On Souvenirs

Travel souvenirs often contribute to the clutter that I see in clients’ homes.  They’re a bit touchy to deal with because they represent fond memories and treasured experiences, but the items themselves are often low quality and conflict with the client’s overall esthetic. Souvenirs fall in the same category with books and gifts: we attach a lot of extraneous meaning to them, and we feel guilty about getting rid of them, but unless the specific item is particularly special, they add surprisingly little to our lives.

When it comes to making a decision, I always recommend that the final arbiter be what you intend to do with the souvenir in question.  Do you have some way to use or display it that you love? Keep!  Are you chucking it in a box that may or may not see the light of day over the next few years?  It’s time for that item to move on out of your life.

However, you can prevent yourself from having to go through this decision making process in the first place by changing the way you approach souvenirs.  How can you commemorate and remember your epic travels without cluttering your home?  

Jim Thompson in Bangkok produces beautiful high quality silk pieces that work well in every day life.

1)   Research the product that the region you’ll be visiting is known for, decide if it’s something you know you’ll use, wear, or consume, and then search out a high quality example of that product.  Some examples: silk from Thailand, cashmere from Scotland, garnets from the Czech Republic, and of course specialty alcoholic beverages from just about anywhere (we were obsessed with Café Rica, a less sweet Kahlua analog made only in Costa Rica; and we came back from Argentina with 4 cases of malbec!).

Climbed to the top of Mount Popa in Burma and found a piece of home!  Now I'll never forget those 700+ steps in bare feet.

2)   Take pictures instead of purchasing trinkets.  In particular, take pictures of you and your travel companions doing activities, eating, and generally enjoying your trip!  You can always find a gorgeous public domain photo of pretty much every building or vista of any significance, but what you’ll really want to remember are the day of drinking rose by the pool under a gorgeous South American sun, how terrified you were going up the precarious stairs of a French cathedral, or the ridiculous inside jokes developed through southeast Asian public transportation adventures.  Once you get home, you can create photo albums that take up less space than many souvenirs but will spark more conversation!

3)   Send postcards from your trip.  No one gets snail mail anymore, so it’s a sweet gesture to do for a friend or family member.  The process of selecting and writing the postcard will also help cement certain memories of the trip for you, and you’ll likely get the chance to chat with the recipient at some point in the future and elaborate on your stories with them.

We’re heading to Scotland soon, and will try to make room in our suitcases for single malt scotches you can’t get in the US!  Where are you going on your next trip, and what cool product will you be looking for when you get there?