I’m about to embark on a 5-day trip to Nova Scotia (woo!) and it’s got me thinking about souvenirs. All those who are guilty of impulse shopping on vacation say “I”.
… What’s everyone looking at me for?
Okay, fine, I love a good souvenir shop. Or even a bad one. Point me to the nearest gift store and I’ll pick out something for each of my friends. And while you’re at it, direct me to the stack of free brochures because I want all of them. So I can decorate my room, of course. And hang on to the memories of this trip, of course. I’m an excellent tourist.
At least I used to be.
Souvenirs Aren’t Souvenirs
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of traveling, and to convince yourself that in order to experience this new culture, you really have to buy as much of the local goods you can. Like new sunglasses, new jewelry and a generic “I heart *insert city name here* t-shirt”. Because these things serve as souvenirs to help us remember our great adventures.
But – hang on. These things are not really souvenirs at all. If you’re like me, each trinket gives you an initial feeling of fulfillment as you excitedly ring it through the cash register, shove it in your suitcase and imagine showing it to your friends back home. But once you do get it home, its charm fades remarkably quickly and this “souvenir” ends up stuffed into a box of keepsakes never to be looked at again.
Our memories are not in our things. Our experiences are not in our things. Our emotions are not in our things. They are in ourselves and the people around us.
So Why Do We Buy Them?
I think we buy souvenirs in an attempt to capture some part of our experiences and hold onto them indefinitely. But in doing so, we lose something special. We are so busy trying to commemorate our experiences that we forget to live them.
If I look back on the junk I’ve gotten rid of in the past, a lot of it has been souvenir items. A flag from here, a slew of unused postcards from there, and too many non-flattering souvenir t-shirts to mention. But I can barely remember what I did on any of those trips, the places I saw or the way I felt when I was there.
One of the most recent items I let go of was a tiny gondalier hat I’d picked up on a trip to Venice years ago. I came across the little hat when going through my old room at my parent’s house. I looked at the hat and realized I felt absolutely nothing towards it (sorry, hat).
It wasn’t that I’d gone off it, the truth is I probably never felt anything towards it in the first place. I bought it because that’s what you buy when you’re in Venice and I was tricked into thinking I needed it. But seriously, who needs a tiny gondalier hat? Maybe a tiny gondalier, but that’s about it…
So this little hat had sat in my old room for about 7 years. For the majority of the time, in a box. Some souvenir.
Should We Stop Souvenir Shopping?
I’m not saying all travel keepsakes are terrible, or that any of them are. In fact, it’s entirely up to you. If you love tacky souvenirs, you can have as many of them as you like. But I think there’s a difference between impulsively choosing something from a gift shop and genuinely finding something special that you think will add value to your or someone else’s life.
Because impulsively-snatched up souvenirs are just about the worst little tricksters around. They distract us from the present and give us a false sense of involvement in a culture that we most likely haven’t taken the time to get to know. Worst of all, they don’t help us remember our trips, they help us to forget them.
What are your thoughts on souvenirs? What’s the tackiest souvenir you’ve ever regretted bringing home? Let me know in the comments!
And if you want some advice on slowing down your shopping, check on my post on How To Stop Buying Stuff You Don’t Need!