Melodies and Travel Memories
Leah Walker June 28, 2012

Everyone has a soundtrack to their life and no two people’s are the same. And that’s just how it should be.

Music - that was then, this is now!Credit

One of my favorite songs comes from fellow Houstonian, Clint Black. If you’re not a country music fan, you may know him from the second season of The Celebrity Apprentice. He’s had countless hits, but one especially resonates within me. In Clint’s 1993 hit, “State of Mind“, he strums his guitar and belts out:

Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory

Take you to another place in time

Completely change your state of mind

It's not music / No es la musicaCredit

The lyrics are absolutely spot-on. I’m always amazed at how the opening bars of a song can instantly transport me to another time, place, or emotion. Some songs make me tear up, while others put a pep in my step. Ironically, “State of Mind” takes me to Thanksgiving in Lubbock, Texas. The first time I heard that song I was a sophomore at Texas Tech and cruising down 4th Street in a white pickup with my best friend and her boyfriend, Rob. We were stuffed from a day of eating and looking for a bar that was open. Rob rolled down the windows letting the cold winter air inside and cranked up the stereo.

Indeed, a melody can bring back a memory.

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In thinking about this subject, I instantly was able to come up with songs that take me back to a specific time and place. Here are my top five:

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel 

I wasn’t even born in 1968 when this classic song came out, but my mom and dad loved listening to oldies-but-goodies. During our road trips from Texas to Colorado in the summers, I must have heard this song a million times. Hearing the opening acoustic guitar riff, I’m suddenly eight years old in a beige Suburban. I’m fighting with my big brother, my mother is snapping her fingers at us, and my dad is firmly gripping the steering wheel trying not to explode.


Outward Bound and Marble, Colorado is our final destination. I marvel at my dad and his ability to drive in the mountains. Dad tells me about hair-pin turns and how he knows one is coming up. We snake up a narrow, dirt road, and I try not to look out the window for fear of tipping the car off the cliff. We have to back up to a “wide” spot in the road when we greet another car coming down. I hold my breath, shut my eyes, and sing, “Heaven holds a place for those who pray…hey, hey, hey.”

“Hard to Handle” by The Black Crowes

The Otis Redding remake by The Black Crowes came out in 1990, but it wasn’t until 1992, my senior year in high school, that this Southern-rock hit made an impression on me. It was spring break, and I was a few months away from graduation. I’d never left the country, but somehow I convinced my parents that it was a good idea to send me to Acapulco with four of my girlfriends. This was a time when a passport wasn’t required to cross the border, and there was no need to worry about getting caught up in drug cartel crossfire. Acapulco was far removed from its glory years with Elizabeth Taylor and other Hollywood greats, but it was still magical to me.

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I was seventeen and relatively innocent. I’d only drank once before and had no desire to try it again. But something happened when the five of us walked into our first club on the touristy strip in Acapulco. It’s as if the DJ saw us coming, because when we walked in we heard, “Baby, here I am, I’m a man on the scene. I can give you what you want, but you’ve got to come home with me.”  It’s as if Chris Robinson was serenading me. I don’t know if it was the freedom I felt from being in a foreign land or what, but I grabbed a fruity drink and danced with the closest person I could find.

“Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band

In July of 1997, I was about to graduate from college. I lacked nine hours of Spanish credit, so my parents shipped me off to San Jose, Costa Rica. I guess they figured that was cheaper than putting me through three more semesters of school. I certainly wasn’t complaining, but it would be only the second time I’d left the country. Costa Rica wasn’t like it is now. It was still relatively undiscovered. There weren’t tour operators pimping their services or hoards of tourists willing to take them. There was one or two golf courses in the entire country. The only Americans I saw were the ones in school with me or on the beach smoking joints and waiting for the next wave.

