Collecting meaningful souvenirs rather than touristy items can help make special memories of your travels last forever. I’ll share my top five things to collect while travelling.
Travelling Less and Reliving Past Vacations
Obviously, like so many others, the pandemic has greatly affected our ability to travel for the past year and a half or so. Generally speaking though, I don’t have the travelling bug as much as other people do and feel I’m very much a home-body. But when we do go on vacations I always enjoy them very much.
Since we haven’t been able to take any new trips for some time, I’ve been reminiscing about our past family vacations. That definitely includes looking at photos and videos from our trips. But there are many other items that we’ve collected in our travels that help bring back special memories and instantly take me back to a different time and place.
Things to Collect While Travelling – Common Touristy Souvenirs
When my husband and I started travelling together, I saved everything – every ticket stub, concert program, brochure, and souvenir store bag. I still have a lot of those things tucked away. In addition, I frequently bought postcards with the intention of keeping them as souvenirs, rather than mailing them. And we bought some standard, rather touristy, souvenir-shop souvenirs.
Yes, these glossy postcards and souvenirs remind me of our trip, but I don’t display them anywhere, and they don’t have a lot of meaning. They’re often too common and stereotypical to bring back special memories.
Searching for Meaningful Souvenirs
Over time, we gradually latched onto the idea of searching for souvenirs that were more unique, more personal, and more meaningful. We wanted the kind of thing that we could display in our home that reminded us of our trip but didn’t shout “I was a tourist to New York City!”
It took several trips to fine tune the types of items we look for, and we don’t manage to find them all on every trip. And that’s ok. It’s not meaningful if they’re just items to check off a list. But rather, these items represent things that we do actively look for, and we buy them if they speak to us.
Because we enjoy hunting for treasures and vintage finds anywhere, we like to build in time for this activity during our vacations. I also research good places to shop or hunt for these souvenirs in advance to add to our itinerary, but we are also open to spontaneously finding items along the way. Searching for treasures is as equally enjoyable for me as sightseeing and relaxing.
Top 5 Things to Collect While Travelling
Let’s explore my Top 5 things to collect while travelling. They are not in any particular order of importance.
1. Christmas Tree Ornaments
Christmas tree ornaments were probably one of the first kinds of meaningful souvenirs that we started collecting, and they are often not that difficult to find, even all year round. Our personal preference is to choose ones that look like vintage glass, or ones that are handmade by local sellers, rather than made out of plastic. But sometimes we’ll take what we can find when choices are more limited.
I love a whole Christmas tree full of memories, and so it’s very special to me to unbox the ornaments and hang these tiny souvenirs of happy times as a family. I also tend to forget what we have by the time Christmas rolls around, so it’s exciting all over again every year.
Here are a couple of our favourites. (Unearthing them from under the stairs in July made me feel really dedicated!)
The first example is a painted brass 3-D Niagara Falls ornament. From our honeymoon, we have a vintage-style glass ornament of Royal Albert Hall where we attended a concert. On our trip to New York, we saw a Broadway show of Aladdin and so we purchased an ornament as a memory of that trip. And when we went to PEI, we bought a handmade ornament of Santa hand-painted on an oyster shell, which is delightfully quirky!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I make a commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Read my disclosure for more information.
Other meaningful things to collect on vacation are books. We have collected a few non-fiction books as well, but as an educator, I mostly like to collect children’s fiction. I try to choose things written by local authors if at all possible, and written about the place that we are visiting. Sometimes I select a book that reminds me of a place, even if it wasn’t written about our destination.
Here are a few examples of books that we’ve acquired on our travels:
My first example is an adorable book, Larry Gets Lost in New York City by John Skewes and illustrated by Michael Mullin and John Skewes. I love the bright colourful graphics, and all the interesting facts about all the tourist destinations. (As a side note, I discovered that the little dog Larry has a habit of getting lost in a few different cities. So look for other versions such Boston and San Franciso.)
