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Favorite Travel “Souvenirs”: Collecting Memories from Abroad

July 31, 2009
Last week a discussion was sparked about the various souvenirs people chose to collect while traveling.  “Souvenirs” serve as tangible stand-ins for the places we have visited, evoking memories and emotions of our time spent abroad years after the trip has ended.  We hang them on our walls, display them on shelves, and even adorn our bodies with them.  Whether a key-chain picked up for next to nothing at a tourist shop in the airport or a priceless piece of cultural heritage, these objects are visual reminders of a time when we visited a place we didn’t want to forget.  With this in mind, I asked several of my favorite travel tweeters and bloggers to share their favorite “souvenir” from their many travels. 
Glass Rhino from South Africa, collected by @velvetescape

Glass Rhino from South Africa, collected by @velvetescape

This Ngwenya glass rhino is one of my favourite souvenirs. I bought it in a tiny shop at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, SouthAfrica. It’s made by a co-operative of glass makers in Swaziland who work with recycled Coca Cola bottles. The Ngwenyaglass project, founded by a Swedish non-profit organization, creates employment opportunities and alleviates poverty while teaching the age-old craft of glass-blowing to and instilling a sense of environmental awareness in Swazis.  The green tint of the Coca Cola glass bottles is easily recognisable. The rhino stands proudly with its head facing the entrance of my home – I placed it this way when a feng shuimaster told me that a rhino figurine in this position works as a protective charm.  — Keith (see Keith’s blog, Velvet Escapes, or follow him at @velvetescape)
Trophy from Tour d'Afrique, South Africa collected by @theplanetd

Trophy from Tour d'Afrique (South Africa); collected by @theplanetd

One of our most meaningful souvenirs of late would have to be my trophy from the Tour d’Afrique. We saw early on that I had a great chance of becoming Women’s Champion of this 12,000km cycling race from Cairo to Cape Town. Dave was guaranteed a top 5 finish and won the title of EFI (every fabulous inch) so he put in all of his efforts to helping me win. We worked as a team for four months. It is as much Dave’s trophy (if not more) as it is mine and we proudly display it front and center in our living room.  — Dave and Deb (See their blog, The Planet D, or follow them at @theplanetd)

Tin Tower from Paris, France; collected by @parisiensalon

Tin Tower from Paris, France; collected by @parisiensalon

There’s a delightful little shop on avenue Bosquet in Paris’ 7th arrondissement called Florent Monestier, and each time I’m in Paris, I pay a visit. When you walk in the door and turn right, there are shelves and shelves of these collectible tin toys. None are made in France, but there is something so Parisien about them, at least to me. I’ve collected quite a few of them, and each time I look at them, I think of my love for the rue Cler neighborhood and my many visits there.  — Linda (See Linda’s blog, Parisien Salon, or follow her at @parisiensalon)

Cherub Sconce from Tuscany, Italy; collected by @wanderlustwomen

Cherub Sconce from Tuscany, Italy; collected by @wanderlustwomen

 After two weeks traveling through Tuscany  my suitcase was just about full; however, we stopped in lovely Pienza one night, which is known for alabaster gifts.  I was about to walk out of the shop when I turned to exit and noticed this cherubic sconce on the wall.  I just had to have it.  The shop owner and my friend laughed because they knew by the expression on my face.  She bubble-wrapped it well, and I carried it on the plane.  That was pre-911; I don’t know if I would get away with it now.  — Lisa (See Lisa’s blog, Travel Dreams and Moonbeams, or follow her at @wanderlustwomen)

Mask from Venice, Italy; collected by @KirbyRenee
Mask from Venice, Italy; collected by @KirbyRenee
This is an authentic Venetian mask from Venice, Italy. I went there two years ago and thought this to be a must-have souvenir because they are famous in Venice, and you see them everywhere!  Though it is not hard to find a place selling these masks, the innumerable selections make it difficult to decide on just one.  — Kirby (Follow Kirby at @KirbyRenee)
Watercolor of Collosseum from Rome, Italy; collected by @KirbyRenee

Watercolor of Colleseum from Rome, Italy, collected by @KirbyRenee

 I bought this watercolor of the Colosseum done by a local artist in Rome.  Artists set up their stands throughout the city, and you can find prints at very reasonable costs.  This is a great, inexpensive souvenir that can be a meaningful piece of art in your home.  I have a wall that serves as an on-going collection of all my favorite pieces.  — Kirby (Follow Kirby at @KirbyRenee)

Moroccan Rug; collected by @solotraveler

Moroccan Rug collected by @solotraveler

 Traveling solo I tend to travel light and rarely collect souvenirs along the way.  But special things can be shipped. In 2002, I bought two rugs in Morocco.  This one sits in front of my fireplace.  — Janice (See her blog, Solo Traveler, or follow her at @solotraveler)