Love & MusicCredit

I, along with my classmates, got out of the city every chance we could. For a few colones, we’d catch a bus to places like Quepos and Jaco for a beach weekend. Un-airconditioned, hot, humid, and crowded were the rides, but for someone high maintenance, I didn’t seem to mind. With my foreign-fling-turned-boyfriend-turned-husband, we shared headphones and listened to Dave Matthews.“Hike up your skirt a little more and show your world to me”  took on a new meaning in light of our burgeoning love affair.

“Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega

It was summer of 1999 and I was making my second trip to Las Vegas. My boyfriend-now-husband and I checked into the Tropicana on the south end of the strip. We dropped our bags in the tidy, yet dated room and set out to gamble. We crossed the bridge over Las Vegas Boulevard and entered the MGM, or the lion’s den as I call it. At the time, the MGM was the largest hotel in the world, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the casino was as well. I carved out a spot at one of the countless blackjack tables, and my boyfriend-now-husband set out to make his fortune elsewhere. After plugging away for several hours playing $5 a hand, there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a huge grin on his face and a man in a dark suit standing to the side. I’d seen enough movies to know that this could be bad.

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What I learned was that my boyfriend-now-husband hit it big at every single game he played. We were now invited guests of the MGM with a comped suite and meals. We’d been given the keys to the golden city. The VIP lounge was now a place for us to relax and grab a drink without waiting in line. Luggage was transported from our crappy Tropicana room and carried by bellmen to our giant, modern suite in the MGM. Once we got settled, my boyfriend-now-husband pulled out handfuls of $1,000 chips. This was too easy, I thought. I asked him what happened and he replied,“One, two, three, four, five, everybody in the car so come on let’s ride…”  Every time “Mambo No. 5” was played in the casino, which apparently was often, a winning streak ensued.

“Viva la Vida” by Coldplay

In 2008 on a southbound train out of Edinburgh, Scotland I sat looking out my fogged-over window. It was July, but early morning and cold. My mother sat next to me with a cap covering up her bald head. She was in remission from ovarian cancer and her hair hadn’t grown back yet. After three days exploring Edinburgh, we were on our way to Durham, England for a friend’s wedding. Mom had never been to Europe and neither had I.

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We’d set out on another mother-daughter adventure, but this time things were different. Instead of Mom leading me by the hand, it was I that stabled her as she walked along the cobblestones. I arranged all the travel details and carried all the luggage. Mom had done this for me all of my life; it was strange taking that kind of control. I was happy to have this experience with her, but sad thinking that this could be our last hurrah. I tended to zone out on the seven-day trip, and this train ride was no different. Instead of talking to her, I put in my Bose earbuds and blasted my iPod. I sang along with Chris Martin:

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

Edinburgh Train Station

I regret not turning off the music and tuning into my mom. I should have soaked up every minute of that trip with her. How foolish of me. Now when I hear Coldplay’s tune, I feel a mix of melancholy and happiness. I remember my mom in a pink turtleneck and turquoise sweater smiling as she gazed out the train window. What was she thinking? I’ll never know because I was too busy listening to freaking Coldplay.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a song that instantly transports you to another place and time? What is it? Where do you go?

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Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.


  1. What a great post. Thank you for sharing such special moments with us.

    Associating songs with places with a more recent phenomenon, and intimately related to our USA road trips. I have this thing and Jason Mraz which reminds me of South Carolina. And how weird was it when I boarded the plane back, he was sitting next to Mr. O? Bizarre!

    1. No, thank you for reading, Mrs. O. Do you think that that you’re now associating music with places because you’re driving long stretches in the USA as opposed to flying or taking the train? Funny and ironic story about Jason Mraz. Mr. O is just a huge hit with the pop stars, isn’t he?

  2. Wow….only way to describe this one… Great post Leah…

    As for me, the song is U2’s Beautiful Day. I listened to this album many times on a flight to China, mostly because of one line. “See the world in green and blue, see China right in front of you.” It boggled my mind that I was actually heading there. On the same album is a song called “New York” which is probably the best about that city I’ve ever heard…

    1. Ahhhh…thank you Deej. As I was listening to my iPod at work yesterday I took a trip down memory lane. I thought it’d make a great subject for a post. It’s funny that “Beautiful Day” reminds you of China because it was on repeat during my trip to Ireland (for obvious reasons). I’ll check out “New York” on that album. I’ve never heard of it, at least I don’t think I have.

