Our sense of smell is an incredible gift.

With a simple whiff, we can be transported across time and space.

. . .

What is “That Travel Smell?”

Some odors cause us to subconsciously recall a specific moment, place or event.

Others evoke a more generalized memory of the travel experience.

For me, that travel smell is a mixture of cooking food, trash, tiger balm, human waste and burning incense, wood and leaves.


A South Korean Anjuna (grandmother) prepares a fire to boil potat
A South Korean Anjuna (grandmother) prepares a fire to boil potat

I asked 27 Travel Bloggers to describe their “travel smell”


While their answers were incredibly varied, I did notice a few commonalities that arose.

The most common aspects of that travel smell include:

  • Cooking Food – 5
  • Pollution – 4
  • Body Odor – 5
  • Garbage – 4
  • Fish – 3
  • Smoke – 6


Incense burning at the Po Lin Monastery in Lantau, Hong Kong
The smell of incense burning is a key ingredient to my idea of the travel smell.



Talon Windwalker The smell of foods being cooked streetside or from tiny kiosks. The sound of small wheels rolling over cobblestone.

Anything cooking by the roadside or in kiosks brings me to a different place depending on its smell. I have had so much street food over the last few years, there are tons of smells that connect for me.

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India has its own set of special travel smells.
India has its own set of special travel smells.

Anuradha Srinath The roadside food stalls, flower market, fish market, passing a cake shop, the smoke that comes out of vehicles…

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Suzanne Fluhr The smell of tortillas. I lived in San Miguel de Allende for a year when I was 9-10. I returned for the first time in 2012. That smell was still there.

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Aleah Phils.  You know what smell I love in Saigon Claus Andersen? It’s the smell of hot pho, freshly served with a platter of herbs!

. . .

Annabel Candy.  Rotten fruit! Takes me right back to back to Lamu Island in Kenya

. . .

Kuan Ju The smells of traditional markets – which varies depending on where you are.

In the Maeklong Railway market in Thailand , it’s a smell of fishy dried seafood, raw meats/fish and soil.

The one in Apt market in province is the most memorable as we were just there after the lavender harvest season, where the floral smell permeated the market and was intensified by the heat.


Markets are a huge source of that travel smell. – Dalat, Viet Nam

fresh air


Monte Dumas.  Salt in the air.

. . .

Charles McCool.  My favorite travel smell is the tropical scent from landing at an airport in Hawaii or some Caribbean destinations.

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Enrique Manzano.  The first gust of wind as I step out of the airport, bus terminal, etc… the smell of Damascus’ shisha and Amsterdam’s coffee shops.


The Swinging Bridge area near Wawona Cabins in Yosemite National Park
The air doesn’t get much fresher than in Yosemite National Park

body odor



Brandy Bell.  Lets be honest: the smell of the bag where you keep your dirty clothes!

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Kate Voyage.  The smell of sunblock!

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DJ Yabis.  The salty, sweaty, sunburnt smell of tanned men in the Mediterranean.

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Gary Arndt.  The body odor of a guy I have to sit next to on a plane.


Sleeping on the floor at the Overstay Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand
The floor was a popular sleeping spot at for stinky backpackers during Thai New Year.

Oils and Such


Ashley Howe.  The smell of coconut oil

. . .

Caroline Leone. When I first arrived in Thailand it was a mix of oil, coconut. But it’s gone now.

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Anuradha Srinath.  The smell (aroma) that comes from Lush spa and Body shop when I pass through them! Such a divine smell!

. . .

Jo Castro.  Incense, sandalwood, citronella.


Soap candles for sale at the Chiang Mai walking street market
Soap candles can contribute to a pleasant travel smell.

an odoriferous mix


Teresa Judas Pedrosa.  The smell of a bonfire smoke in my hair, after a night watching the stars in the Namib Desert. My favorite smell of all my journeys.

. . .

Alberto at the Rock Finca in Estelli, Nicaragua
That cigarette is about to contribute to that travel smell

Aleah Phils.  The smell of exhaust from buses…takes me back to my earliest memories of traveling with my mother when I was 3!

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Elaine J. Masters.  There’s a smell in urban Mexico – mixture of exhaust, bodies, food and I love it!?!

. . .

Sharon Gourlay.  When I smell sewage, I think of India

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Matt Edwards That heady mix of humid air, lemongrass cooking and open sewer!

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Eva Gold.  Musty hotel/hostel/motel room smell unfortunately and on a lighter note, the smell of a bonfire. Whenever I catch a whiff of it at home, it instantly transports me back to being on the road.

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Brandy BellThe scent of dried sweat, hot metal, green leaves and strangers smoking cigarettes.


Gary Arndt.  Burning garbage. I smell it all over the world.


A modern trash can among the ruins of Pre Rup in Angkor, Cambodia.
A modern trash can among the ruins of Pre Rup in Angkor, Cambodia.

around the airport


Cathy Goldner.  Jet fuel .

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Claire Walter.  The airport smell of jet engine fumes. You don’t often get it inside a modern terminal, but you get a hit every time you are at an airport without jetways or at a place where the terminal, walkways and parking lots are close to the runways and/or taxiways.


An airplane takes off from the Chiang Mai International Airport
Jet fuel is a big part of travel; so, it makes sense that it contributes to that travel smell.

a possible blessing in disguise


Claus Andersen.  I wish I could get anything out of smelling, but I do hardly smell anything when I travel even if I never smoked.

Right now it’s 1am in Saigon and I seriously can’t tell the difference between the smell of here and the little fishing village I grew up in in Denmark.

Maybe I should get a new nose in my next life


The brightly-colored "earrings" in a llama's ears are used to identify its owner.
They may be cute; but llamas sure are a stinky part of that travel smell.

last minute smells


Since publishing this post, several more of my travel blogger friends have written in with their travel smells.


Louise Lakier. The smell of the jungle after a thundershower, musty wet, earthy, thick with dew. The smell of cheap cigars, bourbon and smoke around the fire pit. The smells of lemongrass and basil, fresh bananas, and mangoes. The smells of rotten fish and cow poo along the beachfront.

Tamason Gamble. Mosquito spray, citronella and suntan lotion. Plus the smell of the sea; pulling up to a harbour to catch a boat somewhere – that salty sea breeze always remains me of my travels.

Sara Thomas. Wet asphalt (just after it starts raining) and suntan lotion!


Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada, Philippines
Churches seem to have a smell all their own.

What do you think?

How would YOU define a travel smell?