Travel Musings: A Theory On Souvenirs

The reason why we bring back souvenirs is inherently related to the idea that we as a people like to remember and are apt to forget.


The postcards and shirts, towels and cheap glasses all help to jog our memory of the time that we were at such and such a place, and hopefully, what a great time we had there. Souvenirs also serve the purpose of being able to prove to family and friends that we were indeed in Hong Kong or Tanzania and give us the ability to then talk (or boast) about our unique experiences.

Recently, social media has replaced some of the need of souvenirs. You no longer need to bring back a painted dish from Italy to rub your vacation in your neighbors face; now you can post a great picture on Instagram or Facebook that’ll make people just as envious (if not more). While I am all for documenting trips and personally enjoy taking photographs, I find that this sort of social bragging detracts greatly from traveling itself. (Keep in mind, dear reader, that I am not referring to taking photographs of a trip or maintaining a detailed log of experiences through photographs.) What I am referring to is the person who takes so many photographs that he or she is unable to experience what is going on around them. I challenge you to leave your camera or iPhone at home one day. I bet you will find yourself dealing with your surroundings very differently. Which brings me to my question: do we take pictures and bring back souvenirs so that we can remember, or, so that we can brag?

I would argue that we all do a little bit of both.

This trip, I wanted to make sure that I spent the most time possible in the “now” (not the past or the future). This goal mostly came after the realization that I spent too much time looking forward to things or retelling past experiences to others; I needed to learn how to savor the moment. To accomplish this goal, I changed three things about the way I travel. I call it, the DOT method of traveling.

1. Ditch the electronics. I stopped—cold turkey—taking pictures of every meal, checking Facebook while at the beach and all the other dumb things I did on my iPhone. If I didn’t have it with me, then I was forced to find new ways to experience the world, which was a good thing.

2. Observe things closely. Much like close reading, I took the time to take in my surroundings and see what was really going on. Was the barista flirting with the man with the dog? What did the swirl in my latte foam look like? What was everyone else ordering? I found that experiencing travel with open ears and eyes was very different than my early days of souvenir hunting, and much more rewarding.

3. Think. While observing, I tried to pinpoint my feelings. How was this cup of coffee making me feel? Was this gelato delicious and how was my sunburn holding up? Being able to allocate feelings toward specific memories made them easier for me to remember fondly, and more pleasant to experience in the first place.

So this trip, I challenge you to take a few great pictures and then…stop. Relax. Sip your tea and savor the moment – you might not know when you’ll have the opportunity to experience it again.

Annie Gray


Annie's travel style is minimal and adventurous with a special love for local farmers markets. Out of all the countries she's been to, her favorite is The Netherlands. A UC Berkeley grad, she can't travel without her pair of Birkenstocks.

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