  3. really love this post, and we totally do the same thing. there are so many songs that take me back to very specific moments, and sometimes they seem completely random. namely, you would think that our first dance song (“when i fall in love”) or my father/daughter dance (“in my life”) would take me back to our wedding, but no no. it’s DYNAMITE by taio cruz. like, what?!

    xo! the romantic

    1. DYNAMITE! That’s awesome. I can see The Hubs getting down right now. That’s better than the song that reminds me of my wedding…”Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet. Of course, I did have my wedding reception at Margaritaville in Vegas. That damn song was on a loop or so it seems.

  4. I love how personal and emotional this post is. It’s a topic I think about often, as well. We always had music on in the car for our family road trips, always music on in the house growing up… there are a number of songs that transport me: 1) “Friends In Low Places” by Garth Brooks totally brings me back to sophomore year at Michigan State, hanging out and partying with all the girls on my floor in the dorm and with our brother floor. So much fun! 2) “Dancing Queen” by ABBA reminds me of my semester in Australia. ABBA was really big again in the early 90s and played EVERYWHERE in Australia. 3) “Into The Mystic” by Van Morrison makes me think of “my best good friend Karrie Beck from Tulsa, Oklahoma”. She was my roommate in Yellowstone and played that song all the time.

    Holy cow, how long is this comment?!

    1. Those are all great songs, Francesca. Like I said, we all have a soundtrack and each person’s is different. For instance, Garth Brooks takes me to my Texas hometown and barn dances. ABBA sends me to London with my mom watching Mamma Mia in the theatre. And “Into the Mystic” reminds me of my last trip to Costa Rica, but it’s The Zac Brown Band version that evokes that time at Arenal. I had it on repeat. Love that you shared that with me.

  5. Brilliant and moving post Leah- it’s amazing how music can evoke memories and feelings. Can relate to your road trip story – always associate golden oldie classics with family drives on a Sunday. The radio show would be playing ‘hits of the 60s’ and Motown- love that music still :)

    1. Thank you, Fiona. Isn’t it so funny how you can hear a song and it instantly triggers a memory that you’ve long forgotten? I imagine that’s how you are too. Road trips with family are some of my best memories.

  6. I agree with previous commentors- amazing post.

    Oh, I have so many songs… but I’ll pick just one. When I went to Australia in 2001, I only brought a few CDs with me, so I must have listened to Michelle Branch’s debut album The Spirit Room about 100 times. Still, to this day, the images that flash through my head when listening to that album can take me right back to that trip. The strength of such a visceral reaction scares me sometimes.

    1. Ohhh…Erik…that is still a great album. “Goodbye to You” is awesome. It’s so funny to think we brought CDs with us in the age of the iPod, but that’s just how it was. Australia is still on my list. Surely Michelle Branch can’t take me there, but I’m glad she can you. And you’re right, visceral reaction is something else.

  7. I would not feel to remorseful about tuning out your mom from time to time. I am sure she was just delighted to be in your company. That is the way moms are programmed.

    I enjoyed reading the other songs as Costa Rica and Mexico are two countries I have visited in the past year. Thanks for the tag.

    1. Knowing my mom, You’re probably right, Ted. She was always so unselfish and understanding. Costa Rica and Mexico will always have a soft spot in my heart since they were the first and second time I left the country. They both made a profound impact on my life. Hell, Costa Rica gave me a husband. :-)

  8. It is amazing how a song can serve as a catalyst to a memory. Whenever I hear a song from the past it instantly takes me back to where I was when the song was popular. Whether that be on a trip or simply where I was living and who I was spending my time with then. Anytime I hear ANYTHING by Akon I am instantly transported to Singapore (2009). His presence was inescapable … ugh. What amazes me is how someone who can not speak a word of English can sing an entire song without a problem.

