How To Get Souvenirs From A Place You’ve Never Been

A Box From Tehran souvenirs
ABoxFrom.com

Planning a trip to Tehran anytime soon? You probably aren’t, due to heavy restrictions on travel to Iran, but you can get a taste of Persian culture with a trip to your mailbox. ABoxFrom.com is a service that compiles a box of souvenirs from far-flung places (the previous box was from Seoul, South Korea) and mails them to you in beautifully-decorated boxes.

The Tehran box is 40 Euro, including tea, a paper map and a handmade basket. They may seem like ordinary objects, but each item was carefully chosen with the help of locals, and for its importance in the country’s culture and history, nostalgic and new.

Slideshow: Souvenir Travel Clothes That Don’t Translate Back Home

We’ve all done it. Caught up in the excitement of a great trip, we find ourselves “going local,” and buying an article (or wardrobe) of indigenous clothing to show our love for a place. Sometimes, as with vintage aloha shirts, pretty kurtas, handcrafted leather sandals or Latin American peasant blouses, these looks play well back home. At their worst, however, they make the wearer resemble a clown, costume party-refugee or garden variety idiot.

I understand the urge to wear groovy clothes that scream, “I’m a world traveler!” But more often, bad sartorial choices are the result of too many margaritas, too much pakalolo or the shopping frenzy that results from visiting foreign craft fairs and artisan markets. God knows, I could stock a Goodwill with past purchases. But, like cornrows on white girls, male sarongs or anything from Hilo Hattie, most wearable souvenirs are better off left in their place of origin.

View the slideshow for a selection of frequent travel fashion violations.

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World’s Oldest Souvenirs Included All Kinds Of Contraband

berlin wall fragment
Garry Wilmore, Flickr

Who here doesn’t have a collection of mini monuments, fridge magnets, key rings and mugs collected on vacation? For as long as humans have been traveling, we’ve had an inexplicable urge to bring back some sort of object that reminds us of our trip, and that’s the focus of a new exhibit by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. But don’t be fooled, you won’t find any mugs or magnets here.

The collection displays some of the world’s oldest souvenirs and harks back to a time when travelers clearly didn’t have to contend with airport customs officials. You see, back in the early days, there were no souvenir shops attached to museums where you could pick up your trinkets, so tourists eager for a knick-knack just took whatever they wanted. On display is one traveler’s souvenir of a napkin that belonged to Napoleon, and another tourist’s odd collection of hair, including tresses that belonged to George Washington.Other souvenirs that would clearly be illegal to buy or take today include pieces of the Berlin Wall, a fragment of Plymouth Rock and a piece of marble chipped off the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that we started catching on that taking home actual relics and historical objects was a bad idea, and it was this realization that sparked a boom in souvenirs — as shops started manufacturing the kitsch Eiffel Tower statues and collectible teaspoons that we know today.

Still, the abundance of souvenir shops doesn’t stop some travelers from collecting their own unique mementos. Last year, Rome chastised tourists for stealing bits of the city’s cobblestone roads and mosaics, while in Dublin, religious relics were stolen from a historic church. In South Australia, someone managed to walk away with the bones and jaw of a whale that was on display in a tourist park, though at two meters long, we’re not sure exactly how they stuffed that into their luggage.

Do you know of any other strange souvenirs that travelers have collected?

5 Ways To Preserve Your Travel Memories (That Don’t Involve Photos)

no cameras signage
LEOL30, Flickr

If you’re an avid traveler, chances are you’ve experienced some type of fantastical sight, to which no photograph can ever do justice. Talent and camera quality have no bearing whatsoever on the ability to capture this moment, and so you resign yourself to committing it to memory.

Although I love looking at travel photos, I’m not much of a photographer. But I’m also well-traveled enough to know that sometimes, when you try to shoot something stunning, you inadvertently end up depriving yourself of just enjoying the experience. I see this all the time on trips; the guy who’s so busy running around chasing the perfect shot, he misses the entire point of the destination.