We picked up the next book, a non-fiction book called School on Wheels, when we toured the CNR School on Wheels Museum in Clinton, ON a few summers ago. This museum in a railcar is dedicated to railcars that were used to bring education to children in isolated areas of Northern Ontario from 1926 to 1967. This particular railcar was the home of Fred and Cela Sloman who travelled, raised a family, and taught students in the railcar for 39 years. It was fascinating to tour the railcar and see the classroom area and their tiny living space. As a fellow teacher, the dedication of these teachers impresses me. And I am grateful for the access to education I had growing up. School on Wheels is written by Karl and Mary Schuessler. I definitely recommend either reading the book or touring the museum if you get the chance.
The next book, The Pup From Away, is written by Shaun Patterson with art by Christina Patterson. In this adorable story, a dog named Dukes goes to live on PEI. I love the pictures which are a mix of sculpted clay and paper collage.
From the first photograph at the top of the blog post, I also love the book Miss Rumphius, which is written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. I chose it to represent PEI, even though it is set in New England I believe. In it, Miss Rumphius plants lupines everywhere. I was reminded of the beautiful lupines growing along the side of the road on our trip to PEI. This story has such a lovely message about making the world a more beautiful place.
3. Vintage Postcards
Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was way more fun and meaningful to search for vintage postcards than to buy new postcards off the rack. It’s not always possible to find these, but in larger places you might track some down. I especially love the added charm of ones that people have written on and mailed.
I often find the old writing quite difficult to read because of their cursive writing, the fountain pens that were used, and when they’re written in a foreign language. Sometimes I like to do some detective work and google translation to figure out the messages. They can be very entertaining and are such a reflection of the difference in how people lived in the past versus modern times.
For example, I translated most of the postcard on the bottom left. To paraphrase: it is from an uncle, writing to his niece and nephew in February 1915. He is congratulating them on the birth of their new sister and wishes their family well. He also hopes the war will not escalate and that those doing bad things will be punished. Then he sends kisses to the new family of 5 from their two aunts as well.
You can display vintage postcards in so many ways. Frame them, or pin them to message or bulletin boards. Prop them up on shelves, tuck them into vintage typewriters or into flower frogs or clips. The list of ideas goes on and on.
We also found this adorable little set of twelve small photographs of London tourist spots. It’s so charming and unique!
4. Other Vintage Items
We love searching for vintage finds no matter where we are. But it’s extra fun to bring home vintage treasures that remind us of a lovely vacation. These items can be anything that catches our eye AND fits in our suitcase or car. We have previously brought back some large items that have required some rearranging. Here’s a fun fact for you. You will likely get some odd looks from staff and other guests if you check in and out of a hotel with a vintage tuba in tow. But who cares! You do you! And, on our honeymoon, we bought too many things. In order to bring our treasures home safely in our suitcases, we had to mail some of our clothes home from Europe. I sure hope we’re not the only ones to ever do that!
Here are a few of our favourite vintage things we’ve collected on vacation. The vintage tuba we found in an antique store – I believe somewhere around Chester, NS. (Oliver doesn’t enjoy it if we try to play it.) The bentwood chair is from The Old House Revival Company in Winnipeg, and I use it in my craft room/office. The two vintage books were from Paris – an English copy of Jane Eyre, and a French copy of The Jungle Book.
And the little teddy bear with leather paws was something we found at a flea market in London. We named him Albert after Queen Victoria’s husband. At the same flea market, we found the pair of vintage scissors that are in the photo at the top of this post. To read more about them, check out Using Vintage Scissors.
5. Art or Handmade Items
The last kind of meaningful thing to collect while travelling is art or other handmade items. This can include visual wall art, decorative pieces, and even handmade functional items. We prefer choosing art made by local artisans, as well as pieces that depict local landscapes in an artful and less stereotypical way.
