Do you collect souvenirs? Or “youvenirs?”

Upon returning from many trips abroad, I find I am unable to part with what many would consider the “garbage” that accumulates during your travels. I’m not talking about banana peels or tissues – more like readily disposable items such as mass transit tickets, nightclub flyers and entrance passes to monuments.

For example, I have a used subway ticket from Stockholm that I like to keep in my messenger bag. Or there’s the pack of playing cards I picked up in Buenos Aires. Each item is relatively mundane and not really worth displaying, yet it holds a highly personal story.

Every time I stumble upon these items again during my day-to-day life, it causes me to pause for a moment, remembering where the item came from and how I acquired it. For instance, I remember the 20 random minutes I spent in the crowded Stockholm subway station office trying to buy the tickets pictured above. Or that rainy day in Buenos Aires where we had nothing to do and decided to play poker, wandering around for about an hour in search of cards and trying to explain the concept of “playing cards” to local store owners in Spanish.

What do you do with these items? The more ambitious put them in scrapbooks, but I like to think of these disposable travel items as something altogether different – as “youvenirs.” What is a youvenir you might ask? For me, it’s any highly personal travel memento with little monetary value – that fleeting item that you’ve managed to hold onto because of a memorable experience or highly personal anecdote.
It’s for this reason that a youvenir is fundamentally different than a souvenir. Souvenirs are items you purchased with the intention of remembering and commemorating your trip – that beautiful colored glass bottle, an embroided sweatshirt that says “San Francisco” or a jar of Spanish olives you bought in Madrid.

I find myself collecting fewer and fewer souvenirs these days – there’s something about artificially buying an item just to remind me of a place that rings false. But a youvenir on the other hand is grounded in my personal experiences. As artists like Marcel Duchamp or Robert Rauschenberg have demonstrated, there is something profoundly interesting about everyday objects – something mundane and disposable yet incredibly meaningful depending on your personal context and experience with it.

I like to think that the more each of us travel, the less we acquire souvenirs so we can “brag” or give gifts to our friends and instead begin collecting youvenirs – items that have little monetary value but speak specifically to the unique emotions and experiences each of us attaches to travel.

What do you think about the concept of youvenirs? Do you have any memorable items you’ve acquired that would qualfiy? Click below to see our gallery of examples of “youvenirs” and leave some comments about your own favorite youvenirs below.


What happens to all that crap, I mean, garbage on a cruise?

I remember that startled feeling when I went to the toilet on a train in Africa and saw the tracks whizzing by below the hole. On an airplane, there’s that great whooosh!, that satisfying sucking of air accompanied by a swirl of bluish green fluid that helps wash what has been deposited in the bowl into some hidden receptacle–I hope. This summer we looked at a used RV as a possibility to put on some land we own in Montana as a place to stay once in a while. There was great discussion about what to do with the waste. There’s a dump station near the land, but there’s the problem of getting what was dumped to the dump without bringing the whole RV through town. We don’t have a truck and don’t intend to get one. Thinking about what to do with waste is a real downer–a real idea killer sometimes.

It’s worse when you think of what people can produce on a massive scale and what happens when these garbage producers head off on a cruise ship to sail the ocean blue on their quest for a vacation in paradise. The ocean blue may have a hard time staying that way as cruise ship vacations continue to gain in popularity. Paradise is in danger of turning putrid. This photo is of garbage in a tidal pool in Micronesia, for example.

Cruise ships, according to Ellen Slattery in her post on our favorite environmentally friendly, in-the-know site, Green Daily, have a bad habit of dumping crap in the ocean–and I mean that in an all encompassing sense. Although there are rules for how far ships must be from land before they can let the garbage go, all don’t comply. Even if they do, there’s the diesel exhaust from the engines. Ellen has gathered an impressive stash of information that ought to be read before anyone books a cruise.

