I messed up my posting this week. Sorry! So I’m trying again on Saturday / Sunday as a surprise.
As you know, I just got back from a 2 week family vacation in Colorado, and I’ve been thinking about souvenirs, possibly the most unnecessary yet expensive part of many people’s vacations, both in terms of money and the time spent seeking the objects.Â What motivates us to spend hours combing often tacky, crowded gift stores looking at mass produced and likely Made in China shot glasses, key chains, and t-shirts for something to take home, either for ourselves or as a gift for someone who did not make the trip with us?
According to Wikipedia, “AÂ souvenirÂ (from French, forÂ a remembrance or memory),Â memento,Â keepsake, orÂ token of remembranceÂ is an object a person acquires for the memoriesÂ the owner associates with it. The term souvenir brings to mind the mass-produced kitschÂ that is the main commodity of souvenir and gift shops in many tourist attractions around the world. But a souvenir can be any object that can be collected or purchased and transported home by the traveler. The object itself has no real significance other than the psychological connection the possessor has with the object as a symbol of past experience. Without the owner’s input, the object’s meaning is invisible and cannot be articulated.”
I love the elegance of this definition about objects that I consider to typically be the opposite of elegant. I think the last sentence especially explains why I at least so undervalue, even resent, when someone gives me a souvenir from a trip (which hasn’t happened for years, by the way). The object has no meaning to me, and therefore I see it exactly at face value – it’s a cheap t-shirt or a unwanted bit of kitsch.
Photographs are the most common souvenir, and I do enjoy taking photos, but I try not to go overboard. One at the top of Pike’s Peak is plenty. I don’t need 45 shots, like the lady standing next to me. I also like postcards, but I buy them and send them. I don’t hang onto them as a memento.
So in honesty, what did we return from our trip toting that we did not leave with?
3 t-shirts (me, Clara, and Audra). My t-shirt was an intentional replacement for a college t-shirt that I’ve had for years and need to make into a rag. I picked it carefully, and I like it. In fact, I’m wearing it right now. Both girls have also worn their shirts again. Clara’s references Colorado, but Audra’s is a graphic of horses.
copper ring – Audra
small matted photograph – Clara
3 bars of chocolate purchased at the Celestial Seasonings gift shop (a really fun tour if you happen to pass through Boulder, Colorado) – These were given to Clara’s boyfriend, and I’m sure they are not collecting dust on his shelf!
4 boxes of tea, also purchased at Celestial Seasonings. These are being consumed.
postcards – I believe that all we purchased were mailed while we were gone. (A travel tip – buy postcard stamps before you leave and take them with you. While it’s easy to buy postcards; it’s a lot harder to find a post office while you’re traveling.)
Are you a sucker for souvenirs? A person whose heart beats faster when you learn that the tour ends with a mandatory trip through the gift shop? Do you spontaneously buy things while traveling because they’re “cute” or “fun” or “a must have”? Do you have mouse ears from Disney, a t-shirt from the Grand Canyon, drilled playing cards from Vegas, and a snow globe with the Eiffel Tower inside. Do you need these things? Do you want them? Do you feel obligated to keep them now that they’re in your house? (“But it came all the way from (far away location) Cindy!”)
Prevention is the best cure, so I challenge you to not only move along a souvenir in your home, but also to resist next time you’re vacationing, and especially to teach your children that purchasing is not an obligatory part of every vacation, trip to the zoo, or visit to Grandma’s house.
It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow
Nora B. says
Haha, your article made me laugh. I have upstairs in my (large) “souvenir box”: a piece of (used) fishing net from Maine, two replica lobster buoys, a ‘buffalo pat’ frisbee from Dubois, Wyoming, a yellow feather from the Tea Party Ship in Boston, a rattlesnake’s rattle from Nebraska, a carabiner clip purchased in Grand Teton National Park, a ‘New York’ keyring and various other bags, t-shirts, books, maps and STUFF from my travels. Many of which are never used because they are ‘special’. Now, those are all ok and I do get occasional pleasure from having them…… but I ALSO have various bits of STUFF that other people have brought me back from trips all over the world. Your article has convinced me that those need to GO, because they have no meaning for me and only cause me GUILT and STRESS. And for my next big trip I am ONLY going to bring back consumable stuff like coffee or chocolate for friends and family.
Deb J says
Have to say that I am not that into souveniers. I do keep things to remind me of special trips/occasions but only if I think I am going to scrapbook them. When I get done with that layout I throw away anything I haven’t used. I also take picturee, use them for the layout and toss the rest.
