Life is an adventure. Think of any adventure story: the heroes might buy some gear, and they definitely have things to remember their adventures with, but they certainly don’t buy any tacky, kitschy things that you’d find in the typical tourist shop. Everything they have is highly personal, and has a great story behind it. Don’t buy souvenirs: find treasure.
I wear four pieces of jewelry. One is my wedding ring. The meaning there is obvious, I hope. Another is the pair of matched gold earrings in my right ear, which my wife (at the time, girlfriend) got me to replace an identical pair that were stolen by holy monkeys in the temple at Lopburi in Thailand. While I didn’t get them there, they’re better than any souvenir I could have gotten, for they have not only that memory stored in them, but are also a tangible reminder of my wife’s love for me. Before getting my wedding band, they were the gold rings I would fidget with when I needed to remember her. I also wear a leather bracelet that I got in a cosplay contest that I was drafted into entering and won despite not wearing cosplay. The story there is hilarious enough that I’ll keep the bracelet until it wears out, though I wouldn’t have purchased it for myself otherwise.
My personal favorite bit of treasure, though, that I always carry with me in a small pouch on my belt, is my ABRAXAS amulet. A reproduction of an ancient Greek amulet of protection featuring a warrior with a chicken’s head and snakes for legs on one side, and a raven carrying a broom on the reverse, I was given this at Abraxas, my favorite coffeeshop in Amsterdam. I’ve carried it for years, once making it into an amulet, and then when the leather strap holding it up corroded and fell apart, now just carrying it in my pocket.
I’ve also had other treasures I haven’t kept. (practicing non-attachment is crucial to being a minimalist, which is crucial to being a nomad). Someday I’ll tell you the story of how I bested a gang leader in dance battle in Bangkok and so he gave me his nunchaku, and of my hat and the aforementioned bepouched belt.
When I get souvenirs for other people, my go-to is to take a photograph of the place that I am currently, and use one of a myriad of apps to turn it into a postcard. This is more personal than any store bought card could be. The physical object that I’ve gotten as a souvenir for someone else that I’m most proud of is a bit silly, but I think it’s creative, and I quite like it. I was studying abroad in Hungary, and taking spring break in Greece. After the semester I went down to Egypt. While in Greece, I bought a clear glass column filled with ouzo. One anxious night, when I thought my then-girlfriend had possibly died running from Marathon to Athens, I calmed myself by drinking the ouzo. Then, while in Egypt, I filled it with sand from in front of the pyramids. Storing it in my luggage, I brought it back to my father, and it is now proudly displayed on his shelf, along with all the postcards I’ve sent him from around the world.
The best tokens of your travels don’t just remind you of a place, they have a story attached to them. You can’t buy that, so personally, I don’t even try. Don’t buy souvenirs; find treasure.
Update: Since writing this, I’ve gotten my newest and favorite bit of treasure: my magic Sak Yant tattoo.
Photos are by me. There isn’t treasure everywhere, but treasure can be found anywhere. Look and see what you can find.