When most people think about souvenirs, horrible images of those stupid bags with a city’s name printed on it a bazillion times (Exhibit A), insanely ugly plastic keychains, kitschy refrigerator magnets featuring lots of glitter, and those pens with moving objects inside come to mind. Now, one could argue that kitschy magnets can kind of work in an ironic way and that these guys may very well become collector items one day (or might already be), but all in all, most souvenirs are just a regurgitation of generic crap with different cities’ names and cliche icons plastered over them. Which is why I am not big on collecting the kind of souvenirs you find inside of most museum gift shops and outside big tourist destinations.
I will admit that when I was young I had a random collection of shot glasses (super random and strange choice of collector items for an 8 year old, I know) from different places as well as those smushed pennies with the different images pressed into them, but eventually I outgrew collecting things that ended up just mostly collecting dust, and opted for more considered takeaways from places I had visited. (Although to be fair, I am pretty intent on jumpstarting my elongated penny collection again, cos shit’s kinda cool and they are just so satsifying to make).
In high school, I started to collect pieces of nature from the places that I had visited. Not one to try to destroy natural habitats, I only took one small thing as a totem of my time in another place. When my friends went on visits and asked what they would like me to bring back, I always gave them a small film canister (yes folks, I am that old) and asked them to fill it up with a bit of dirt or grass from wherever they were going. To me, the truest piece of a place was an actual part of it, not a manufactured piece of plastic created in a sweatshop thousands of miles away. The items I collected then in high school as well as in uni can still be found on the wall of my bedroom at my parents’ house.
Although I still collect pieces of nature when I visit different places, I have also allow myself to take home other souvenirs, if said souvenir is truly one that is unique and full of love. When I was in Florence, I came across L’Arte de’ Ciompi. It is a small family-owned shop whose owners hand make all of the items found inside. I found this store to be just so sweet and whimsical and the idea of taking home a piece of handmade love from Florence and supporting a small local business at the same time sounded completely good to me. I opted for a lovely deck of cards and am very happy to add them to my collection of loved memories from my many travels.
Souvenirs – How to collect Consciously
1. Skip all the plastic crap – You don’t need another pen or key chain. Trust me. If you are anything like me, your pen collection is already overflowing despite never really recalling buying any pens in the first place. (I swear it’s like medieval spontaneous generation.) Pretty sure my pen “collection” is simply made up of all those free pens from restaurants and hotels, because, hey, free pen!
2. Return home with a small token rather than anything bought – There are plenty of times when I visit a place without purchasing any souvenir, as there really is no need to consume more things that will just go to waste. In many cases, I simply come home with either a small piece of nature (a rock, or a seashell, for example) or…
3: Ticket stubs and business cards count as souvenirs – I tend to like to collect business cards, maps, and tickets from the places I have been and count them as my souvenirs. This way, I can look back on the places I enjoyed and can also give friends recommendations if they ever plan to visit the place I have just come back from. It’s also a great way to mentally bookmark places to check out again, should you ever return. These items work really well for a travel scrapbook as well.
4: If you do buy, shop with consideration – There is nothing wrong with bringing home a new purchase from your trip, but just be sure that it really is truly something that reflects the area and is truly unique to the region. No, clothing or accessories from H&M or Zara do not count!
photography by: Rae Tashman