We have traveled a lot and as I get older I return with fewer souvenirs. My son has a postcard collection so I usually purchase one or two to mail to him. Like you, I try to limit my purchase to items that will be consumed. One of my favorite “souvenirs” is the memory of taking my aunt who was then 92 on the Celestial Seasonings tour. It was such a pleasure to see her enjoy herself, and is one of the things my daughter and I will always remember about that trip to Colorado.
Colleen Madsen says
Hi Cindy, challenge accepted. Three weeks in the UK and not one souvenir purchased so far and none likely to be. We completed a survey for a man when departing on the ferry from Orkney. Among other things, he asked about how much we spent on food, accommodation, petrol etc during our visit and then asked how much did you spend on souvenirs. He got a mighty shock when I formed my fingers into zero and said nothing. He expected this to be one of the highest outlays. I am sure he thought I was a little odd. I would like to point out that the previous questions were directed to my husband while his eyes were directing on me when this last question was asked.
Deb J says
So, this guy seemed to think you would be the one to buy souveniers. Glad you could give him the 0 sign. What would be hilarious is if he did that to some couple and the woman said “None” and the man said “Ten.”
I was at a show in Edinburgh yesterday and on the way there I saw a girl with a Hard Rock Cafe bag and remembered how important it had seemed to me in my 20s to collect a shot glass from every HRC I visited. Now it just makes me think “what a waste of money”.
At the show whereas before Id have bought a programme and a souveneir, now I photograph my ticket and also the venue and put them on Instagram with my thoughts.
Started this after seeing one of Wendy’s posts about taking a photo if something sentimental
Oh and just back from hols with no souveneirs but 56 photos (we were only gone 4 days!). Thanks.again to 365 Less Things Im no longer cluttering up my life with mindless stuff!
Colleen Madsen says
I would also like to say, that I don’t find it at all necessary to purchase gifts for loved ones while I am on vacation. To me, these almost feel like some sort of compensation for having been left behind. The only time I bring things home from vacation for other people is when they they ask me to pick something up for them that is much less expensive at my vacation location. Skate shoes and boards for our son and Clinique products for our daughter are a must if we are traveling to America. These purchases are usually funded mostly by the receiver or are part if a birthday or Christmas gift from us. I don’t send postcards either as all my loved ones, with the exception of my son, are friends in Facebook where they can see photos of my trip in real time. I can also keep in touch with them this way with a much smaller carbon footprint.
Deb J says
I think you are smart, Colleen.
Great post Cindy. I do think sometimes we just need to be reprogrammed from the habit. Somehow there is some inbuilt belief in many of us that you ‘have’ to buy souvenirs. Sometimes all we need is something like your article, or an enlightened friend to point out that you don’t actually have to, and that memories can be held in no tangible ways.
I confess I do still get the frisson of excitement at the thought of a gift shop, but now I can just enjoy walking round it and don’t buy anything.
I too have learned to spot the – ‘how difficult is this going to be to let go of once I get home’ of other trip memorabilia.
Great post. I have had so many people ask what I bought on vacation, especially when I travel to Europe. They are always stunned when I say nothing, especially when you return from Paris. I traveled on a “round the world ticket” for 3 1/2 months and the only things I came back with were a new T-shift to replace one of the 3 in my back pack and a leather jacket from Italy. I had no plans to buy a leather jacket in Florence, but the 2 friends a had met up with had planned to. I could not believe it when I walked out of the shop with a beautiful leather jacket I had not planned to buy! The good news is the leather jacket is still being worn 10 years later and people still complement me on it when I wear it. Looking back over my many years of travel I realize if I buy things for myself or others it is something to wear, something to use, or something to eat.
I think, I never bought “souvenirs” from a souvenir shop, though I often brought things from trips. But usually, these are everyday items that are used everyday afterwards, like a blanket from Scotland, soup bowls from Japan, a handbag from San Francisco, a nice blouse from Barcelona, etc.
Cindy I. says
Like I said one day, I totally hate to buy things (even when I need it, it’s a tricky thing for me). And the same goes when it came to buying souvenirs. Most of all, I hate useless things, knick knacks (I have around 10 of them, and they are not cheap things, they all matter to me), and I hate to offer useless things to my people. In fact, when I went to visit some countries, I didn’t buy anything at all for me or for them (except one time when I bought tea and a diary).
Doodle is right, we feel obliged to bring back something with us, so itâ€™s not something that really came from a desire to offer something to the other person (even if it is in a way).
Vicki K says
I used to peruse shops for “useful” souvenirs, a wooden spoon to replace a broken one, or a wrought iron hook for my closet. But I still had to wrestle with not buying certain things.