I’ve finally learned when to put the camera down and just be in the moment – at a certain point, sunset photos become redundant. Remembering the other sensory details surrounding the actual event, however, may well be something you’ll cherish forever. I’m not saying you should leave your camera at home when you travel. Rather, I’m advocating incorporating other ways to create travel memories that don’t involve Instagram or tripods. Read on for creative ways to preserve “unforgettable” sights or locales.

girl writing in journal
Paul Stocker, Flickr

Write it
Even if writing isn’t something you’re particularly good at, that shouldn’t stop you from trying (not everything needs to be posted to a blog or social media). Whether you scribble in a journal or email the folks back home, the objective is to get your memories written down, without trying too hard.

I strongly recommend writing longhand, as it’s more expedient, practical and, for lack of a better word, organic. So no texting, iPad, netbook or other device. Just you, a pen and a notebook or sheaf of paper. Think about sights, smells, sounds, textures and colors. Whether or not your end result is a list, paragraph or story, you’ll have something that captures a memorable moment from your trip. Not only does this exercise improve your writing skills (which, after all, are crucial in daily life); it helps sharpen your memory and senses, as well.

Verbalize it
OK, I know I hinted at ditching the devices, but many people are articulate. If you’re known for being a great storyteller, record memorable experiences soon after they occur. Whether it’s a mishap, linguistic misunderstanding, touching cultural exchange or incredible meal, recount it in vivid detail, as you’d tell it to your best friend, spouse/significant other or kids.

shells on beach
B D, Flickr

Collect it
Although I’m a writer by occupation, my favorite way to create travel memories is by collecting small, meaningful souvenirs unique to a place. They may be found objects or regional handicrafts, but my interior decor is defined by these objects. They’re my most cherished possessions (next to, I confess, my photos).

Scrapbook it
I also love to collect vintage postcards from favorite destinations, as well as items like ticket stubs, peeled-off beer labels (really), black-and-white photos scrounged from street fairs and antique shops, and cultural or religious iconography. As long as it reminds me of a great travel experience and is flat, I keep it. Some of these talismans are tucked inside my passport; others are in a photo album or stuck to my refrigerator with magnets I’ve collected from restaurants all over the world.

aboriginal art

Barbara Dieu, Flickr

Hang it
Granted, this requires a bit more cash, effort and wall space than collecting shells. But even with a nearly non-existent budget, you can bring home a piece of art as a permanent reminder of a great trip. Here are some inexpensive things I’ve collected over the years:

  • A custom-made, silk-screened T-shirt depicting indigenous art, made at an Aboriginal-owned co-op in Australia.
  • A reproduction of an Aboriginal painting that I picked up for about $25USD at Sydney’s wonderful Australian Museum. I had it mounted for a fraction of the cost of framing.
  • A vintage card painted by a Vietnamese woman’s co-op, depicting war propaganda and purchased at a shop in Hanoi. I’m not actually a communist but the art is captivating.
  • A 4-by-5 piece of muslin printed with a photo transfer of an image taken at the port in Valparaiso, Chile. I purchased it for about $3USD in the artist’s studio, nearby.
  • A slender coffee table book on Italy’s Cinque Terra.

While travel itself may not come cheap, memories are often free (the above purchases notwithstanding). I encourage you, on your next trip, to put down your camera once in awhile, and rely instead on your senses. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Souvenir Of The Week: Llama-Humor Tees In Bolivia

Laurel Miller, Gadling

Llamas are the pack animal of the Andes Mountains in South America, and you could use one to carry home all of the llama-related goodies you’ll want to buy in Bolivia. Gadling’s Laurel Miller surveyed the options while traveling through the country recently. Somewhere on the taste scale between conventional llama-hair blankets and freaky llama-covered purses shaped like people are T-shirts that use every possible pun on the word “llama.” The animal with a cell above the phrase “Llamame” (Spanish for “call me”) is my favorite, but if you’re in the market for something cheekier, a fully illustrated “Llamasutra” design might interest you. Don’t forget about the “Llamaha” motorcycle tees, either. There has to be a Kanye West “Llama let you finish” shirt somewhere in those mountains. You might not need an actual llama to take your favorite souvenir home, but you will need uncreased U.S. dollar bills. It’s a Bolivia thing.