I slide open the zipper on the left-side pocket of my camera bag to reveal a cluster of small cards and folded papers, receipts and tickets, miscellaneous scraps. The stub of a boarding pass, my destination still visible. “Thira to Milan.” A supermarket receipt, primarily in Greek, the only visible English “swiss rolls” and “3.36 euro.” I keep leafing through and come across a pristine blue Oyster card. “Transport for London,” it reads. Even further back, though, a room key for the Chulalongkorn University International House—I’d forgotten to return it back in March.
The left-side pocket of my camera bag is the truest map of my travels that I keep. I don’t write a journal, don’t make scrapbooks, and my photos are rarely in perfect chronological order, since, like the amateur photographer that I am, I use a combination of an iPhone 6 and a Samsung camera without a correct date and time setting. But that particular pocket tells a story, as complete and chronological as it’s ever going to get.
When I travel, I abandon my signature satchel for my camera bag, the one thing that stays on my person at all times as I move from place to place. Yes, it holds my Samsung WB1100F, but it also holds everything else. At the beginning of a trip, everything goes into that left-side pocket—IDs, debit card, foreign currency, portable charger, even hair ties—and as the days go on it accumulates an amalgamation of shopping receipts, attraction tickets, metro passes, and small coins, arranged in the order in which I received and used them.
Whenever I return home, every part of me aching for the places I’ve left behind, I have the same ritual. I slide open the zipper on the left-side pocket of my camera bag and remove everything, then go through it all, one by one, starting from the most recent scrap of paper and moving backwards. A Trenitalia ticket, Malpensa to Milano Centrale. A customer copy of the check from my final souvlaki lunch in Greece. An entry ticket for the Moulin Rouge in Amsterdam, reminding me that I get one free drink with my purchase.
I go through it all and I laugh, I cringe, I cry, I remember. Most of it gets thrown out once I finish, barring the truth that these scraps of paper are part of a past I have trouble separating myself from. But some of them stay, tucked way into the back of this left-side pocket. Like that Bangkok room key, they’ll remain there as a tribute to my older travel stories, there to look upon fondly when the time comes and I break out the camera bag again.