Using music to travel

You can’t really travel by listening to music… can you?

The answer is not physically (at least, not until Elon Musk figures it out). But if you listen to music while you travel, a song can easily take you back to a destination and experience.

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Like many, I love music. In college, I was a radio disc jockey and I love DJ’ing trips when I travel with friends. When traveling alone, music serves as the perfect companion, helping to ease my anxiety, enhance my experience, and, at times, pump me up.

Here, I’ve compiled a list of destinations and the songs that take me back to them.

Place: Koh Phangan, Thailand
Song: Where is My Mind, Pixies

Favorite lyric
“Your head will collapse, if there’s nothing in it.”

Only a few years after getting my passport, I took one of the most epic trips of my life – partying at the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand.

Now, I can assure you that I am no longer cool enough to go to this party (and I probably wasn’t even then). But I was with an amazing group of friends and we’d listen to this song as we pre-gamed. Whenever this song comes on, I think of Koh Phangan — and then I think of Edward Norton.

Place: Caye Caulker, Belize
Song: Love Yourself, Justin Bieber

Favorite lyric
“You think you broke my heart
Oh girl, for goodness’ sake.”

Like most gay men, I have an unhealthy and complicated relationship with Justin Bieber. The truth is, I don’t like him very much; but I’ve never met him, so I feel bad saying it. Then, I feel worse about myself for having an opinion about him at all.

Say what you want about the Biebs, at least he created Love Yourself. Now, I know some of my readers may not like his music, but give this song a chance. I played it on repeat during my Belize trip earlier this year, and it provided the perfect backdrop to my very chill existence, which included waking up with the sun, biking to the beach, and working from my hammock.

Place: Lisbon, Portugal
Song: Budapest, George Ezra

Favorite lyric
“If you just say the words, I’ll up and run
Oh, to you; I’d leave it all.”

It’s weird that a song about Budapest would make me think of Lisbon, right? Right. But it does!

In April, I had a 3-city journey planned – London, Lisbon, and Budapest. To mentally prepare myself for Budapest, I listened to this catchy song on repeat, almost in preparation. Unfortunately, I had to cancel the Budapest portion of that trip, so now listening to it reminds me of walking the streets of Lisboa.

Place: Manila, The Philippines
Song: 24K Magic, Bruno Mars

Favorite lyric
“I’m a dangerous man with some money in my pocket.”

While waiting for my plane from Manila to Hong Kong to take off, I was on a Philippine Airlines flight, listening to Spotify, and reading the magazine on the plane. While listening to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, I discovered that Bruno is Filipino, which was a pretty cool coincidence. I listened to the song a few more times, and now whenever I hear it, I’m taken back to that tarmac in Manila.

Place: Hokkaido, Japan
Song: Doesn’t Remind Me, Audioslave

Favorite lyric
“I don’t want to learn what I need to forget.”

The song starts with Chris Cornell singing: “I walk the streets of Japan until I get lost, ’cause it doesn’t remind me of anything.” So, I did just that.

I listened to this song as I walked around Sapporo, with no map and no destination. I discovered shrines, sculptures, beautiful buildings, and got lost in the moment. To this day, it’s one of my favorite travel experiences.

Place: Turks & Caicos
Song: She Got Arrested, The Interrupters

Favorite lyric
“This time, it was his blood on her;
She wore it like a badge of honor”

I took this trip with my sister, and I am fairly confident she wanted to kill me given how many times I played this song. It’s catchy, punk-ish, and the lyrics are entertaining. Now, whenever I hear this song, I’m brought back to Grace Bay (so I make sure to still listen to this song a lot!).

Place: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Songs (Tie): Daydreamin’, Lupe Fiasco (feat. Jill Scott)
Break Ya Neck, Busta Rhymes

Favorite lyric
“Now come on everybody, let’s make cocaine cool
We need a few more half-naked women up in the pool”

The first time I discovered Lupe Fiasco, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Amsterdam and all I wanted was to hear more. This was before Shazam, so I did what I could to have a chance of hearing the song again – I grabbed a napkin, found a pen, and wrote down as many lyrics as I could remember.

When I got back to my hotel, I Googled the song and added it to every playlist I had.

Favorite lyric
Hard to pick one with how fast he raps (give it a listen!)

When you’re in an Amsterdam coffee shop, it’s easy to be impressed. But I remember when I heard this song, my mind was blown. Busta’s lyrics are so quick that my mind had no chance of keeping up.

Like with Daydreamin’, I did my best to write down all the lyrics I could remember and hoped I could find the song when I got home. To this day, I can’t listen to the song without smiling, thinking of the first time I heard it.

Place: Singapore
Song: Crazy, Gnarls Barkley

Favorite lyric
“Even your emotions have an echo in so much space.”

I spent 5 hours walking around Singapore, my feet hurting from my dress shoes (I was there interviewing). I wanted to see everything, but I was tired, the sun was melting me, and I could barely move my legs.

“Crazy” helped give me the strength I needed to power through and always reminds of walking around one of my favorite cities in the world.

Place: Key Biscayne, Florida
Song: Bom Bidi Bom, Nick Jonas & Nicki Minaj

Favorite lyric
“I’m an addict, I’m your patient
Your lips are the medication.”

Sometimes, I’ll let my friends pick the music. In Key Biscayne, the friend I traveled with likes pop music more than I do, and introduced me to this song. After the first listen, I was hooked.

It became the anthem for the trip and now whenever I hear it, I’m brought back to that island breeze.

Place: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain?, Creedence Clearwater Revival

Favorite lyric
“When it’s over, so they say, it will rain a sunny day.”

Hiking the Rockies can be challenging, but if you’re able to, it’s worth the effort. For my birthday 2 years back, I planned a trip to Colorado and an amazing birthday hike. It took over 3 hours to get to the top, and when we finally did there was lightening. After being told we needed to hurry down the mountain, we immediately reversed course.

The hike down wasn’t easy, and we tried to go as fast as possible to avoid the rain. While heading down the mountain, waiting for the rain, I played this song on repeat. Now, I can’t hear it without thinking of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Place: Brooklyn, New York
Song: Clear The Air, Off With Their Heads

Favorite lyric
“We’ve got to find a place to start, because we’re falling apart.”

I like to watch TV when I go to sleep, but I know some people can’t stand the noise. While staying with my friend in Brooklyn, I decided to turn off the TV and instead listen to music before bed with my iPhone and headphones.

While waiting for my Ambien to kick in, this song came on and it totally rocked my world. I must have listened to it 10 times that night alone, and now I can’t hear it without thinking of Brooklyn.

Place: Scottsdale, Arizona
Song: Savior, Rise Against

Favorite lyric
“As the telling signs of age rain down, a single tear is dropping
Through the valleys of an aging face that this world has forgotten.”

For better or worse, I associate the Phoenix metro area with emo music. I attended the University of Arizona for college, and my old roommate (and to this day, one of my best friends) loved emo music. In his car, we’d always listen to it and I began to love the genre.

On a trip to Scottsdale a few years back, while staying the Four Seasons at Troon North (so I literally had no reason to be upset about anything), I discovered this angsty song and felt like my world was rocked.

Place: Athens, Greece
Song: Galaxy 500, Lucky 7

Favorite lyric
“You take the fish, I’ll take the bowl.”

I discovered this song while in Athens and it became my gym workout anthem for the trip. It’s a silly song that makes me laugh, and it reminds me of Athens, which is never a bad thing.

Do you have songs that remind you of particular trips? Let me know in the comments!