When you travel, all of these memories are imprinted on you. Human sensors of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. I truly believe in using your five senses to build long-term and lasting memories from your travels. As we’re traveling, everything is so fresh and front and center in your mind. It feels like those memories will be that sharp forever. But, with distance, memories can fade. For me, that’s where souvenirs come in.
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a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event.
Like that song from your youth that brings you right back to the very moment you heard it and experienced it, souvenirs have that same power. Those mementos from your travels are filled with the memories you associate with them. A souvenir isn’t limited to that quintessential gift shop buy we’re all familiar with, like an I Love NY shot glass. They can be anything you imbue memories into. Souvenirs are extremely personal and only the owner can tell you their full symbolic meaning. Only you know all those sense memories you get to experience every time you see your souvenirs.
Souvenirs don’t have to be solely destination based, either. For me, they are far more experiential. I tie them to moments and feelings I want to commemorate. Something that helps me tell my story to those who want to listen. Additionally, I try to focus on sustainable tourism. All tourism has environmental, economic and social impacts. Sustainable tourism focused on maximizing the positive while minimizing the negative.
Here are my top ten favorite souvenirs to collect while traveling. I don’t collect all of them for every place I visit and experience, but these are the types of souvenirs I’m looking for, collecting, loving while traveling.
One of my favorite things to collect while I’m traveling is passport stamps. I want to fill up every passport I ever own. It’s one way to share the story of my international travels. Plus, every stamp is unique and tells its own story. That being said, my love of collecting passport stamps isn’t just limited to government issued travel documents used for international travel. I tend to love any sort of stamp or stickering collecting opportunity.
Please note, it is recommended that you only use your U.S. passport for official, government sanctioned stamps and not collect souvenir stamps due to the following language included on page 5, “Only authorized officials of the United States or of foreign countries may place stamps or make notations or additions to this passport.”
If you really want to collect souvenir stamps, I highly recommend buying a souvenir stamp journal.
What do I collect:
- Government Issued Passport: I love traveling and collecting new passport stamps and visas. It is such a beautiful way to document our international travel.
- National Parks Passport (US): We love exploring parks while home. This National Parks Passport is such a fun way to create family memories and adventures while park hopping.
- Epcot World Showcase Passport (US): One of our absolute favorite things to do while visiting Walt Disney World in Florida is getting this World Showcase Passport while at Epcot and going to every country. The ambassadors at each Kidcot location write a note in their native language, write your name in their native language and then stamp your passport. There are also crafts in each country. Such a fun activity.
Before making the trip to a new-to-me destination, I research their local art culture fairly extensively. What does traditional art look like, where should I go to find local artists, what medium is most common or popular. I decorate my home with artwork from our travels. There is something so special about getting to honor an amazing experience with someone else’s interpretation of that moment. For instance, if we visit a beach and fall in love, I will often look for a local artist who has painted the same beach.
Please note, when buying local art, you’ll always want to think about available space in your luggage, as well as how you plan to safely transport your souvenirs. I often bring extra packing materials with me and leave space in my luggage so I’m prepared for my art purchases. Also, keep in mind that many street artists will not accept credit card payments. While it’s not always recommended to carry cash on you, if you want to support local street artists, cash might be king.
What do I collect:
- Paintings: I always look for a local street artist who is painting landscape or lifestyle pieces on canvas. My house is filled with beautiful landscape pieces that bring back such joyous memories. Some of my favorites are painted by Bahamanian street artist, Jeff Lewis.
- Home Decor: I love researching decor that uses historically significant techniques so when I add a piece to my collection, it represents the culture of the place I visited. For instance, we collect black clay pottery from Oaxaca, Mexico.
- Handcrafted Toys or Instruments: My daughter loves toys and music, so we position her collection of souvenirs toward handcrafted toys and instruments that are locally made and significant.
I will preface this by saying that I know this will be one of my most controversial collections. Truth be told, I am an arenophile. I have always loved sand and the idea of cataloging the sand, minerals and dirt of the world around me. I’m a hobbyist in the sand collecting world and a member of the International Sand Collectors Society. I also enjoy trading sand with others, as well as examining and comparing specimens from my travels.
Please note, it is extremely important that you know the rules if you plan on collecting samples during your travels. Sand collecting isn’t legal at every location or in every country. Most places will have signs warning you about sand collection and potential fines, but it’s really on you to research this before you travel. Additionally, if you are transporting samples across international borders, you’ll need to check customs regulations first. If sample collecting is allowed, respect the local ecosystem and do not take more than your small specimen.
