Travel souvenirs are one of the easiest ways to bring back memories of a favourite holiday. My husband and I collect six very specific travel souvenirs from each country we visit – or at least we try to. Some items are easier to find than others.
But the search is usually half the fun!
My husband started collecting metal signs as travel souvenirs a few years after we started traveling together. Metal signs are a bit tricky to find, as they’re not very common and usually represent a limited number of industries – usually breweries and distilleries. Which is right up our alley!
Here is one wall in our basement. We purchased the A&W root beer sign, Chocolat de Provence and Chevrolet signs locally. But the others are all from holidays to the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. We worked out the layout by putting the signs on the floor first.
The challenge in finding metal signs means that we have to hunt for them in interesting places – typically flea markets and thrift stores. We try to stay away from the contemporary, mass-market signs, like the 50’s style designs with pin-up girls leaning over the front of a hot rod, or the overused “Free Beer Tomorrow” signs. Although, strangely, we found some fun metal signs in a one-euro shop in Antwerp on our last trip.
We’re always disappointed when we don’t find metal signs on holiday. But when we do find them, it just makes the trip a little more successful somehow. This collection also follows my weak theory that “if you can hang it on the wall it’s not clutter.”
Our favourite find:
This Indian sauce sign – we found it at a farmers market in Japan. That rusty patina on the edges is 100% authentic.
We do regret not buying a metal sign from the Guiness Storehouse in Dublin. They have awesome advertisements! I think at the time we weren’t sure a metal sign would fit in our backpack. Surprise – it would have. Oh well, maybe next time.
I love jewelry so much – especially necklaces. Shiny things are my Achilles heel – just try and pull me away from a jewelry store window. I was buying jewelry on holidays back when I was a kid going on road trips across Canada and the United States with my parents. I especially loved semi-precious stones like amethyst and jade.
It wasn’t a collection I developed consciously, at least not at first. But once Mark and I started to travel together, I made a point to buy myself a little something on each trip.
I don’t have a set budget when it comes to jewelry, but I also don’t buy anything outrageously expensive either. I’m quite happy with costume jewelry, as long as something about it strikes my fancy.
On the other hand, I do feel quite posh and high-class when I say I have a favourite jeweler in Paris. This is Laurent Messmer. You can find his store in the Passage des Panoramas. Many of the pieces, of course, are quite expensive. However, if you look around, you’ll find jewelry at all price points. My favourite pieces by Messmer are these two necklaces. They were both under 50 euros each!
I also love the care they take in packaging each piece. Regardless of whether the item is 40 euros or 4,000, the staff gingerly pack your piece in a Messmer box, wrap it in pretty gold paper, add the information card, tape it closed, and put it in a little bag. I always walk out of his store with a little extra bounce to my step.
The amazing thing about my jewelry collection is that I vividly recall where I purchased each one. Each piece comes with memories and a story – even more so than some of the photos we’ve taken over the years!
I bought these four glass necklaces on a day trip to Venice. It was our first trip together, and the first overseas trip for us both. So I went a little crazy with the shopping! Now I typically only buy one or two pieces of jewelry in each place:
I bought this cartouche necklace in Aswan, Egypt with my name written in hieroglyphics:
And I bought these stones loose from a jeweler in Swakopmund. I set them myself when we came home.
This is my newest piece, which I bought in the gift shop of the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam. They had an exhibit on royal jewelry from the Russian court in St. Petersburg on display. This is a Napoleon bee. Legend has it that when Napoleon moved into the Royal Palace at Tuileries, he didn’t want to spend money to redecorate. But he couldn’t keep the draperies, embroidered with the French royal fleur-de-lis, hanging in the palace windows. So, he turned the drapes upside down. The inverted fleur-de-lis looked like a bee, so Napoleon adopted the bee as his emblem.
Is there any better travel souvenir to bring home from a great trip besides a cookbook? This is a souvenir I was purchasing even in my teenage years traveling through the United States with my parents. There’s no better way to relive the memories from a trip than to cook up a regional favourite. Cookbooks can also be a challenge to find, especially if a city or country doesn’t really have a distinctive cuisine.
(Note the “Home Cheese Making” book. I found that one in a second-hand bookshop on a road trip to Kelowna. And I bought the book on fermenting at a KMart in Newcastle, Australia. They don’t only have to be cook books – anything food related will do!)
It can also be a struggle to find cookbooks printed in English. On an early visit to the Netherlands, for some reason I had a hard time finding a cookbook in English, so I bought one in Dutch, with the intention of translating it myself. The next day we found a bookstore that had the exact cookbook I’d purchased the day before – in English. (I have yet to translate my Dutch cookbook.)
