Souvenirs have become as much a part of the travel experience as getting your passport stamped. Whether you acquire a treasured memento of a wonderful trip or add a new prize to a vast collection, souvenirs are less about intrinsic value and more symbolic of a greater and more meaningful experience.
Derived from the French term for the act of remembering, a souvenir is any collectible object or keepsake purchased and transported home by a traveller as a reminder of their visit. Holidaymakers often purchase souvenirs for friends and family back home as well, and while some do this as a way of sharing the destination with loved ones, others use it as a means to boast about their travels.
Either way, it seems we're eager to hold onto some of the holiday magic when we return home. As scholar Beverly Gordon puts it
"People feel the need to bring things home with them from the sacred, extraordinary time or space - for home is equated with ordinary, mundane time or space."
So what makes a good souvenir and what travel tchotchke ends up relegated to the back of the cupboard? Academic researchers have identified five key categories for the things we like to collect on our travels:
Piece-of-rock: physical souvenirs such as shells found on Fiji beaches
Pictorial images: photographic and image-based souvenirs such as postcards, prints and calendars
Local products: souvenirs produced locally such as Moroccan rugs and the traditional wooden carvings of Thailand arts and craft
Symbolic shorthand: souvenirs that capture iconic sights such as miniature Eiffel Towers and Canadian snow globes
Markers: location-branded souvenirs such as mugs and Bintang T-shirts found in Bali markets
According to a Holiday Inn Souvenir Study, nearly half of all respondents attributed their souvenir buying to the desire to bring part of the holiday home. However, one in 10 respondents admitted to being souvenir hobbyists. It seems some travellers take souvenirs pretty seriously.
In 2019, the Kundin family from Moscow, Russia achieved the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of souvenir plates with a total of 1,555 plates. In 2016, Angel Alvarez Cornejo from Sevilla, Spain made the World Record for largest collection of keychains with a whopping 62,257 items. In 2014 our very own Phil Stock from Coffs Harbour took out the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of stubby holders with 2,739 amassed over 30 years.
Not everyone likes a trinket though, and if you're in the middle of Marie Kondo-ing your life then pointless paraphernalia may not be what you're looking for. Postcards, photographs and recipes are the perfect way to capture that special holiday experience and spark joy over and over again. Whether it's the incredible view from your balcony or a selfie of significance, these moments in time can be framed, printed on canvas or digitised forever to trigger the same magic you felt in the moment.
Similarly, a meaningful food memory can transport you right back to that incredible moment in time with just one bite. Whether it's savouring croissants in Paris under the shade of the Eiffel Tower or munching on a slice of margherita in Naples, the birthplace of pizza; the smells, textures and flavours of the phenomenal food experiences you have on your travels may be one of the best and most rewarding souvenirs you bring home. Best of all, recipes take up no room at all!
Whether you love a good tacky travel knick-knack or prefer to opt for more evocative locally made ephemera, the most important thing to consider when selecting your souvenirs is being a responsible traveller. If you're purchasing locally made treasures, ensure any natural materials can safely be bought back through customs. This is a more authentic keepsake and also helps to support the local people and economy. Be sure to only take what you're allowed and don't attempt to 'souvenir' any places or things of cultural, religious or natural significance. This ensures safe and stress-free passage back through customs, making sure your treasured souvenirs make it all the way back home to be enjoyed as you intended.
What was the last souvenir you bought on your travels?