Souvenirs…the stuff we lug back from trips to help us recall the happy feelings of our experience. Back home, we wear the t-shirt, put the magnet on the fridge, and place the little spoon in a slot.
Trust me, I know. My snow globe collection has its own shelving unit. Started over twenty years ago, it took on a life of its own. Today, I have hundreds of these cheap plastic domes. And my enthusiasm has waned. Now I want more meaningful memories.
Souvenirs: Why are they important?
The word “souvenir” comes from the Latin word subvenīre, to come to mind. The French still use the verb se souvenir, to remember. But you don’t have to know the origin of the word to understand–all you have to do is go somewhere, anywhere. There will certainly be a gift shop with keychains, picture frames, fake license plates…and yes, snow globes. And a line of tourists, waiting to pay. Because they want to remember.
No need to feel the least bit embarrassed. Research supports our surprising need to put a penny in a machine, flatten it out, and change it into a disc imprinted with the place we’ve been. Australian professor Hugh Wilkins, Griffith University, says, “[Souvenirs are] an important component of the tourist experience…People like to be reminded of special moments in their lives and to hold evidence of those special moments.” Indeed, in academic-speak, souvenirs are called “strategic memory protection.” You can read Wilkins’ entire paper here.
Which souvenirs are best?
The best souvenirs are personal to the buyer. By all means, don’t stop collecting them! If you must have a baseball-style cap or bumper sticker for each destination, I’m the last one to tell you otherwise. However, the things that become favorite keepsakes don’t always come with big price tags. Or from gift shops. Or even with the name of the place printed on them.
Pack light when you leave home, so you have room to bring back whatever delights you. Here are a few ideas for easy-to-pack souvenirs that won’t gather dust:
Photos: You’re going to take photos anyway, so find ways to show them off when you get back home. Screen saver or slide show on your device or computer? Notecards? A book of your favorites? You can even make your own postage stamps!
Postcards: I adore postcards and always bring a few home. Actually, I send them to myself, too, so I get a stamp and postmark. I write myself a message about the trip. It’s easy to hang them on a string or rope, or arrange them under a glass. I always have a pile on the coffee table for guest to browse through.
Clothing: “I love your scarf!” Every time I wear my bird-covered scarf from Simons in Quebec City, bought for about $10, I smile at the compliments. I love it, too. Over the years, I’ve purchased a jacket, shoes, sweaters, lingerie, and more scarves. Department stores are a great place to wander…forget that tourist t-shirt. Get a “real” article of clothing!
Recipes and spices: You already know that I love cooking classes when I travel. After the class, it’s fun to head to the local market or grocery store to find the spices to make the recipes when you’re back home. Authentic…and usually inexpensive. Cookbooks are great, too, if they’re in your language.
Household items: The best wine opener I’ve ever had came from Naples. Small olive wood bowls from Nice hold olives or condiments. I use tea towels from London every day. Mexican blankets serve as tablecloths. A chopping board from Costa Rica has seven kinds of wood, and makes a nifty cheese platter. Find something that will be useful, then get it for yourself and as gifts.
Local crafts: When we buy handmade crafts directly from the artisan, we’re helping the artist and the economy. Step away from the standard tourist traps and search for unique items wherever you go. Talk to the artist, even if you only use gestures. Bring home a weaving, a carving, or a piece of jewelry. Splurge on a big ticket item: for me, it was a Turkish rug.
Food: Depending on how much room is in your suitcase, food can be either a brilliant idea or a really dumb one. Saffron is crazy-cheap in Spain. Panforte from Sienna will go well with your morning coffee. Candy from anywhere is fun to share. Drop into a grocery store and find bargains, as well as interesting delicacies. If you can, bring back olive oil, chocolate, or coffee that never makes it out of the country. Just be mindful of customs…and your ability to carry heavy luggage.
National symbols: Finally, let’s talk about those things that we all want: the light-up Eiffel Tower, the Manchester United jersey, an irresistible German beer stein, those iconic Russian Matryoshka dolls, breathtaking Ukranian Easter eggs…the list goes on and on. As long as they’re legal, YES! Get them! Absolutely! It’s YOUR trip, after all. Enjoy!
Tell us about your favorite souvenirs! What are they and why are they important? Share your comment below!
More ways to remember your travels: