I came back from Central America missing half of my photos.

I came back with all the usual stuff I should have: my luggage, that “I-don’t-want-to-go-back-to-work-I-want-to-keep-travelling-for-the-rest-of-my-life” feeling, some tacky souvenirs that are now buried in a bottom drawer. But only half the photos from the trip.

I don’t know what happened. I was sitting in a hostel in Mexico City and my Norwegian friend was flicking through the photos when all of a sudden a horrible blue screen flashed up with the instructions “MEMORY CARD SHOULD BE REFORMATTED” (I don’t recall whether it was actually in uppercase letters, but it might as well have said “YOU ARE ABOUT TO FREAK OUT! YOUR PHOTOS ARE GONE!!” with a bit of an evil laugh thrown in at the end for emphasis).

Somehow, I remained calm and carefully removed the memory stick for safe-keeping. Carrying it tenderly with me all the way back to Australia, I was told by the camera shop people that there was no fixing this problem.

Two years later I can look back on it without feeling anxious. But at the time, it felt like my whole trip had been a dream. Because if I didn’t have photographic evidence, then clearly, it hadn’t even happened at all.

Which was ridiculous. You don’t need photos to remember a trip that was planned for a long time and was even better than you expected. A camera can’t capture the feeling of the sun on your back as you stroll along a Mexican beach on the Pacific Ocean, or truly give a sense of the awe I felt walking through the ancient site of Tikal, or aptly recall the fun you had with a new friend you met on the road.

Let’s face it, who even looks at their photos when they get back from a trip? Other than the cursory slide show you might force your friends and family to sit through, or to organise them into some kind of chronological or location order (yes, I do actually do this…). You may print out a few and stick them on a wall somewhere, but in this digital world we’re certainly not filling hard photo albums with travel snaps to be flicked through for decades to come.

(Of course, right now I’m only talking to your average point-and-shoot photo-taker. People who can take decent photos, who use expensive equipment or who actually do something proper with photos once they take them, ie. hold an exhibition or sell them, will most likely go through their photos dozens of times!)

The only other thing you might do with your pics is load them on to Facebook so you can tag all your new friends and show off to all the people who weren’t where you just were and didn’t get to do all the really cool things you just did.

I’ve learnt to get over such trivial things and instead remember the times that I’ve spent overseas, keeping the memories in my a little box in my head. I also find that keeping in touch with people I’ve met along the way is helpful so that we can continue to trade “remember when that happened” stories.

BUT, just to be sure, I now always carry a spare memory card with me. Always. And I’ve bought a portable external hard drive so I can download photos and store them as a back up.

Have you ever lost any precious travel photos? How did you react?