The most bittersweet part of any trip is leaving. Whether you’re going home or heading to a new destination entirely, it’s hard to leave a place you’ve come to love, and the urge to take a piece of that experience with you can be incredibly tempting. As you spend time in any new place, especially if it’s a major tourist destination, you will undoubtedly be accosted from all sides by market vendors hawking t-shirts, magnets, and other trinkets to take home and serve as a memento. Or maybe you’ll be more drawn to pieces of art, home goods, or more subtle souvenirs to bring back and remind you of your trip whenever you see or use them. But before you pick up that gorgeous bone china tea set or the abstract sculpture you know will go perfectly in your garden, remember that once you buy it, you’ll need to find a way of actually getting it back home. Fragility aside, souvenirs just take up a lot of room, especially if you’re traveling with only a carry on or your suitcase is already packed to bursting.
But don’t worry it’s definitely still possible to bring home memories of your trip without having to dump most of your stuff or going broke on airline fees for extra baggage. There are plenty of souvenir options that will help you commemorate your trip and preserve the memories you created there, while taking up little to no extra room in your luggage.
A Travel Journal
Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but nothing brings me back to my favorite adventures quite like reading about how I felt in those moments. A travel journal can be a fat leather bound notebook with thick, creamy pages, or just a collection of napkins you write on in bars, but hands down, one of the best ways to preserve your memories from your trip is to put them in writing. For a souvenir that’s packed with more souvenirs, buy a pretty notebook from a shop when you get to your destination and fill it with memories. Many journals even have a pocket in the back where you can stash ticket stubs, stickers, business cards, photos, or other little mementos. Write long, poetic essays about how the sunset in the Spanish countryside makes you feel, or keep a simple, bullet-style list of the things you do each day on your trip, including itineraries, silly anecdotes, inside jokes, and strange observations about the new culture you’re experiencing. Writing down the memory will help cement it in your mind and looking back at your notes and entries after you get home will take you right back whenever you need a mood boost.
Postcards are a classic minimalist souvenir. They’re cheap, easy to find, and they take up virtually no space. It’s all well and good to choose an image of the city skyline, particularly if it’s a distinctive and easily recognizable one, but to build the biggest impact for your memory, look for postcards that reflect something specific that you love about the place you’re visiting, like a unique statue that made you laugh when you saw it in the museum, or the picturesque bridge you walked over every morning on your way to the city center. When you get home, you can frame them or hang them on your fridge as pieces of commemorative mini-art.
New Facebook Friends
Making friends while traveling can be difficult if you’re not a particularly extroverted person. But putting yourself into situations where you’ll be forced to interact with other people — like taking a group walking tour of a city or attraction, taking a class, going on a pub crawl, staying in a communal room at a hostel, or traveling with a group through TrovaTrip — means you’ll continually be put into situations that allow you to forge connections and make friends. And whether you’re chatting with your tour guide, having a beer with someone who works at your hostel, or sightseeing with other travelers, meeting these people can completely define your trip. Encourage your new friends to follow you on social media and do the same for them. Now when you get home and see their names in your newsfeed, you’ll have an instant burst of memory about the times you shared while traveling. Plus, next time you venture out into the world, you might just have a few more people to see and places to visit.
If I could make the food I’ve tried while traveling last forever, I’d never need another souvenir again. Trying new foods is one of my favorite parts about visiting a new place, and on my last trip, I took it one step further. I brought some blank index cards in my backpack and asked the people I met to write down their favorite recipes for me. If I tried something I loved from a street vendor or in a restaurant, I immediately looked up recipes online and saved them in a special folder. I constantly asked, “What’s in this?” and made notes for my favorite dishes. Then, when I got back to the US, I started cooking. I bought a special recipe book where I kept all the delicious tips and dishes I’d collected. Now, when I make shepherd’s pie, I’m brought right back to the time I spent at a cider orchard in Wales, and when I miss the community atmosphere of the hostel where I lived and worked in Croatia, I can make plum dumplings right from the comfort of my own kitchen.
Maybe you found a perfectly round, smooth stone on a beach in France. Or perhaps while hiking in Italy, you spotted a patch of brightly colored wildflowers you’d never seen before. Whether it’s a cool leaf, a pretty seashell, or another found object, these small trinkets can make great souvenirs. Press some leaves and wildflowers between the pages of your travel journal for a physical reminder of one of the things you loved about your travels or save those little pebbles and seashells to put on a shelf or in your garden when you get home. Be aware, however, that many places you visit have rules against collecting stones or picking flowers for conservation purposes, so choose wisely.
Sure, you could spend 5€ on that plastic magnet to bring home and hang on your fridge or exchange your cash back to your local currency when you get back. But if you’ve got a few coins or small notes left at the end of your trip, consider saving them. Having a collection of international currency is a really neat souvenir, and it’s one that your friends and family back home will enjoy looking at, especially if you just got back from a country with unique currency or one where the exchange rate is outrageously skewed (showing your family members a note for 100,000 Indonesian Rupiah — approximately $7.00 USD — is a treat in and of itself). Consider investing in a shadowbox when you get home or finding another way to display your leftover cash. Plus, if you ever go back to that country in the future, you’ve got a head start on some spending money.
This one may seem like the most obvious minimalist souvenir, but I’m hesitant to include it here. Studies show that photos are actually a crutch for real memories, and by viewing your trip through the screen on your phone or the viewfinder of your camera, you may be compromising your actual memories of the trip. By taking a photo, you’re telling your brain that you don’t actually need to remember the moment, because you now have a digital aid to remember it for you. That being said, photos are a very real way to remember exactly how something looked, capture a moment with friends, or bring a piece of your trip home with you. Instead of snapping nonstop images of a sunset or the art in a museum, limit yourself to just one or two pictures. You’ll find that the photos you do take are more inspired and well thought out — and if you print them and hang them up when you get home you’ll have yet another souvenir — plus, you might just be surprised to find that the memories you have surrounding those photos are stronger and more vivid.