The Value Of Souvenirs From Familiar Places, And 6 Ways To Find Them

We often gather keepsakes from far-away travels, but the more familiar places in our lives are also well worth remembering.

I have a collection of souvenirs that remind me of the exotic cities I’ve seen and the life-changing moments I’ve had on the road.

There’s the tin of fish spices from Kaohsiung that reminds me of my first trip to Asia, where the rituals and temples were so unfamiliar that I felt euphoric to realize I hadn’t yet seen it all. There’s the wooden Pinocchio puppet from my trip to Venice that reminds me of the long days I spent exploring the city, skipping the rest of Italy and learning the value of slowing down.

There are wooden giraffes from Johannesburg and pottery from Fayoum, all filling my bookshelves to remind me of distant cities I’ve explored.

But I hardly have anything to remind me of where I grew up, went to school and spent most of my life. Because who collects souvenirs of home and old, familiar places?

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We collect mementos when we travel. And when we’re in familiar city, we sink into routine and can’t often pick out anything remarkable about our surroundings.

Yet I’ve been thinking the familiar places are the ones I want to remember most.

I spent most of my childhood in Arizona, where beige rows of houses cut off at the bases of mountain ranges and desert. I spent years as a teenager wishing I lived in London, which I imagined was filled with punks and the loud music I loved.

It took years of travel, and later leaving Arizona, to appreciate the state and see it with new eyes.

But I don’t have much to remind me of the years I spent there.

To replace my few postcards of the Grand Canyon, laying somewhere in a shoe box, I found a Hand Embroidered State Pillow (from Uncommon Goods’ collection of gifts for bridesmaids) that perfectly captures Arizona’s quirky towns and deserts. Handmade by fellow travel junkies Carmel and Terrell Swan, the pillow features a maze of visuals that capture the wide-open and varied landscapes of Arizona – from its surprising blue lakes to its bohemian towns.

It also brings back a rush of memories. The red and yellow stripes of the state flag give me a sense of home. They always greeted me at the state lines, signalling the end of long road trips. And there’s the blue water of Lake Havasu that reminds me of the town’s London Bridge and its high-end boutiques – a reminder that Arizona is far more than cowboys and cactuses.

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Sedona is one of my favorite Arizona towns, known for its red rock buttes, canyons and pine forests. It also has a quirky arts and New Age scene, drawing legions of yogis and seekers who believe the gorgeous landscape holds mystical powers. There are dozens of galleries that feature everything from abstract photography to Navajo baskets. The state, perhaps because of its vast deserts and chameleon landscapes, has always inspired artists.

Tim Hull, based in Prescott, draws inspiration from the American Southwest and even cites punk rock as an influence in his Zen-like, deconstructed pieces. His Meditation Wind Chime (from the site’s array of gifts perfect for guys) captures the stark beauty of the Arizona landscape and conjures up the state’s raw, earthly textures.

After I left Arizona in my teens, I headed West – pulled towards the Pacific Ocean and visions of making it on my own, going to university and proving myself in California. It was a bold step towards independence and my first time away from family. I spent years growing up, failing and learning, all against the backdrop of the Pacific that I always tried to keep near.

But after I graduated, I left the state with only a few keepsakes besides a UC Berkeley sweatshirt. I was looking forward to the next chapter of my life and not looking back.

The Sea of Love artisanal print (from the collection of anniversary presents) reminds me of my California years, especially of the sea lions at La Jolla Cove in San Diego. Printed on 100% recycled newsprint, it’s a great example of Uncommon Goods’ focus on sustainability – which here not only means being ‘green,’ but also handmade, organic and cruelty-free.

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Items like the artisanal print, Arizona-made wind chime and embroidered pillows bring back memories of familiar places and remind me it’s not just exotic travels that deserve to be remembered with keepsakes.

How can you bring in more mementos into your own home to remind you of your home city, the places you grew up, where you got married? Here are my tips:

1. Skip the souvenirs
Look beyond the stereotypes and invest in less obvious pieces that remind you of a specific place, but are not necessarily that city’s best-selling keepsakes. For example, the Sea of Love print is made in New York, but it brings back California better for me than a t-shirt off Hollywood Blvd.