What do I collect:
- Sand: I have specimens from 5 continents and growing. This is probably my most prized collection.
- Dirt: I also collect dirt samples from memorable and scientifically interesting places when possible (read: legal and ecologically sound).
- Rocks: Same with rocks. If I can legally collect rock, we will if there isn’t another specimen I’d rather collect. I try to be very careful about how I interact with nature and what I’m taking vs. giving back.
One of my oldest loves is language. Ever since I was little, I’ve known I have a faculty for language. It’s like this superpower. Being able to travel the world and communicate with new potential friends in their mother language? It’s honestly exhilarating. I love looking for the best local book stores whenever I travel. Often, I end up in fun antique shops exploring their book collections (and jewelry, but we’ll get to that).
Please note, while this can be a fairly inexpensive and very unique souvenir to add to your collection, books can get heavy quick. Make sure you plan ahead. I tend to leave my book shopping to the end of my trip, if possible. Worst case scenario, you can also ship books home, but it gets expensive quickly due to the weight.
What do I collect:
- Christmas books: Most countries and cultures have some sort of winter-themed holiday. We collect holiday books that we share with the family every year. We get the book in whatever language is the primary language of the place we’re visiting. One of our favorite traditions is getting the family together in our sitting room and reading holiday books together.
- Harry Potter: I have a collection of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone books in numerous languages. Every time I travel to a new place, I add a new edition to my collection.
- Journals: I am a journal addict, so I’m always on the lookout for the perfect journal to add to my collection. I use them for work and travel, so they don’t go to waste.
We always shop around for the most unique postcards we can find through our trip. Most places that sell postcards will almost always sell stamps, too.
Please note, postcards have their own postage rate. Make sure to ask or research before adhering those stamps! Also, I often arrive home before my postcards make it back, so keep that in mind, as well.
What do I collect:
- For family: We always send family and friends hello from whenever we’re traveling. We spend a lot of time picking postcards of places and things we’ve experienced that we feel that person will totally love!
- For us: My daughter always writes a secret message on a postcard and then sends it to our house. It’s a fun way to keep our trip alive after we’ve arrived home.
- For fun: We always buy extra postcards to keep as mementos.
If you’re familiar with me, you know I’m a foodie. I love researching the food history of places I visit. I want to experience local and traditional cuisine. Before visiting a new place, we try to get an idea of what dishes we should try. We also research grocery stores and gas stations. Once in country, we love going through a grocery store on the first day and exploring to find out what themes we notice. Like Icelanders and paprika or New Zealanders and meat-flavored chips. Since we typically have a lot of road tripping in our travel, we will often figure out our favorite non-perishable snacks offered and then subsequently get addicted.
Please note, transporting food can present challenges. First, make sure you’re familiar with any customs regulations that might limit what food you can transport internationally. Second, keep in mind that most food items are delicate and once they are packed in your luggage, they are likely to be tossed around quite a bit. Finally, if you are flying home, sealed foods like chip bags will inflate due to cabin pressurization during flight. If you are worried about the bags popping definitely plan for secondary packaging.
What do I collect:
- Chocolate: I am not a huge sweet eater, but I do love dark chocolate. Whenever possible, I like to try local dark chocolate to see if I’ve found a new favorite. My family loves Kit Kat bars and tend to collect unique flavors while we travel. We always bring some home with us for a special occasion.
- Chips: While my current diet due to my health is not able to accommodate most chips, I do love trying local chip flavors. We typically bring a couple bags of our absolute favorite home with us for a party.
- Local Treats: We love experiencing local snacks that are completely unavailable back home without paying a lot for shipping. We’ll always bring back an assortment of our favorites so we can enjoy them while home and reminisce. If it’s not the kind of snack that can travel with us, we enjoy it as much as we can while there.
Fashion matters a lot to me. My fashion is a big part of how I express myself. I have a very specific aesthetic, so when I find locally made apparel during my travels that really vibes with me, I’m typically compelled to add it to my wardrobe. I especially love supporting local designers and seamstresses/seamsters since that means I’m contributing to sustainable, slow fashion as opposed to fast fashion. I focus on handmade items that are high quality. Ideally, they use upcycled, organic, or repurposed materials and the purchase directly supports the makers.
Please note, handmade apparel items that are high quality will often also be higher cost. While fast fashion is typically more affordable, it matters to me that makers earn a living wage, the materials are eco-friendly, and the waste rates are lower. Also, make sure you account for fashionable buys like clothing and bags. Those items will quickly take up space and before you know it, you’re wearing three outfits and two jackets onto a plane. And yes, this is based on a true story.
