Souvenirs: Anatomy of a prized possession from the road

souvenirsSouvenirs are difficult for travel writers. We travel too often to be slapdash with souvenir selection, for one. Some frequent travelers focus on a particular thing: snow globes, pens, local magazines, liqueur, rugs, candy.

Others ignore the self entirely and redirect the impulse, choosing to make souvenir purchases for their friends, family, and neighbors.

Me? I like beach towels. I’m picky, mind you. Few make it into my collection. Those that do, however, are true prized possessions.

As souvenirs go, beach towels are extremely useful. They can do service as standard towels when bath towels are not available. They are great for beach runs in the position of reserve towel. (Who wants to dry off with a sandy towel?) And they can be washed and dried quickly and used over and over again.

I’ve got some doozies. There’s the grotesque print of the Titanic movie poster on a beach towel I bought in Croatia in 1998. It’s held up remarkably well, despite the thinness of its material. The likenesses of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are barely recognizable, their skin tones inaccurately flan-like in a loveably inarguable instance of copyright infringement. And now, almost 15 years after Titanic hit theaters, it’s also got an undeniable near-retro cache. Bonus.

There’s another beach towel in my collection from the Balkans, purchased several years later, an enormous beach towel patterned with a replica of the €500 bill in all of its pink and purple glory. I’ve never held a €500 bill in my hands, but I can relax upon a blown-up version of it, even if a French friend once pronounced it “kitsch” with a sniff.

And then there’s the crowning glory of my beach towel collection, a yellow and red number with the slogan “Wipe out in Guam” in a Flintstones-like font above a figure of a hapless purple-skinned surfer sailing through the air.

The thing is, I’ve never been to Guam.

I bought the towel on Anegada in the British Virgin Islands, an island I visited with my high school friend Mike. We stayed in a cheap motel without beach towels. Finding ourselves on a perfect beach island without beach towels, we promptly headed to the nearest store to rectify the situation. Sorting through a stack of BVI-specific towels, we found a handful of specimens clearly supposed to have been included in a shipment to Guam. We both snapped one up, to the marked surprise of the shop owner.

The material of the towel is thin but wiry, almost viscous. Structurally speaking, it’s not a great towel. But it’s got a back story and an in-built hilarity. What more does a souvenir need?