Monday, March 1, 2010

When Traveling, Do You Bring an Extra Bag for Souvenirs?

Flight 001 featured this stowaway bag in a recent e-mail newsletter, and my first reaction was: Neat product.

But my second reaction was: I wonder if carrying a bag like this encourages us to bring back stuff that just becomes clutter?

I realized that while I carry such a bag myself - not this one, but the same basic type - I very rarely use it. I'm still glad to have it, because sometimes I do happen upon something bulky that I just adore. But I've also taken a number of trips where I brought home no souvenirs beyond my photos and my travel diary. So for me the secret is being prepared to have that extra bag sit unused, if nothing special comes my way.

Travelers have different approaches to souvenirs. Some go for foodstuffs, or Christmas ornaments, or refrigerator magnets, or tea towels. Looking at my collection, you can see I've picked up stuffed animals, plates, and artwork - and some special t-shirts. I also love to buy holiday greeting cards from different countries. A book or two often finds its way into my suitcase, too.

Here is Erik Torkells' approach:
When I first started traveling, I was delighted by refrigerator magnets, T-shirts, embroidered patches, and snow globes - all the usual gift-shop kitsch. At some point, however, it struck me as a shortcut, celebrating a destination’s clich├ęs rather than the place itself. So I moved up to items that were unavailable on every other corner and, ideally, handmade. ...

Now, I hunt for what I call “unsouvenirs.” ... They’re different from souvenirs in that they capture the essence of a place not simply because they were purchased there, but because - this is the important part - locals actually use them. ...

I just visited Rome for the first time. ... I bought ... premixed Campari and soda in Art Deco bottles, a package of assorted paper from an art-supply shop, Elmex toothpaste, and a lip balm called HerpeSun. They’ll remind me of Rome every time I use them.
Compare this what Chani wrote on the Rick Steves web site: "I have lots of things I could happily have left unbought." That includes "dozens of knicknacks that are hidden in a cupboard because if they are on display, the cat attacks them and they need lots of dusting."

The key is to figure out what items will bring you joy when you get home - rather than making you wonder, "What was I thinking?"

Related posts:
Souvenirs: Select with Caution
Souvenir Advice from Susan Allen Toth

11 comments: said...

I have a very sweet mother in law who brings us back various stuff from her trips around the globe. Unfortunately most of it ends up just being clutter in our house.

I rarely bring back "stuff" from our trips. I would rather spend my money going on the trip than bringing back things from it that I don't need.

Julie (Joypup on SCS) said...

The is one of the most compelling articles I have read since subscribing: great job. And, since I am heading up to Alaska on a trip to see family, it is helpful. I will most likely bring back tons of photos, and that's the important thing.

My Father suffers from depression, and when he travels he is usually happy, so the souvenirs remind him of those happy times... however then pay for them with moving them about, dusting, and other clutter. I am seeing a change in their buying, though, which is good -- they don't want to carry as much... and I try not to kid my dad... since I know why he is doing it.

Undead Molly said...

Reading this I thought you might be interested in one of my favorite souvenirs from any destination - a bag!

Whenever I travel somewhere one of the first places I stop is a grocery store to pick up some water and portable snacking foods for the days ahead. While doing this I will also purchase one of the reusable grocery bags being sold at the store. This way I have:

a. something to carry my grocery items back to my lodgings with (duh)
b. a tough bag that I can carry with me throughout the trip to deposit souvenirs, etc. that won't tear under the strain of heavier items like plastic bags will.
c. a bag that I can tote around in public that doesn't mark me as a tourist. When most people see me carrying around a bag bearing the local grocery store's logo, they assume I'm just a resident with groceries.
d. a souvenir that will never collect dust! I now have an eclectic collection of reusable bags with different colors and languages all over them. I use them all the time and they often spark up interesting conversations with the checkout/bagging folks back at home.

Other souvenirs I like to keep are tickets stubs from museums, galleries, zoos, etc. to accompany the photos in our album. Something about the printed tickets bring the memory to life more than a doodad from the gift shop would.

Heather said...

Thank you for posting this! I've been moving towards this mindset over the past few years, and it's really nice to see it affirmed.

It would be great to start your kids out with this idea so that later on, they don't have to deal with the useless yet sentimental trinkets from their childhood.

JustGail said...

