Keep some souvenirs of your past, or how will you
ever prove it wasn’t all a dream?
— Ashleigh Brilliant
What are the best souvenirs from travel? Certainly, as a minimum requirement, they should remind you of your travel, something you could only have picked up in that place you visited. Design glass from Murano or Venice? Your family tartan from Scotland? A leather briefcase from Colombia? Jewelry made with ancient Roman glass? All of these have found their way home with us.
Souvenirs should also be something worth having for their own sake. As I said earlier, I agree with George Carlin’s observations about Stuff (one’s own and other people’s) but even my own Stuff threatens to overwhelm me at times. So if I am moderately anti-stuff and have attained the age where I really don’t need anything anymore, can I, in good conscience, bring home more stuff from travels? (A customs inspector once chided me for having nothing more than “postcards” declared on my return from the Caribbean. Is that un-American?)
One type of entirely justified souvenir is something purchased because you need it during travel. My husband has no hair on top of his head. Walking the streets of Rome one May, he realized he had left home without a hat. We purchased a very nice straw cap at a shop overlooking the fountain of Trevi. This is probably the only piece of clothing we have for which we can claim Italian design. It cost more than any other hat he owns, but we both treasure it for the memory it evokes.
Similarly our whole family has bought wool sweaters in Edinburgh and printed sweatshirts in San Francisco. When it is fifty degrees and raining, make your solutions count for memories later on.
Art is a wonderful souvenir also, but transporting it home can present problems. The most efficient and painful way to learn that your suitcase bottom is not as flat as you thought is to bring home a fine illustration and find it creased from the pressure of the trip. Whether your art selection is flat or three-dimensional, vendors can help you package your purchases for safe travel, or even ship it home. Do not underestimate the value of this service as it can mean the difference between having a memento and having trash.
Do not overlook the possibility of making your own souvenirs once you return home. We have had great success enlarging photos of favorite places and displaying those where we might have put the Big Name Artist’s rendering of the same scene. Plan your photography well and you can fill your own gallery with memories.
Should you bring souvenirs for the people back home? If they didn’t make the trip, they have no personal memories to attach to anything you bring them. My guide for take home gifts (“Thanks for watering my plants!”) is to bring something consumable. Local food specialties, chocolates, small bottles of aperitifs, and bags of tea or coffee can always be used and will not collect dust on a shelf for years to come.
My philosophy of souvenirs aligns with the Shaker rule of thumb: each item should be necessary, useful, and beautiful. Actually I can settle for beautiful, but there are way too many beautiful things in the world to bring them all home!
What beautiful (and maybe even useful) things have you brought home from travel?
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
30 May 2013