I’ll be honest, we haven’t cracked open most of these books. But it’s the idea that we can relive a particular holiday by pulling out one of these cookbooks and whipping up some dishes we had in that country. Plus they look really nice on the shelf.
Two cookbooks that we use on a regular basis are the ones we got after taking cooking classes – one in Tokyo and one in Athens. We’ve made sesame miso dressing and spanakopita dozens of times since.
We love buying bottles of unique and interesting liqueurs on vacation. We usually bring at least 2-3 different kinds home from each country. I even review them on the blog here from time to time. The biggest drawback is that the bottles get heavy and take up a fair amount of room in our backpacks.
All of these, with the exception of the Empress Gin, are from various vacations.
We love cracking open a bottle with friends while comparing travel adventures. And if the liqueur is something we tasted while on holidays, the flavour will bring us back to that place.
This is our favourite bottle from our travels. It’s Jordanian ouzo. We bought it from a little liquor store in Jordan, which is a fairly dry country where alcohol consumption is concerned.
When we walked into the shop, the owner pulled out two folding chairs for us, handed us two ice-cold cans of orange Fanta, and happily chatted with us for about twenty minutes. We talked about the weather, what we thought of Jordan so far, and the shop owner’s brother who was living in Calgary – just a short drive from Edmonton!
Eventually we got around to the reason why we were there – we wanted to buy something made locally, knowing that their selection of local tipple might be limited. This was his recommendation.
We made a vow to never open this bottle. It’s just too special.
Another travel souvenir we started collecting since our first vacation together is picture frames. They have a nice practicality to them, since you can display your travel photos in a frame you bought on your travels.
All of these photos came from our holidays – except the one with our wedding photo.
Sometimes we get frames that clearly say where they came from, such as the London frame (yes, it has a photo from Verona in it. There’s no rule that says the frame has to hold a photo from the same country you bought the frame in!).
In other cases, we prefer to get something less…blatantly souvenir-y. The silver frame to the left, for example, came from a lovely boutique shop in Bruges. To look at it, you couldn’t identify its provenance. But we remember where each frame came from.
You might be curious about the little figurines hanging all over the frames – these are gashapons from Japan (read more about these little gashapons in depth here). We don’t collect them, per se. We just bought a lot of them in Japan and they sort of took over our photo frame collection!
My favourite photo frame is probably Mark’s least favourite. When we visited Denmark, we had trouble finding a picture frame we liked. Then we went into the Lego store, and an idea was born. We were in the birthplace of Lego – why not make our own photo frame out of Lego pieces?
We bought all the pieces (plus a little extra) we thought we would need. The most fun was trying to design our figurines to look as much like ourselves as possible. I think we did a bang-up job. I even matched the pink tank top I was wearing on that trip!
Tacky? Yes, absolutely. Unique? Most definitely!
Collecting bar coasters as travel souvenirs certainly isn’t new. My parents collected them on their travels more than 50 years ago! (Of course, my mom also “collected” ashtrays and bar ware.)
Many bars and breweries have their own unique coasters that you can’t find anywhere else. They’re easy to find, light and compact to carry around, and only cost the price of a pint (or two).
We’ve collected a ton of coasters over the years. In fact, one night in Edinburgh, Mark and I had so much to drink that in the morning I opened my purse and found half a dozen identical coasters. Apparently I kept forgetting that I’d already pocketed one, and then took another. And another. (That was a fun night!)
I can’t say I have any favourite coasters, but I love the one-offs that you know only one bar in the whole world has. The coasters below are all pretty unique, for example. We picked up the Aepjen bier coaster at the In’t Aepjen pub in Amsterdam. This is reputed to be the oldest pub in Amsterdam, once frequented by pirates who paid their tabs with monkeys.
The Wynand Fockink coaster is from one of our favourite watering holes in Amsterdam, which I’ve written about a few times before: Seeking out the True Genever Experience: Wynand Fockink and A Tour and Tasting at Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal.
The Black Duck Brewery coaster came from the Black Duck brewery in Port Macquarie. I talked about our visit here: An Afternoon at the Black Duck Brewery in Port Macquarie, Australia. And the throwing star coaster from Japan is one of the more unique shapes we picked up on our travels!
So what do we do with the hundreds of coasters we’ve collected over the years? Well, we haven’t quite done much with them – yet. We actually do use them as proper coasters when we have friends over. But mostly, we’ve just stuffed them into drawers around the house. We should probably organize them at some point.
But, we did use a handful of coasters in one project – as a backboard for our dart board!
What special travel souvenirs do you always look for on holidays? Let me know in the comments – maybe we’ll start a new collection!