Ink Drawing of Ganesh from Chennai, India; collected by @journeywoman
Ink Drawing of Ganesh from Chennai, India; collected by @journeywoman

I’ve been travelling solo for 27 years. In that time I’ve visited 60 countries and, as you can imagine, countless gift shops. It makes sense then that I tired of souvenir shops a long time ago. Instead I seek out artists who create art for tourists in markets around the world. The majority of pieces in my collection are under $20 and are wonderful reminders of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met. One of my favorite souvenirs is from an artisans’ village outside of Chennai, India. A gentleman designing batik pillow cases caught my eye and I stopped to watch him creating likenesses of the God Ganesh, one of the best-known deities in India. I loved his interpretations and asked him if he would create an ink drawing for me. I gave him a piece of imperfect, slightly crumpled computer paper that, by chance, I had in my backpack. Two hours later I returned to pick up my art and asked the artist to name his price. His bill amounted to seventy-five cents in my Canadian currency. His beautifully detailed drawing complete with a whimsical mouse in the bottom left-hand corner now hangs framed in my kitchen reminding me of a lovely man in an unforgettable country.  — Evelyn (See Evelyn’s website,, or follow her at @journeywoman)

Turquoise ring from Xpuha, Mexico; collected by @ashleyindallas (Me)
Turquoise ring from Xpuha, Mexico, collected by @ashleyindallas (Me)
 One of my favorite things to collect during my travels is jewelry.  I like the idea of something made by a local artisan that is unique to the specific culture.  Also, something portable that can adorn the body serves as a great conversation piece I can carry with me while at home in Texas or during my travels.  This piece I purchased at a small arts and crafts exposition held at our resort in Xpuha (about an hour outside of Cancun). — Ashley (Follow me at @ashleyindallas)
Watercolor prints from Paris, France, collected by @ashleyindallas (Me)
Watercolor prints from Paris, France; collected by @ashleyindallas
 Asking everyone last week about their favorite things to collect as souvenirs, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who responded with local art works.  Collecting local artwork is something I have been trying to start doing during my travels, and some locales lend to this better than others.  Here are four watercolor prints I purchased from an artist in Paris.  I had a difficult time finding pieces I liked in Paris; they all seemed either too kitsch or way out of my price point.  I found these prints from an artist set up inside the courtyard of the Place des Vosges.  His originals were very expensive, but the prints were extremely reasonable.  Having the chance to chat with the artist about painting, Paris, and even my Texas governor make these some of my most memorable souvenirs. — Ashley (Follow me at @ashleyindallas)
Do you have a memorable souvenir or favorite thing to collect while travelling?  Please share in the comments section!
*Also, see Keith’s post, “The Ubiquitous Fridge Magnet”, on the Velvet Escape blog of  magnets he has collected from around the world!


28 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2009 10:12 am

    This is a fantastic idea for a post. We also collect a lot of local art. It is wonderful to support local artists. One of our favorites is a pen and ink drawing of Bali Dancers that we bought from an artist that came to visit us at our guest house. We bought a pair of them and they are hanging in our hall. We get a lot of comments from friends on those.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      July 31, 2009 10:45 am

      Local art seems to be a popular souvenir. I think it is a great way to support the local culture and have a true “piece” of somewhere in your home.

  2. July 31, 2009 10:25 am

    Hi Ashley, Thanks for the mention. You did a great job. Ciao, Lisa

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      July 31, 2009 10:47 am

      You’re welcome, Lisa! The sconce is lovely as I’m sure are your memories of Tuscany. Haven’t had a chance to make it there yet, but I am hoping to go on my next trip to Europe.

  3. Kirby permalink
    July 31, 2009 11:17 am

    Hey Ashley, I love the post. Thanks for including my items. I love collecting things while I travel. You never know when you will be back there and there are unique things around the world that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s nice to be able to take a piece of the place back home with you.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 2, 2009 10:59 am

      Thanks, Kirby! I really love your idea of dedicating a wall in your home for all the the art and collectables you gather during your travels.

  4. July 31, 2009 3:19 pm

    What a great post. It is so much fun to see the different things people choose to bring home with them. We pick up all sorts of things like street art and jewelry on our travels but the two things that we consistently buy are Christmas ornaments and children’s books. When choosing them, we try to find things that exemplify where we are or what we did on the trip. The children’s books are always in the country’s native language. We have gotten to the point where we have an entire Christmas tree of ornaments just from our travels. As we pull out each ornament, we enjoy remembering the trips we have taken as a married couple and family!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 2, 2009 11:01 am

      Hi, Jen! I really like the Christmas ornament idea. I’m sure you can pick up lots of things that could serve as makeshift ornaments. Bet the kids like it too!

