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Something to Remember You By

Just the place for souvenir shopping: the Saturday market in Otavalo, Ecuador

Travelers tend to fall into one of two camps: those who buy souvenirs for themselves, and those who don’t.

While I understand the reasoning of travelers who don’t (wanting to spend money on the experience, not wanting to accumulate clutter), I fall firmly into the pro-souvenir contingent. I was reminded of this recently when I was getting ready to go out to dinner and found myself putting on a ring from France, a necklace from Australia, and earrings from Ecuador.

I don’t go for the kitschy magnets of the Eiffel Tower, but instead look for things that are both authentic to the destination and that I can incorporate into my everyday life. (Being able to incorporate them into my suitcase is also important.) Jewelry and scarves are near the top of the list. My Ecuador earrings, for example, are silver filigree butterflies, purchased from the artisan who made them in the town that’s famous for its silver. I also have a particular penchant for small (inexpensive) paintings being peddled by local artists at street markets, and as a result my apartment is now adorned with watercolors from Ecuador, oil paintings from France, photographs from Prague, and a prized piece of lacquer from Vietnam.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by souvenir shops while you’re traveling. To get a handle on all your options, do some research before you leave home. What is each destination particularly known for? Then seek out places where you can buy genuine local products, instead of mass-produced items from China (unless, of course, you’re in China). If you can buy them directly from the producer, even better. But ultimately, you should choose items that speak to you. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or take up a lot of space in your suitcase to come home with something truly special.

As I wrote previously, the most valuable souvenirs that we bring home from our travels are invisible: the ways our lives, habits and perspectives subtly shift by exposure to different cultures and experiences. But it’s nice to have a visible reminder of our travels, too. After all, the word “souvenir” is a French word, meaning “to remember.” Surrounded by these small tokens of past adventures, the broader world never feels far away.

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