Small investment, big return
I’m not suggesting anyone begin gathering a cost prohibitive assortment of souvenirs. If you buy a TV every time you travel someplace new, well, I don’t think you quite get the concept. Of course, travel souvenirs can be overpriced and chintzy, but they don’t have to be. And compared to the overall price tag of a vacation, even a ten dollar trinket is a tiny percentage of what you spend in the end. Growing up, my family bought pennants and put them up along the wall next to our beds. We’re adults now, moved on from the nest, and our bedrooms may have been converted to guest rooms, but the banners have stood the test of time. The collection probably cost less than a hundred bucks over the course of twenty years to put together, but my brother and I can still look back and distinctly remember our childhood today: memories we might have lost, otherwise. The recollections encapsulated there are worth way more than the few dollars it took my parents to build them. I look forward to the return on investment for my own children one day.
It might be practical
Souvenirs don’t have to sit in a drawer somewhere. You can find practical ways to make use of them. Take my brother. He makes sure to pick up a pint glass before he makes his way home. He stores them in his freezer, and he’s never short of a frosty mug when a party of unexpected friends drops by. If a glass breaks, it’s no big deal. He’s happy to replace it the next time he goes away.
My mother has always tried to be pragmatic about souvenirs, too. She liked to buy a towel on vacation every now and again. She’d use it at the beach or pool for a year or two until the threads wore out, and then pick up a new one to replace it on the next trip. It was kind of like a revolving collection. The point is that if you’re actually using the stuff that you bring home, then you’re getting more than a reminder of the good times you’ve had.
One of my favorite decorations in our apartment is the wooden rack where we keep our tiny spoons hanging. Yes, we actually buy those things! On our first trip ever together to San Diego in 2010, Sarah and I wanted to start building a new collection. Playing up our slightly kitschy streak, we landed on spoons. Since then, we’ve set up a display case and rotate the pieces every so often. Whether people think we’re being ironic, or cute, or plain old strange, the spoons are always a topic of conversation when we have guests over. We get to talk about where we’ve been, and they tell us about their travels, too. Having an interesting collection on display is a great way to get the party started!
It’s fun & challenging
Not only do we collect tiny spoons, but Sarah and I have stored up an impressive number of squished pennies, too. We keep them in a treasure box we bought down the shore.
You have to have seen by now one of those boxes with the big wheel that costs $.51 to operate. The vendor keeps the quarters, but you get your penny back, flattened and engraved with a design, plus the name of the place you’re visiting. These machines aren’t everywhere – but they’re usually somewhere. The challenge is to find one. With as much traveling as we do, we’re constantly on the lookout for a new squished penny machine. Spotting an opportunity to pick one up is always a little thrilling, and twisting the wheel is really super fun. For the cost of an arcade game, we get to keep a memento that we actually had a hand in making.
It takes a certain type. Not everyone can collect, nor does everyone want to. But a lifelong collection of souvenirs is not only a representation of where you’ve been, but the experiences that have shaped you, and who you are, too. Spoons and squished pennies say something different than shot glasses and matchbooks do. In the age of digital photos and Facebook timeline, it’s something else entirely to grasp a memory; something that may disappear in our lifetime. Sure, fondly recalling memories may be nostalgic, but souvenirs are, too. They’re one more telling way to document a life.
What do you think?
What do you collect?
Is collecting worth the storage space?