The idea is not to skip a cruise, but to pick cruises that are more environmentally friendly. Royal Caribbean International, Lindblad Expeditions, Princess Cruises, and Crystal Cruises are the four cruise lines Ellen lists as being cognizant of treading more lightly on the planet. For the reasons why, plus more tips on how to take a cruise with a clear conscience, read her “Your dream vacation could be a nightmare for the earth.”

Click on jschneid for a photo he posted on Flickr on January 12, 2008. The garbage was washed up on the beach in the Mayan Riviera. As he wrote, “Did the shampoo bottle you threw away on your Caribbean cruise end up on this Mexico beach??”


Naples, city of garbage

Naples has had a problem with waste management for the last 15 years. it is entirely controlled by the mafia and politicians feel like their hands are tied. And, in a lot of cases, they might literally be.

In the latest crisis, collectors stopped picking up garbage in Naples and Campania before Christmas because there was no more room for the trash at dumps. Dumps are overflowing and local communities have blocked efforts to build new ones.

According to AP, cargo boat laden with 500 tons of garbage from Naples docked at the island of Sardinia on Thursday as the government worked to undo a weeks-long trash emergency that left heaps of waste piled up on the streets of Naples.

Chinatown Garbage Tour – Too tough to stomach

If taxidermy is your thing, then Nate Hill’s tour through the garbage bins of Chinatown may be something you’ll want to add to your next NYC itinerary. This artist and “rogue taxidermist” is up to some really bizarre stuff — he rummages garbage bins for dead animal parts, which he then uses to create new animals, like the fella pictured here.

If you like this sort of stuff, feel free to join Nate on one of his upcoming “road kill” material-gathering missions. The next tour is scheduled for December 13, and you can see a sneak peek from previous tours on his website. These photos are not for animal lovers. I’m repulsed by all this on many levels, but feel compelled to tell you about it anyway, for art’s sake, at least.

I’m all for art, really. Just last week my own father had an opening for a new exhibit of his artwork, in which he also relies heavily on the use of recycled materials. But he deals in paper – envelopes, scraps from magazines, reusable brown paper bags. A little bit cleaner than the bloodied parts of dead animals soaking in formaldehyde. But art is art, and as much as I find it hard to stomach the work of Nate Hill, I kinda get it. I can stand behind him “making something beautiful out of something ugly.” But I’m sure I won’t be signing up for one of his tours anytime soon.

Hill’s website provides more details about why and how he creates his art, and explains the other projects he is working on. I’ll let you guys check that out on your own. I’m a little nauseous right now.

Global Trash Ruins Hawaiian Beaches

Way back when I heard a story on NPR about a huge floating island of trash that can be found somewhere way out in the Pacific Ocean. A strange mixture of wind and water currents have brought together a huge amount of the world’s trash, stuff that has been dumped off boats, that is washed out of cities, that makes up the day to day detritus of modern living. These colossal spreads of trash collect in places called gyres. (yes, I had to look that up…but what a good one for your next party conversation).

That is what came to mind when I read this piece over at the Arizona Star where writer Chris Welsch investigated a huge amount of trash he found washed up on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

We are talking a lot of stuff, far more than you might expect to be in such a remote place. And no ,it wasn’t the result of a U2 concert or some such thing taking place the day before. The trash here, much like the stuff I heard in that NPR story, came from all over the world. Water bottles, milk crates, fishing buoys, netting, plastic bags, a barrel-size clump of orange plastic rope and, scattered everywhere, a fine confetti of broken-up plastic chips…all from far off and distant locales like Mexico, the continental United States, Alaska, Taiwan, Japan and China.

It’s a sad tale, but I have a hard time imagining how you solve a problem like this, especially with places like India and China growing so quickly. It seems like we’re doomed to see more trash rather than less over the coming years. But maybe there is a great opportunity here for some enterprising young person to come up with a kind of massive water strainer, or a satellite-based trash incinerator. Just thinking out loud here.

Anyway, this is one of those stories that, along with the recent news of global warming, makes you feel rather down on the whole human race and what we’re don to this pale blue dot we call home.