  5. August 1, 2009 9:31 am

    Hi I linked here from Lisa at Travel dreams & Moonbeams. Great blog.
    I didn’t realise I collected anything until I packed up my flat to move abroad, and I have accumulated ceramics. Generally I buy vases, the latest in South Africa, which I squeezed in my hand luggage – diagonally. I also collect art, but only if something catches my eye, whether original or print.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 2, 2009 11:04 am

      Thanks for your comment! Every time I move I find something I had completely forgotten about. I am sure the vases are lovely. I like buying things that can be both ornamental and utilitarian.

  6. August 2, 2009 11:30 am

    What a great post. I collect jewelry during my travels. What a great way to preserve trip memories. When I wear the jewelry at home, I’m instantly reminded of a favorite travel experience. The best part, jewelry is easy to transport home. And, travelers are sure to find a piece in their economic range. My eclectic collection includes pieces from Chile, Hong Kong, Sicily, Bali, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia, Latvia and Native America. I wear them long after the cheaper pieces loose their luster. It’s the memory that counts.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 2, 2009 3:05 pm

      Thanks for the comment Donna! It sounds like quite the collection. Would love to rummage through your jewelry box 😉

  7. August 2, 2009 4:56 pm

    Hi Ashley,

    Love your articles and this was certainly a great, fun idea for a post! Funny we had the same idea for a ‘souvenir’ post! It was good fun collaborating with you! 🙂

    I’ll be doing a follow up post for the fridge magnets, featuring the magnets of readers. If you have some, start taking some pics! You know where to reach me! 🙂


    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 3, 2009 8:54 am

      Hi Keith!

      Lovely working with you as well! Thanks so much for the contribution and plug on your blog. Look forward to seeing your upcoming post. Until then, see you on Twitter.


  8. August 4, 2009 3:41 pm

    This is a fun post. I found your blog from Jen @ Two Kids and A map. 🙂

    I used to collect fridge magnets but it became too many so now we buy Christmas ornaments. If there is no Christmas ornament that we can buy from our destination we buy something that represent the city or place and use it as ornament. Like when we went to Cozumel, we picked up a little souvenir hat and put the string on it so we can hang it up on Christmas.

    And I shamelessly admit that we did collect two other things that are more commercialize but I just love the way they represent the city. We tend to pick up Starbuck City collection coffee mugs and Hard Rock Cafe pins.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 4, 2009 6:50 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Amy! I enjoy you guys’ tweets! You should talk to Keith (@velvetescape) about the fridge magnets. He is doing another post featuring his readers’ magnets.

      I like the coffee mug idea. I often dream of travel while I’m sitting back at home drinking a cup of coffee! Would be nice to look down and see “Paris” or “Cancun” written on the mug. Might also increase my coffee intake…hmm…. 😉

  9. August 5, 2009 10:26 pm

    What a great idea for a post! Thank you to everyone for sharing. I love the glass rhino!

  10. August 7, 2009 9:25 pm

    Hi, I followed your link from twitter 🙂

    I love this post–it gives me ideas for the next time I travel abroad. I’m so bad with souvenirs, because I get roped into bringing home my weight in food. The last time I was in Germany, I brought home a suitcase of gummies, chocolate, and coffee. The only things that last are the pictures!

    Still, I’m on a personal mission to try coffee everywhere in about every country I enter. So far I’ve hit Mexico, France, Germany, and Jamaica, but I’m really jonesing to check out Italian coffee one day.

    Ashley: by the way, you are totally living my dream! I would love to teach English abroad, especially in China or Japan. How do you like it in China?

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 7, 2009 10:06 pm

      Hi, Rachel! Thanks so much for the comment! I think trying coffee from everywhere you visit is an admirable goal. 😉 I love European coffee. My favorite is called Cafe Florio and is popular in France though it is an Italian coffee.
      I don’t leave for China until the 22nd of August. If you are interested in teaching English abroad, please check out my “Resources” page. There are a lot of helpful links on how to teach in various countries. If you need any advice on getting started, I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.
      Best, Ashley

  11. August 11, 2009 10:30 am

    Interestingly, one of my favorite souveniers cost me only a few bucks. On the first day of my first trip alone overseas, I went to a bullfight in Seville, where I picked up a poster of the fight from a vendor in the bullring. It has great color and a great feel to it and I’m styling my entire bedroom around the spanish theme. Now I just have to invest in getting it custom framed!

    I also collect refrigerator magnets from all my travels: small, cheap, portable.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 11, 2009 5:39 pm

      If you collect fridge magnets, you should check out Keith’s post, “The Ubiquitous Fridge Magnet”, on the Velvet Escape blog.
      The poster from Spain sounds gorgeous. Had a friend by an oil pastel from a street artist in Madrid for under $15; it too was lovely! I think local art is the way to go for souvenirs!

  12. June 5, 2011 1:23 pm

    Wonderful post will be linking this on a few sites of mine keep up the good work.

  13. June 5, 2011 7:01 pm

    Stunning piece of literature

  14. November 26, 2015 7:28 am

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    It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed information. Excellent read!
    I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.


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