What do I collect:
- Clothing: I am always on the lookout for new slow, sustainable fashion pieces to add to my closet. Every time I visit Iceland, for instance, I make sure to add a new knit wool piece to my collection.
- Jewelry: I wear a lot of jewelry every day. Rings on every finger (sometimes multiple). Bracelets, necklaces, earrings. My jewelry tells you a story about me. I focus on handmade pieces made with intention and purpose and also aesthetics. I’m a fan of looking for local designers making beautiful pieces with locally sourced stones.
- Bags: OK, I’m a purse addict. I collect them, use them, love them. I don’t buy a lot of bags during my travels, but will add a piece to my collection when the right handmade beauty comes my way.
My family loves Christmas. We love to decorate for the holidays. Christmas has always been a huge part of both of our families. We have one Christmas tree in our bedroom with ornaments from our travels. It’s inspiring getting to see these keepsakes from so many amazing experiences we’ve had together. And I don’t only look for items that are marketed as ornaments. I look for items that I feel would make a good ornament that relate to a memory we want to savor year after year and then I turn it into an ornament.
Please note, flying with fragile items is a nightmare. Especially if you have to check them in your luggage. If you plan on buying more delicate ornaments, have a plan beforehand. I tend to keep delicate, breakable items with me in my carry-on bags. I trust myself to care for them.
What do I collect:
- Gnomes: If you are selling a gnome, I’m buying it. I love gnome decor for all holidays, but especially Christmas.
- Landmarks: If we visit a landmark that we absolutely love, I’ll see if I can find an ornament or something I can turn into an ornament.
- Activities: We always find fun activities to partake in while traveling. They will make for super fun ornaments if I can find something that represents the experience.
My photography is my biggest collection of souvenirs. A lot of what you’ll see on this website are photos I took with very specific memories in mind. Memories I wanted to share with others. But I also have so many photos that are just for me. Just for my family. Treasures that I hold close. Photography means so much to me for many reasons. One big one is my challenges with occasional memory loss due to lupus. I want to make sure I’m surrounded by these amazing memories just in case my bouts of cognitive impairment grow lengthier as I get older.
Please note, it’s so important to focus on photography etiquette while traveling. Before traveling to a new place, make sure you have researched any rules that relate to your photography. For instance, some places of worship, historical sites, museums won’t allow photography. Additionally, make sure you get consent before taking photos of people. Work on getting comfortable with asking for consent non-verbally, since there may be a language barrier.
What do I collect:
- Portraits: I absolutely love taking beautiful portraits of my daughter as we travel all across the world. She’s living a life that I only ever dreamed of when I was her age. I never thought I’d be able to travel like we do. I traveled in books and films.
- Astrophotography: One of my new loves, thanks to the Northern Lights in Iceland, is astrophotography. Whenever visiting a new place, I plan an evening out to photograph the sky.
- Landscape: I have always loved taking photos of nature around me. All of our travels allow me to explore that and share those moments here.
So, I know you’re expecting this list to be filled with tangible items. Souvenirs are a thing, after all. Well, yes. But those things represent moments. Moments frozen in time. They bring back memories. Those memories? They are created thanks to experiences. For me, the number one thing I always want to collect while traveling are experiences. I want to immerse myself in the culture. I want to go on an amazing adventure. I want to eat local cuisine and meet local people and make lifelong friends. I want to be able to teach my daughter valuable lessons that she can only learn in those moments.
Please note, everyone travels differently. And, truly, there is no right way to travel. I have my own style and goals and expectations. But remember that it’s all valid and authentic and exciting.
What do I collect:
- Bucket List Moments: I have been compiling my bucket list since long before I knew what a bucket list was. I’m always adding to it, as well. I have so many things I want to see and do before I run out of time.
- Culturally Significant Moments: It’s so important for me to have an authentic experience while traveling. I want to meet local people and learn about local customs. I want to eat at restaurants that blogs like mine don’t typically even know about. I want to honor every place I visit.
- Beautiful Scenery: I find myself pausing and just looking at the beauty around me while traveling. I try to etch every experience in my brain so that it can’t even leave. I am often mesmerized by it all. The world is awe-inspiring.
Now you know what I collect while traveling. I hope you enjoyed getting to learn a little more about me and my collections. What do you collect? Leave a comment and let me know.