    1. I know what you mean! In China I ran into people that couldn’t speak a word of English, but Flo Rida comes on the radio and they’re singing, “Apple bottom jeans and boots with the fur.” I mean, what the heck?

  9. Leah, great post but what a powerful piece of advice to your readers to turn off the “music” (whether it is really about music, work, or other things) and spend time listening to those you love. Powerful msg…

    Thanks for the tag too! Will be working on my post this weekend!

    1. Thank you so much, Raul. I wasn’t trying to teach anything, but happy if it resonates within you. Lord knows that I could stand to remember my own lesson more often. I look forward to reading about your songs. I’m sure they’ll include such wonderful memories.

  10. What beautiful lyrics in the Clint Black song! As I was reading your post, I couldn’t help by think of my own travel/life soundtrack. Thank you for tagging me – I know this will be a great trip down musical memory lane. By the way, Mambo No. 5? Oh, my… 😉

    1. Yeah, I know….Mambo No. 5. What are ya’ gonna do? I’d listen to that song for the rest of my life if it meant winning all that money again. :-) I can’t wait to read your soundtrack. I bet it contains some gypsy jazz.

  11. This post made me cry! My mum died of ovarian cancer in 2008 and I also regret any moment when I didn’t make the most of having her around to talk to. Your comments on the MGM also brought back memories of a fantastic family road trip we took back in 1994. We stayed at the MGM too, but the song I remember from it is the Lion King track ‘Circle of Life’. That was years before she got sick but it still makes me think of her every time I hear it.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. My mom died in 2010. You can read that story under the Dedication tab in my menu, although I’d hate to bring up bad memories for you. It’s so interesting how we could be in the same place (MGM) and have such different reflections. I like your memory; it’s very meaningful and special.

  12. I definitely associate certain songs with certain places. When I studied in Italy, I remember our professor Mario gave us a CD of pop Italian music. If I ever hear one of those songs, instantly I am roaming the golden streets of Ortigia, Sicily. It’s amazing how much music can time travel.

    1. That’s such an awesome gift and I bet your professor didn’t realize that he’d given you the gift that keeps on giving. One touch of the play button and you’re back in Sicily. That’s awesome!

  13. Love this post, Leah – I read “Clint Black” as “Chris Brown” though, and almost stopped reading hahah 😉 In all seriousness though, I especially love the last portion about your mom. I’m sure she was just happy to be travelling with you and spending time with you.

    You’re right about music stirring memories, though. They do for me all the time. Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” reminds me of my trip to Turkey in 2010, Peaches “I Feel Cream” is Sydney, and Gabriella Cilmi’s “Glue” reminds me of a trip to Seoul where I broke up with a smoking hot Korean doctor. Sigh.

    1. No, no Chris Brown in my playlist. :-) In my heart I know you’re right about my mom, but it still doesn’t change that I should have done things differently. I suppose I’ll have to learn from the past. And you broke up with a smoking-hot Korean doctor? Not only do I need to check your reading skills, but also your mental capacity. What were you thinking?

  14. I don’t listen to music much these days. However, I like it a lot. As someone who finds it hard to share feelings and emotions, I connect powerfully with songs that resonate deep in my soul. I can’t say I agree with all your music choices (after all, there are a lot of varieties and styles for a reason) but I understand the connections. I do love Viva La Vida and like Mrs Robinson. However, I like a different DMB one – Crush.

    Love how music can take us down memory lane and connect us so powerfully to our thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

    1. Yes, music is a very personal thing. I love many types of music and can appreciate all kinds. Music can help put into words what we’re feeling when we’re not exactly sure what those feelings are. It can make us happy and sad; music has that sort of power. I can hear a song and a memory will hit me like a ton of bricks. It could be something I’ve completely forgotten. I love listening to the 80s and 90s stations on XM Radio. It’s a trip down memory lane (and makes me feel a bit younger). :-)

      I’d be interested to know your songs and the memories behind them. Like “Crush”? Is it just a song you like or does it take you to another place and time?

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