, all the time waved at by the wonderfully friendly locals.
As we neared the very top of the mountain range, Bruce started tinkling away on his piano and the song gradually began to built towards its grandiose finale.
We were high enough that small pockets of cloud were forming around us in parts of the road and at times it felt like we were driving through the sky.
As Bruce sang the line, “it’s a town full of losers and we’re pulling out of here to win” and the epic crescendo burst into life, Minh and I flew between a narrow gap in the side of a hill, which opened up to a sheer drop on the other side, looking down over a terraced paddy field, with a beautiful blue lake and mountain peaks as far as the eye could see.
The view was phenomenal, the accompaniment was perfect and the moment was unforgettable. I always remember that view whenever I hear the end of Thunder Road which makes it an even better song than I ever thought it could be.
Incidentally, I made this particular journey with a friend of mine who told me that he had been listening to the Baywatch theme song on that same leg of the trip. Majestic though it is, I doubt it would have had the same effect.
6. The National – England
“You must be somewhere in London, you must be loving your life in the rain”.
Never before has a line encompassed why it’s so good to get away from England.
To be fair, Blighty has a good few places more than worth a visit, but the weather is miserable and life in the UK has a dangerous propensity to become monotonous.
I remember listening to this song on the Trans-Siberian railway, gazing out at a bright orange sun setting over the plains of Mongolia and feeling truly lucky to have that view in front of me in place of the grey, cold and often unfriendly London streets.
5. Bright Eyes – Another Travelin’ Song
This is another song that I associate with too many different memories to be specific with and that’s probably because I listen to it at the start of most journeys.
I can’t help but feel excited when I’m stepping out for an adventure and I have those driving rhythms and photographic lyrics playing in my ears and it’s not the only Bright Eyes song which has this effect.
It’s just the perfect song to put oneself in the mood for exploration.
4. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
I spent around three years of my life living in China and during that time I think I heard this song more than any other.
The Chinese love karaoke and there are few other ways to spend an evening in some Chinese cities. As a result, my friends and I developed something of a keen interest in karaoke and it was not unusual to hear us butcher this classic up to five times in one night. It’s impossible to sing it well, but so much fun and I have so many beautiful, blurry memories of bewildered Chinese faces staring at me and my friends, unsure what to make of our hideous serenades.
3. Arcade Fire – Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)/Sprawl II (mountains beyond mountains)
Earlier on this year I did some work for The Grove, a new hostel in Montenegro set to open next year that I sincerely suggest everyone visits because it’s beautiful.
To get to Montenegro with all the equipment we needed, a load of us drove through several countries from Newcastle over a five day period in a small green van.
Two of those countries were Austria and Slovenia, whose borders lie either side of the Karawanks tunnel, a five mile long burrow that worms its way through a mountain, meaning one enters the tunnel in Austria and exits in Slovenia, or vice versa depending on which direction you’re heading.
Once inside the tunnel, Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) coincidentally shuffled itself on to the playlist. The song developed, layer by layer, as we made our way through the warren, before the exit appeared in the distance.
The twinkling lights of distant Slovenian towns were framed by the arch in front of us that grew bigger and bigger as we hurtled towards it, with the song reaching its stirring ending. As the final note of the song played, our van burst through the exit and Slovenia unravelled before us. As it did, Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains) took its cue and started playing as we twisted our way through the small Slovenian townships, en route to our destination.
This, for me, is a great example of why music is so important for travelling. It can make something as mundane as driving through a tunnel seem so much more dramatic, romantic and exciting than it really ought to be.
Of all the fun things I did on that journey and of all the wonderful places I saw, that memory is one of my favourites, simply because the music suited it so well.
2. Bombay Bicycle Club – Shuffle
I stumbled across this song completely by accident one day and I am so pleased that I did.
My parents came to visit my girlfriend and I when we lived in China and we took them around Xi’an, Chengdu and Beijing for a whistle-stop tour of the sights.
Before an early morning visit to the Great Wall of China, I picked up what I thought was my ipod so I could listen to some music on the long drive.
When I turned it on, it turned out to be my dad’s ipod rather than my own. This wasn’t a total disaster as my dad’s taste in music is not bad for a man approaching 60 and Bombay Bicycle Club were one of his recent acquisitions.
Not completely comfortable with his music, I decided shuffle would be the best option and by some beautiful coincidence, the song ‘Shuffle’ was one of the first few songs to come on.
As the scenery transformed from the bustle of Beijing to the more humble surroundings of rural China, I revisited the song for a second listen and then later again for a third. Now I’m powerless to think of anything other than the immense fun I had showing my parents around China for two weeks whenever I hear this song.
1. The Eels – Mr E’s Beautiful Blues
“Goddamn right, it’s a beautiful day”.
The ultimate road trip song and one that has accompanied me on many an excursion.
When I was a young teen, my best friend’s parents were very musical. They played in a band and took great pride in introducing me to a load of great new artists.
I used to spend a lot of time around their house and was frequently woken up by Tom Waits records on Sunday mornings.
His mother introduced me to the Eels and Mr E’s Beautiful Blues has been a favourite ever since.
I remember listening to it constantly the first time I ever went for an extended trip abroad. I was 18 and had never been abroad without my parents, but decided that spending a month in New Zealand would be a good thing to do.
There were moments on that trip when I was homesick, but this song never failed to cheer me up and I ended up having the time of my life. As a result, I have a ton of great memories associated with this brilliant song.
There it is, my travel playlist. Ten songs full of memories of exploration and adventure that can transport me away from dull monotony at the press of a button.
I’m off to listen to them all again while I start planning a new adventure with a new soundtrack of its own.