Excellent timing on this post! We just got back from a short trip to the Bahamas. We signed up for an excursion of a glass-bottom boat ride and short bus tour of Nassau. During the bus tour, we made a short stop at the fort, which has a small souvenir market. I bought 1 tote bag, that's the only item I bought on the entire trip. My husband bought about 6 T-shirts and 3 baseball caps (with advertisements for the Bahamas, the boat, and Cocoa Beach) and a model of the ship, most for our son. Will his purchases be a burden? In this case, most likely not - my son will get good use out of the shirts and hats. The tote bag paid for itself in the savings from taking our own snacks on the plane back home ($2 for a snack-size bag of pretzels and $4 for a bottle of water ?!?! - ouch!)

My husband mentioned getting something for the people who our son was staying with, but I made some of the points that have been mentioned here. So we are getting them a gift certificate to the local pizza place as a thank-you for our son eating supper and spending the nights there.

For me, the souvenier buying lost it's charm when nearly everything was marked "made in China". Even the bags of shells were from the Philipines. Unfortunately, we weren't there long enough to search out some good Bahama-made items.

My souveniers for myself are my photos, a couple of rocks and shells picked up on the beach, the boarding pass stubs, and the memories. Oh yes - and the lessons for if we go again - bring small bills for lots of tips, and yes - anti-nausea medication is a good thing for me.

Undead Molly - that's a very interesting twist on the tote bags. You are right - tote bags are one of the more useful souvenirs, but they can be a bit "tourist" sign.

Jeri Dansky said...

I'm glad this post resonated so well with so many people.

Amy, that's a good point about spending your money on the experience, rather than the stuff.

Julie, I hope your father can get some relief from his depression.

Undead Molly, I love the idea of getting a tote bag from a local grocery store! And I understand about the ticket stubs; some museums have some really gorgeous ones, so if you're making albums, they can be a great addition.

Heather, you made me think about what I bought as a child. I remember having a few of those snow domes - long gone, now. But I'd moved beyond that by the time I was 16 or so.

JustGail, I agree there's nothing wrong with t-shirts and caps, no matter how touristy, if they are going to be appreciated and worn. I've been wearing my t-shirt from Danang for 18 years now! (It's on its last legs, sadly.)

Gigi94025 said...

I love the idea posted above about getting a local tote bag, because like socks, we seem to lose these around my house at an amazingly fast rate!

I have in the past taken a bag similar to the one in the blog post to use as a tote bag at my vacation location for carrying groceries, etc. I then fold it back up and take it back home.

Anonymous said...

It makes sense to bring a small tote bag that can double as an overnight or day trip bag. You don't necessarily need to fill with souvenirs, but you can also take it out to use as a day bag. Bringing your own maps, water, snacks, and etc from a corner drugstore to "tourist destination" can be a great way to save money while traveling.
I like this version of a "spare bag" better since it can be used as a day pack and for everyday use.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I like the local grocery tote bag idea, too!

I also like Erik Torkell's unsouvenir items. It's the using that will keep the memories alive. And it's refreshing to see that someone is comfortable buying a souvenir or two that eventually will be completely used up!

positdesign said...

For me, like Erik, it's definitely about the silver ring I got at a tiny outdoor market in Florence, the Hemingway book I bought at Shakespeare&Co in Paris, the Kafka poster from Prague, the amazing Marc Jacobs top I scored for $8 in an L.A. consignment store...etc.

I'd much rather come home with something I love and use than buy a souvenir just for the sake of having a city name silkscreened on something.

The Road Taken said...

I love to travel; I live in Europe right now, possibly for good. My favourite travel tote came with a crappy suitcase years ago. It folded up tiny, made of nylon, and I literally wore it out. Going to Europe(from Canada) I would take a carry-on there, and then check my carry-on on the way back and my folding tote became my carry-on home, with souvenirs. Now I saved my budget for souvenirs I could use--I often buy interesting pens (still use and love a pewter pen from New Orleans in 1994, etc.)or scarves (but then again, I wear them, they're not clutter)and I still wear a fabulous pair of oxblood patent loafers from Italy I bought 10 years ago. I also buy ceramics, although they're not lightweight--but a gorgeous pitcher or set of mugs brings me so much pleasure for so long.

I refuse to bring souvenirs for other people--have learned my lesson there--being a pack mule for others' requests makes me very resentful--and I carry tiny notebooks where I assess what worked for me that trip and what did not. That way I have learned how to be a good traveller without too much stuff. And I have such joy remembering my trips with photos and things I use daily.