Souvenirs are tricky for business travelers. It’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by work or a busy itinerary only to find yourself grabbing something in duty free in the airport – or stopping by a gift shop to purchase an anonymous object created 12 time zones away from your destination. A T-shirt of thin cotton made in Bangladesh that says, “I Heart Vienna” may be fun in a kitsch sort of way, but it’s not really a good souvenir.
To find a good souvenir, be guided by this question: What is produced locally? Think about “production” broadly – in addition to crafts and art objects, think of clothes, food, accessories, and housewares. If you’re in a destination where very little is made, move on to this follow up question: What is collected locally?
By frequenting flea markets and local arts and crafts stalls, you can find locale-appropriate souvenirs of great and enduring value. Guidebooks and hotel concierges can direct you to local markets, flea markets, galleries and other shops where items of local value can be found.
Lastly, by paying attention to the beauty of the incidentals of your surroundings, you might very well chance upon the most sentimentally valuable souvenirs of all – commonplace objects designed markedly differently than comparable objects at home.
1. Local products. Pricing, materials and goods vary radically from place to place. An item created by artisan producers local to your destination – assuming high quality, of course – expresses the culture of a place powerfully.
2. Flea markets. The strangest cast-offs can be found in flea markets. Sometimes these objects are prized antiques, and other times they have virtually no value, having just been dragged from a heap at the bottom of a closet. But there’s no better way to get a sense of a location than at a flea market or its local equivalent.
3. The incidentals of your surroundings. What actually triggers memories and nostalgia? The ticket stubs, paper menus and products that you come across on your travels. That glass yogurt container. That tram ticket. That theater program. These objects can be framed, used as scrapbook materials, or simply displayed at home. These objects permit a thoughtful, if passing, consideration of the fact that travel creates opportunities to reconsider the incidental trappings, the very packaging, of our lives.
[Flickr image via laszlo-photo]