So, you’ve just had a magical holiday and it’s time to return home. Aside from the treasured photos, you want a few presents and mementos to help you remember the great time you’ve had. But what to buy? And if you’re on a big trip, visiting several countries, you have limited space in your backpack and probably limited cash to spend.
I try and limit myself to collecting postcards. I have quite a large collection now. It may add up, but they generally cost 50c-$1 each, and they don’t take up much room. I used to buy it all: the clothes, the toys, the wooden figures and keyrings. I’ve learned not to.
But the souvenir industry is huge, a billion dollar monster with tempting shops everywhere you turn. For example, I had an encounter with yet another one today when I took a ferry over to Alcatraz Island, here in San Francisco.
Alcatraz was a prison for many decades, housing hardcore prisoners such as Al Capone. It was a windy, bleak, stony place, with narrow cells and little hope (nice views, though). After completing the audio tour, I coincidentally found myself in the souvenir shop. So, what was the building which formerly housed some of the country’s worst criminals selling?
DVDs. Posters of inmates and grim slogans. Alcatraz salt & pepper shakers. Magnets, playing cards, toys, t-shirts, badges, handcuffs, toy knives… and so on. Really. Salt & pepper shakers? Classy. A compulsory photo of me standing in front of an Alcatraz background was on offer for $22.
So when did this madness start? Check out An Ode To Souvenirs, a great piece about the history of souvenirs dating back to Homer’s Odyssey. It reminds us that we buy souvenirs to remember our trips (“we’re trying to buy back our memories”), but also as status symbols to show where we’ve been, and because human beings simply like collecting things. That’s how I feel about my pile of postcards, although I have no idea what to do with them all.
To be honest, my most sought-after souvenir would have to be a snowglobe (I’m a fan of Citizen Kane). They’re on sale everywhere, but I have yet to find a nice one. So I keep looking.
What do you buy when you travel, and what do you have on display at home?