These past two weeks, we’ve had guests from Germany. In all of our sightseeing I decided not to even enter the gift shops, unless our guests wanted to…which they didn’t. I felt so light and free–and I think even more present with our companions.
Vicki K says
My husband says I need to confess that yesterday, while I stuck to the grocery list, things fell apart quickly when I exited the store. I met the dearest 8 year old Boy Scout who wanted to know if I’d like to buy some Scout specialty popcorn. Why, yes I did.
I’ll confess that I shop for souvenirs. I buy silver charm bracelet charms. If I can’t find one I like I don’t substitute a teeshirt or fridge magnet. As I love them and wear them I don’t believe they are clutter. (I know being tiny doesn’t exempt them from being clutter, being worn should)
I’ll also confess that I’d be the woman taking 40 pictures of Pike’s Peak. But when I get home I delete all but the one or two best. They go on the digital picture frame where I can enjoy them daily.
I used to spend a great deal of my holidays shopping. What a waste of time, though I admit I did enjoy myself thoroughly at the time:-) When I was in Paris 25 years ago I was *obsessed* with finding the perfect French-made leather handbag and finally found one, but oh the hours I could have spent just soaking up the atmosphere of the streets, rather than being in perfume-drenched department stores! Then there was the tour of the Murano glass factory in Venice where all of us stupid, gullible tourists were persuaded to buy expensive liquor sets (which turned out NOT to be authentic Murano glass anyway). In all of my decluttering over the years I don’t think I’ve kept even ONE of the many souvenirs I collected!
Now, when the family go on holidays we only buy t-shirts, if we need them. I’d much rather be on the beach, or going for a walk, sitting in a cafe or just hanging out reading than shopping these days. So much more relaxing.
Delightful, Cindy! I have always wonderd why some gift t-shirts to a place I’ve never been. The shirts are just reminders of places I’ve never been. Thankfully I haven’t been given one in a long time because I wouldn’t keep it, but now my children get them, and they do use and enjoy the gift from a loved one. At least a t-shirt is useful. I have become great about not getting suiveneers. Now when we go somewhere as a family, we get t-shirts for the children if the shirts are quality, affordable, and will make the children smile and remember the place happily. On our recent trip, we got them shirts, and we chose one ornament for our tree that will remind us of the trip. The ornament is beautiful but has more meaning for us for sure. We do not have many ornaments and are slowly building our collection as we find, receive or make ones with meaning. We also got taffy since it was a beach trip, and that is all gone. When I feel a need to get a gift for someone, I get an edible treat, but more often I do not feel obligated to bring back anything. I get it if I happen upon it and know the person will love to eat it. But as a kid I loved going into those gift shops at amusement parks etc. I only had pocket money and would usually get a pen, bracelet or something small like that. Then I ended up with a pile of unwanted pens. 😉 So now I enjoy looking at beautiful things, but I don’t want to take them all home.
If I’m going to get a souvenir from a place, I like to get food since it’s something we’ll use quickly. Another option would be to get something I need anyway, such as potholders. I have one friend who likes to get tattoos instead of regular souvenirs ;).
I think one of the few things that is worth spending souvenir money on is painting of places you visited by local artist. I find that having a painting that I hang on my walls of some of the beautiful places I have visited gives me much more pleasure than a photo ever would. It also inspired people to ask you about it and then you can share the story of your amazing trip. I think the important thing tho is for it to be painted by a local artist, bonus if you can buy it off the street directly from the painter because then you know you have something unique and you have supported a person instead of a company.
Your post reminds me of a trip to Italy in 2009 with my sister. I was looking at an artist’s painting of Venice and my sister thought it would be nice as my Birthday gift the following month. We had passed by and then when I said yes, we walked all the way back to find him, and purchased it. I was so nervouse keeping it safe in the suitcase. When we returned, it cost me more money to have it framed then what my sister paid for it. I put it up on my living room wall and decided it looked lost. So then I purchased 2 wall sconces to balance it out. I too bought a pair of earrings at the Murano glass factory. They were so uncomfortable because the posts in Europe are larger than what I am accustomed to. They were donated a few years back. I guess I have learned that shopping abroad can be just as counter-intuitive as shopping at the local mall. Hope I learned my lesson. P.S. Aside from this negative post, I did so enjoy that trip with my sister and have many fond memories and some pictures too.
Colleen Madsen says
Hi Anna and welcome to 365 Less Things. I could just imagine the inconvenience of that artwork in your suitcase for the rest of your vacation. My husband and I have stopped buying souvenirs of our vacation because getting them home can be a right pain and in the end you tire of them anyway.