Make the time to document your family vacation. You, and generations to come, will be glad you did.
Are they in a drawer? An armoire? A shoebox in the closet? If you're like millions of overworked parents, you've got the photos of your family vacation stashed so far from easy access you're effectively saying: "We may as well ignore that trip." And however you've got them stored, chances are the photos themselves -- and all the warm details they capture -- are at risk of deteriorating to the point of ruin.
The good news is that, with a little organization, planning, and a few basic supplies, you can document your family's shared experience in a way that keeps the memories crisp and safe for years of enjoyment. And you don't have to become a scrapbooking addict.
Journaling a trip as you go is a great way to start, suggests Anna Dixon of Scrapbooks Forever in Grapevine, Texas. She recommends jotting down notes on a small pad so when the pictures come back from the photo processor, you'll remember where you were and what you were doing, thinking, and feeling. Then, once photos are dropped into a scrapbook, add commentary beside them. "The kids can help by writing down exciting things they see," Anna says.
Another idea: Order double-prints of the photos from your vacation and make a sister album to share with a family member. This year, after her family took a trip to the Oregon coast, Anna made an album to share with her mother and sister. The second set of prints went into the album she intends to pass down to her daughter.
Digital camera buffs: If you're using a digital camera and printing out the images yourself, make sure that both the paper and inks are "archival." You can often buy both from photo stores, an office-supply chain like Staples, or companies that manufacture color printers (you can order online from Epson, Canon, and HP). If you send your digital files to a photo lab or Web service for printing, make sure they use archival paper for your prints.
Archival paper is supposed to last from 60 to 120 years. Whether you're a digital buff or a fan of film, keep your prints out of sunlight if you want to maximize preservation.
Acid-free materials are the key to an album that lasts. Your photo album or scrapbook should be entirely acid-free; that includes the binding, pages or pockets, and glue. Otherwise, paper, photo backing, and other items deteriorate over time. Check to make sure that your materials are also lignin-free; lignin is the paper-pulp acid that can remain even in paper that is classified as acid-free. You can find acid- and lignin-free memory-keeping materials at Creative Memories.
Beyond chemical-free materials and a lot of film, you just need your imagination and the heart of a pack rat. Here are some tips on capturing the meaningful moments that make for big memories:
Get your film developed as soon as you get home so that your memories of the trip are fresh. Plan a family night to review the photos, and settle in with pizza and pictures (clean fingers!). Keep the tape recorder handy or just take a few notes as you relive your family vacation together, tucking photos into sleeves or mounting them on the acid-free pages in the album. Even the evening's conversation and memory-prodding can be fodder for the finished product. If it sounds like more work than your bones can muster, remember why you're going this extra mile.
The motivation comes from the same impulse that causes you to vacation in the first place: love of family and the joy of sharing a great experience with the people you love the most.
Dana Joseph is a freelance travel writer based in Fort Worth/Dallas, Texas.