No matter how long you’re gone, vacation never seems to last long enough, does it? Whether it’s a three-day beach weekend or two full weeks in Italy, the time we spend traveling exists in another plane, and before we’re ready for it, we’re back home with just our memories and a few souvenirs.
The souvenir industry is huge, but it still can be so difficult to find the perfect memento of your trip. You don’t want to waste a few bucks on a shot glass or snow globe—you want something that actually evokes emotion and memories. Here are some of my favorite ways to remember my time away.
Taste and smell are the two senses most strongly linked to memory, so bringing home a bit of local flavor is a great idea. Whether it’s a bag of coffee from the Dominican Republic or a box of Tim Tams from Australia, eating or drinking your souvenir will bring back memories of where you were and what you were doing in the country where you first tasted it. Popping open one of the bottles of French wine we brought back from Paris, for instance, reminded me of the night we drank it while watching the sun set over the Eiffel Tower.
2. Dress Up
When I started going on solo business trips, I wanted to bring something back for my husband, but usually never had time to sightsee enough to pick out something meaningful and place-specific. On my first solo trip I brought him back a t-shirt, which he loved and wore to pieces. Ever since then, it has become a tradition: I go on a work trip and he gets a t-shirt. Even though these trips aren’t especially meaningful, a t-shirt or nice item of clothing is a great souvenir—it’s not just a memory, it’s a useful item, and a conversation starter. The same goes for jewelry—most of my favorite jewelry pieces have a travel story behind them.
I don’t have dreams for a huge house, but one of my goals is to have a cozy house decorated with memories from my travels. I love picking out local art and decor with the goal of one day surrounding myself with beautiful travel mementos. I’ve got watercolors by Hawaiian artists, a beautiful serving bowl made from Croatian limestone, and a hand-painted decorative boomerang from Australia, all just waiting to be displayed once I move out of the NYC shoebox I’m currently living in. Not only are these items beautiful, but thanks to markets, local artisans and boutique shops, the experience of purchasing these souvenirs can be a memory in itself—not always something you can say about a Big Ben paperweight.
If you love the idea of travel-related artwork but sometimes struggle to find a piece that resonates with you, try making your own. Before you leave, go back and take a photo of one of the places that meant the most on your trip. A selfie or quick snapshot is fine, but try taking a snap with the idea of actually printing and framing it nicely, or maybe even transferring it to canvas to make a real piece of art.
I love celebrating special occasions with a delicious vino, so I’ve started keeping the corks of special bottles and writing the date and place on them. I have corks from weddings, new job toasts, birthdays and, of course, vacations. I love that all it takes is a date and place to help bring back the memories, and I love even more that these little mementos take up such a small space. Start collecting anything from your travels that you can commemorate the date on—beach rocks, matchbooks, even bar coasters.
6. Deck the Halls
If you celebrate Christmas, or even just decorate a tree, souvenir ornaments are a great idea. Even though you only see them once a year, they add an extra element of homeyness and nostalgia to your Christmas tree. Plus, isn’t that so much cuter than a bunch of store bought plastic balls?
It’s true that no matter what you buy, it won’t represent every part and memory of your trip. So why not save your money and create a trip journal instead? It’s as simple as taking a few moments before bed each night to write down the highlights of your day, but you could get intense with it and create a sort of journal/scrapbook, complete with written memories, photographs, ticket stubs etc. How cool would it be to have a library of travel journals to reread over the years?
Souvenir shopping can be a bit stressful when you put pressure on yourself to find certain things (“We need something for mom, and what should I bring back for my coworkers?!”). But when you approach it with the idea of finding the right thing to evoke specific memories, it gets so much easier. What’s your favorite way to remember your travels?