Travel Rant: What Is Up With Souvenirs?

Okay, we were well overdue for a travel-related rant, am I right?

Guys… what is up with souvenirs? I don’t mean as in why do they exist, I mean why do we feel the need to buy souvenirs for each other when we travel, period? I can understand if someone is babysitting your kid, your cat or housesitting. They deserve a little something special for doing you a favour. Maybe even your coworkers who have covered for you in your absence. But, everyone else?

It was totally different as a kid when you would go on vacation with your family and bring back koalas from Australia or bottles of sand from Mexico. That, I get. Fine. Kids love that stuff, and I know I lined my desk with little trinkets from around the globe.

I get bringing back food and drink. If you taste some cool Swedish candied rose petals, or Scottish tablet or Big Sheets (flavoured seaweed) from Asia, because it can become a shared experience amongst friends. Anything else… it is lost on me?

Souvenir is a French verb that translates as to remember, or a memory. Aren’t memories personal? I can’t see through a small purchase what you’ve experienced on your travels. Perhaps I can share the tastes you’ve tasted through food or drink, but I can’t see the sunset you saw, not even in sharing your photos.

It seriously stresses me out when a trip begins to wind down and you start to go through your mental check list of who you need to buy souvenirs for. Who has recently bought me souvenirs? Guess I’d better get them one? If I get them one, I’d better get so and so one. Now that my list is nearing 20 people, what do I buy that is cheap enough to afford en masse, doesn’t take up too much space in my luggage and is somewhat meaningful?

Hint: those things don’t exist!

Am I seriously out of touch here? I know that it’s better to give than to receive, but do we really need to provide trinkets from our own travels for everyone in our lives? I’m sounding like the vacation-Grinch, aren’t I?

Let me rephrase. I am not against buying people gifts on holiday. My preference, however, would for it not to be an unwritten societal obligation, and instead for me to see something that is so “that person” that it is a perfect fit, rather than to force something.

For example, on my trip to the U.K. in May, I stopped dead in my tracks having seen the perfect gift through a storefront window. Poor David and his parents had no idea why I ran into the store, but when I emerged with the sofa cushion complete with a hand painted robin, I knew I’d struck gold. You see, for my Mum, robins remind her of her mother who passed away over ten years ago. While it’s not a souvenir of the U.K., it was a gift that she loved and I know she’ll continue to treasure.

This is how I’d prefer to shop for family and friends on holiday. When the inspiration strikes and for it to be out of the blue. I’d frankly like to avoid all kitschy tourist stores and airport stalls like the plague, wouldn’t you?

Does anyone else struggle with this dilemma? Do you buy souvenirs? And if so, for who and what do you tend to buy? 

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2 Responses to Travel Rant: What Is Up With Souvenirs?

  1. Nicole September 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

    Ugh I hear you, when me and Kevin were doing our road trip I had a full on sobbing breakdown about how stressful it was trying to find souvenirs and how everyone was going to hate me/think I hated them because I hadn’t bought anything (Kevin ultimately convinced me not to buy souvenirs for anyone and no one hated me as far as I can tell). I think when there’s pressure the result is a lot of kitschy stuff that neither the giver nor the receiver truly loves but both of them cling to the ‘thought it what counts’ aspect. Although that being said you consistently buy me the BEST gifts and souvenirs because you are immensely skilled at gift giving. Like several of my prized possessions (make tea not war tote bag, time turner necklace) were souvenirs from you. I think you have supernatural gift giving powers? It must be one of your love languages. ANYWAYS YES you are not an out of touch grinch.

    • Victoria Smith September 22, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

      I make your gifts early Christmas/late birthday presents… so they’re not really souvenirs. But they’re in the same boat as my Mum’s gift that I talked about. I saw them and they screamed “Nicole!”

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