Also known as souvenirs and travel gifts.
At Hampton Court Palace. East Molesey, Surrey, England. Summer 2013.
Oh the wonderful world of souvenirs; the many mementos we buy, keep and store until we’re overrun. These bits of bought up memories and conversation pieces (for better or worse) that can quickly cut into your budget and stress you out with gift lists (yes, we’ll cover this conundrum as well).
And this isn’t to say that I am anti souvenirs or travel gifts (though maybe I am a little), it’s more that it’s become a custom I do not quite understand.
Whenever a friend comes back from a trip, it’s almost inevitable that I end up with my own trinket. It’s like a custom and I don’t know when or how it happened, but it’s just a fact that when a person goes on a trip, they tend to bring back more than they left with and a good deal of it is not for themselves. I mean, I get it; it’s nice—a little something to show that your friend/family/compatriot/etcetera was thinking about you when you were apart. But let’s just be honest for a minute: most of what we all bring back is little more than clutter that is eventually going to get in the way.
I’ve been traveling through various parts of the world during school breaks for a good chunk of my life, which basically translates to collecting and gifting trinkets from said parts, also, for a good chunk of my life. Many of these vacations occurred with people related to me and I always had someone on the trip nudging me to get other people presents.
I was with my grandparents in Vatican City when I was twelve years old and my grandmother wouldn’t let us leave one of the alcove shops until we picked out something for each of our parents. Yes, my parents are religious—we all get up on Sundays for church, at least—but did they really need another rosary or portrait of Jesus? (Yes, we did get exactly that, but mostly because the picture looked so much like my dad’s old driver’s license. My grandparents weren’t amused but I thought it was clever).
A year later, I was on a student trip to Australia. When I was leaving, my mom told me she expected me to bring back gifts for relatives, especially my parents and sisters. To this day, I have boomerangs and handkerchiefs covered in kangaroos filling the drawers in my room—no one else needed them; to be quite frank, neither did/do I.
Seriously, the key chains, boomerangs, handkerchiefs, magnets, etcetera are lovely mementos of your travels—they are not, however, really relevant to anyone else who wasn’t on your trip with you (Seriously, I have no idea where the Jesus portrait ended up).
So then, what’s the point?
And the serious answer is: I really don’t have a clue.
A souvenir is great—they hold so many specific stories and memories— and are a tangible representation of the time away…. FOR THE TRAVELER!
In my opinion, when it comes to gifts for other people, the best thing any traveler can do is send a postcard (or a few; knock yourself out!). I’m dead serious. People rarely get snail mail so it’s a special note that you are thinking of them when you are away (the whole point, no?) even if you get home before the postcard. They are easy to store, share and display. And in the end, whether you send the postcard or give them to the recipients on your return, they generally cost less with a whole lot more meaning than all the key chains in the world. Unless—maybe—the recipient is a child and then really bring on the plushies.
From the disposable. Arthur’s seat, Edinburgh, Scotland. Summer 2013.
When it comes to buying for yourself, however, you can get into a whole new conundrum. You end up having to think about and balancing significance and costs and portability and usability and likelihood of turning to clutter (and I’m sure there are longer lists for some of you out there).
So what to do?
My answer: keep it simple.
This can mean a whole list of things, but here are my suggestions to keep it simple a (mostly) inexpensive.
Send home postcards for yourself. Write down something that has happened to you wherever the postcard is from and send it. Or, better yet, wait toward the later half of your trip and start sending them out then. When you are home and back to your everyday life, how cool will it be to get a postcard reminder of your adventure? A little message is a bottle (figuratively of course) from your past self. If you can’t send it to yourself (I know, sometimes postage is more expensive than you’re willing to shell out), just keep the cards and store them. Every once in a while, you’ll be sure to stumble into them and reading about your adventure from the perspective of when it was happening and when you didn’t know what was going to happen next will be a whole new kind of adventure book.
Buy a disposable camera and start shooting. I know, I know, now-a-days you can get photos from your digital camera printed off and get your pre-chosen “perfect shots.” I love this fact, but it’s also one more layer of artifice. You’ve messed with the settings, zoomed in, upped contrast, taken 5 different shots of the same thing to make it perfect. With a disposable, you get one shot; one chance to get what you’re looking for—if you trip, it’s blurry and you can try again but you’ll be wasting film. You can’t see what you’ll get until you get back the physical pictures (and/or the digital copies) back. Then, just like the postcards, you’re reliving the experiences you had while snapping these candids. I know it feels old school, but I like that there is a real genuine feel to the results. Just remember, if you have someone else taking your picture with it, tell them how many you want taken, no matter the quality or you’ll run out of space quick!
Buy something substantial or/and usable. Whether this means something big and/or expensive or something with extreme sentimentality depends on you and your own tastes, but this is usually contained to a single purchase that encompasses your trip. For my last vacation, my sister and I each bought a skirt. There was nothing marking where we were when we bought them—not a city or country—and there was noting really extraordinary about them. Mine is a simple leather skirt (brownish purple in hue with pockets) that falls a little above the knee. But I bought it on Prince Street in Edinburgh. I wore it on a slightly overcast and drizzling day in Cardiff at the BBC. I wore it while exploring London with my parents and tripping up the stairs out of the tube (to a few supportive cheers of “keep going!” from strangers or the escalator). And every time I wear this skirt or see it hanging in my closet, I remember. And that is what makes a great souvenir.
Anyway, those are my suggestions for you and for others. You telling or sending stories are worth a hundred plastic key chains so keep those memories exciting and that’s all you really need.
So, sorry if I got a bit rantie and let me know below what you do for souvenirs (for yourself or others), your take of travel gifting, or anything else you feel like sharing.
Look forward to hearing from you,
I’m Leave on the Wind, Helping you soar.