2. Invest in handmade pieces
When you skip the Made in China keepsakes, you’re not only buying something that’s more unique and personal, but you’re also supporting local artists and craftsmen.

3. Check out flea markets, antique shops and arts festivals
These can often be gold mines for unique pieces that come directly from the community.

4. Make your own keepsakes
Get your photos printed, gather up flowers or leaves to press and frame, collect rocks and seashells, or paint a watercolor. If the place you want to remember isn’t very photogenic, then zoom in and photograph a few of its beautiful details.

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5. Hit the grocery stores
These are often neglected, but full of spices and delicacies that serve as great mementoes.

6. Get practical
Buy local household items that you’ll actually use. Think throws or pillow cases, kitchen items and toiletries. They may not always last forever, but at least they won’t collect dust on the shelf.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you have keepsakes from the familiar places in your life? What are your tips to finding pieces that are unique and memorable?

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29 thoughts on “The Value Of Souvenirs From Familiar Places, And 6 Ways To Find Them

  1. What an interesting idea and so true. Personally we are more focused on right sizing and paring back our “things”. As a photographer I frame things that are among my favorites locally so I guess that qualified 😊. Excellent post!

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    1. Thank you, Tina! I’m definitely going for quality and not quantity myself lately.. Framing photos and other local things is a great idea, and so personal too.

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    1. Thank you, Peta! I love the idea of the postcards with the descriptions on the back.. They’re not only great souvenirs, but also don’t take up any luggage space.

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  2. Love the Arizona pillow. When we traveled full-time for 3 years, space was limited in our luggage but handwoven bags with ties and zippers were perfect as unique ‘packing cubes’ and helped us organize. Whenever we grab our suitcases now, those little bags still come in useful and remind us of other countries and past travels. Anita

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    1. You must have an incredible collection, Anita! I love anything handwoven, though I haven’t tried out the ‘packing cubes’ concept yet.. Little baggies that are handmade are always so local, unique and very practical too if you’re a frequent traveller.

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  3. Great post. Keepsakes? For me it has become photos. The only thing that really captures the exact moment in time is a photo. That said, sometimes a frame from a particular stop will hold a photo. The funnest collection I had was rocks. I love gardening. During our travels around the country I would collect large rocks (maybe 10lbs) as decorations for my garden. When I would do my gardening, memories from those places would pop into my mind.

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    1. Thank you! I love photography too, though it’s not always easy to remember to get photos printed out and framed these days.. And I do the same with shells and beach pebbles! Then, when I’m home, I spread them out in my plant pots. I read somewhere that helps to retain moisture, which is great because I often forget to water my plants.

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  4. I really enjoyed this post and the thoughtfulness behind remembering those places you came from. I’m so used to finding items that remind me of travels, but haven’t thought of incorporating items that remind me of where I’ve come from. But I have realized that I am more intentional now about capturing places with pictures and taking the time to print those pictures.

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    1. Thank you, Esther! I’ve never really thought about it either, but then living abroad for many years – and only going home for the holidays – has really made me appreciate the southwest.. Your photos of California are gorgeous, and they’d look incredible framed!

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  5. Such a lovely post! I guess my journals and my photographs are souvenirs of home for me, in a sense. But then, the same part of Scotland has always been “home” for me. It’s hard to think what I would take with me to remember it by, when I don’t plan much on leaving it – but it would probably, mostly, be food!

    Lis / last year’s girl x

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    1. Thank you! Scotland has such amazing landscapes, and all that purple heather, that photos would be gorgeous.. If I ever went, I’d probably pick up some vintage prints or old books. I mostly associate Scotland with its literary tradition.

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  6. What a gorgeous blog post and i love the style of your blog. Thanks for the recent like on my page too I’m new to blogging so really appreciate the engagement, would be wonderful if you might follow me and I’ve just started to follow you also. Have a lovely weekend, Tamara

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  7. So true. At home we sink into the familiar, routine and the mundane too easily. It’s good to remember where we came from. I have a screensaver of my home town on the computer – an old print, from way before I was born, but I love it, and it brings me back ‘to my beginning’ everyday.

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