Souvenir hunting

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Kathmandu, Nepal.

Half the fun of travelling is finding different ways to immortalise your trip. People like to remember experiences in a number of different ways. IPhones make taking a quick happy snap a popular option but what if you want something more?

With my American trip looming I am left wondering what I can purchase that will serve as a permanent reminder of a time well spent. Are those foam, Statue of Liberty crowns real? Am I supposed to wear them around or place it on a shelf and say, “Ah, memories,” whilst looking at it fondly?

Souvenirs are a tricky thing to master. It is ludicrously easy to end up with a suitcase full of crap that you won’t use, display or remember let alone where or why in the hell you got it in the first place. For example, the need to buy model plane made out of Asian beer cans is real until you realise that you have nowhere to pack the thing and don’t actually know anyone who would appreciate it. I used to think that these were an exclusively Asian souvenir, due mainly to the fact that all the ones I’d previously seen were made out of Singha beer cans. I have since learnt that they span every continent. If you have never seen one, head out on a Saturday and browse any garage sale in the neighbourhood.

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Beer is a common and simple souvenir theme. If it wasn’t for foreign beer glasses, guests at my house would have to drink out of desert bowls with straws. Beer singlets are also popular. How many people do you know that have come back from a trip to Southeast Asia wearing a singlet with the logo of their favourite brew plastered all over it? Even more of you will have received one of these singlets as a gift from an uncle or some other family member who has made a quick trip to Bali. It’s as though a Bintang singlet is the national uniform of Australia during summer. I’ve never even been to Bali and I have two in my cupboard. I also have two Beer 333 (Vietnam) singlets and one each of Chang (Thailand) and Tiger Beer (Singapore). Not that I mind, I’ve got almost every day of the week covered.

The most ironic thing about souvenir clothing is that if you walk into any opportunity or thrift shop you can find some on the rack, usually for twice the price they were originally worth. Sadly, thrift shops and garage sales are where a large amount of souvenirs in general end up, either through neglect or de-cluttering; that ‘everlasting reminder’ becoming someone else’s treasure.

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I tried ‘handmade’ souvenirs. I bought a handmade spoon made from palm wood whilst travelling Southeast Asia. It was a traditional, Asian style soup spoon that I figured I could use for camping and hiking when I returned home plus it would be a good story when out on trips. In theory it was what you want in a souvenir; practical yet memorable. I liked it so much that I bought each of my siblings a set of chopsticks and a hand woven holder to store them from the same guy. (It was a strange choice of gift considering I was confident none of my family knew how to use chopsticks well enough to actually eat food with them but it’s the thought that counts, right?) Unfortunately, when it came time to use my new spoon, I ended up with splinters in my tongue and it broke soon after. The only one that hasn’t failed on me is the handmade hammock I bought in Northern Thailand. Only problem is that I have nowhere to hang it so it sits in my cupboard like, well, a sad, disused souvenir.

I don’t mean to disparage the personal significance that beer related mementos or handmade knick knacks have to a person but good souvenirs do exist that aren’t alcohol related or poorly made. I know many people who simply like to buy sew on flags from each country they visit whilst beautiful prints and paintings can be found at reasonable prices if you look in the right places. It sounds like a lazy sales pitch but it’s true. Anything handmade has an element of awe about it regardless if it’s a painting or a wooden carving. The only difference is that airport customs isn’t going to be pissed off at you for bringing a painting back into the country. Declaring your goods upon return is a sure-fire way to save yourself a huge fine- that’s what Steve Irwin told me in those old, Australian quarantine ads anyway.

The perfect souvenir is near impossible to find. It would be easier to convince someone not only that the Loch Ness Monster is real but she also sells hand drawn caricatures at the local Sunday market. It’s difficult to put a price on what someone considers souvenir worthy. I know people collect magnets and key rings from each place that they visit but the question still remains- is there such thing as a ‘must have’ souvenir that is better than any photo?

Wayward Tip: Photos are better souvenirs than trinkets bought in markets and shops. They are individual, irreplaceable and you won’t feel the need to throw them away ever.

(NOTE: It’s worth mentioning that, particularly in poorer countries, buying things from the locals can help them live day to day. A souvenir becomes less about your memory and more about someone making a living. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy every cheap, knockoff basketball jersey or beaded bracelet you see.)

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