It seems that there has always been a kind of synonymity present between traveling and buying souvenirs–you don’t do one without the other. Centuries ago, aristocrats would decorate their
chateaus houses with “genuine” artifacts from their travels, from rugs to vases to whatever suited their fancy. All done artfully, of course. I don’t mean to say that the buying souvenirs today is rooted in bragging–although for some, I’m sure it is; rather, I think it’s more about trying to physically cement the memories acquired from traveling. You think: maybe if you buy that key chain all my memories will miraculously stay intact within that object. But what good, really, is a magnet of an Amsterdam house stuck to the fridge or a postcard from London that sits on a bookshelf gathering dust?
I’ve been in London for almost three months now, and I’ve kept my purchases to a minimum. In Oxford, I bought a postcard that I intend on framing, a small dish to put my rings in, and–in a lovely twist of irony–two rings in a shop in Shoreditch. Even in Vienna, though I wasn’t averse to buying anything, nothing stood out to me all that much. Perhaps that’s where the difference lies between worthless crap and something of value–and by value I don’t just mean monetary. (On another note, I think small gifts for others are different than souvenirs for yourself–it’s like telling the person you thought of them in your travels).
Maybe the world is in a mindset where we need something physical, something material to represent a trip we’ve taken. And maybe if you’ve got money to spare on a designer handbag from your galavant to Italy or places to store your bordering-on-tacky buys from souvenir shops, ok, that’s your choice. I like stuff as much as the next person–and maybe that’s because we’ve been taught to value stuff. But I still can’t help but wonder if we’d be better off bringing home stories, culturally eye opening experiences–and a few photographs–as our main souvenirs.
While this topic did arise in my mind because of budgeting–should I allocate money for buying souvenirs or should I not?–I think it’s one worth exploring. (Again, I’m not saying I plan on avoiding souvenirs altogether–just the tacky ones). It’s almost as if it’s wrong to rely on memories alone. You must have something to show for your travels. But wouldn’t it be great to come home with a relatively empty suitcase, maybe a valuable purchase or two, and a head full of stories to share?