These two pieces of art are prints by Nova Scotia artist, Kate Mitchell. We loved her colourful work made in a collage style, and these ones hang in the landing upstairs.
Some other handmade art pieces we bought include handmade wool blankets made at MacAusland’s Woollen Mills in Bloomfield, PEI. We toured their factory and have four of their blankets. I’m going to be sharing more about them in another post.
I also bought this small wooden quilt made by Julie Rose of Follow Your Heart Woodworking in O’Leary, PEI. Making them way more skillfully made, the design is not just painted on. Each piece of the pattern is a separate wood block that get assembled together. Julie gave us a little tour of her workspace when we visited which was lovely. If I recall correctly, the navy pattern in the centre block was a decoupaged napkin. As a quilter, this piece of art has a place of pride in my craft room. It is also a wonderful souvenir from our trip.
Meaningful Things to Collect While Travelling
There are so many wonderful things to collect while travelling, and searching for them is more than half the fun. Instead of just buying stereotypical and common souvenirs, why not look for things that have more meaning and speak to you?
I want to hear from you. What kinds of things do you like to collect while travelling? What kinds of items would be meaningful to you? Do you have a favourite souvenir? Have you ever searched for or bought any ornaments, books, vintage items or postcards, or handmade art? Let me know in the comments below.
All the best,
Linda Schulz says
Many years ago in our first holiday travels, our souvenirs consisted of postcards, shot glasses, t-shirts and more t-shirts, plus odd little souvenirs – such as coasters, decks of cards, key chains etc. reminding us of our trips, even though they were all probably made in another country, if the truth be told. Most of those were long ago discarded.
In our travels to other countries in later/recent years, we have found that more meaningful items are what we lean towards. I can’t say that there has been much thought put into the purchases beforehand, other than we fell in love with them when we bought them, and each of them is important to us even today.
In Turkey, we bought two Turkish rugs in the market in Istanbul, which both grace our home. From Egypt I bought a gold and silver necklace with my name spelled in hyroglyphics, and books from the ancients places we visited. In Jordan, we bought a mosaic table of the Tree of Life, from the shop where they were being hand-made. We chose our favourite of the tables, and signed the back to ensure that it was the actual one that we had selected, as we then had it shipped home, which took months for it to finally arrive. That was 10 years ago, and it is probably our favourite (and most expensive) souvenir, as well as one we make the most use of. It sits on our deck all summer and is used and much loved.
In Italy, we bought a water colour painting in Florence directly from a street artist, and a larger oil painting in the streets in Venice, also from the artist. We had to roll it up to bring home and frame; both pictures are wonderful reminders of our time in Italy.
We bought numerous books from Norway, and received several others as gifts; and bought beautiful Hardanger cutlery serving pieces made locally when we passed through Hardanger. My favourites from Norway are two glass fishing floats that were given to us as a gift from Norwegian cousins there. These date back to the late 1800’s and mean so much to me.
All these “souvenirs” remind us of our wonderful vacations, and although we don’t always think of them on a daily basis, they each still bring us joy, although the items are very eclectic. .
Thanks Linda for sharing your stories of all these fabulous souvenirs – and how your choices have changed over time. How lucky you are to have gone on such wonderful travels and have these wonderful items to remind you of those times. I think it’s so great that your souvenirs are eclectic rather than cookie-cutter. No two cities/countries are the same and you chose things that were beautiful and spoke to you in each place. I’m glad they still bring you joy 🙂
Linda Schulz says
Thanks Danielle. Your posts inspire me to reflect on my decorating style. I’m still working on the creativity part. 🙂
That’s a nice compliment – thank you! And we’re all a work in progress 🙂
Rachel A says
I love buying Christmas ornaments, jewelry, and fridge magnets. If something is unique to the place where I am visiting then I may buy it as a souvenir. An example of this is when I went to the isle of Harris, I purchased a Harris tweed tea cozy!
Thank you for sharing such thoughtful and informative posts!
Thank you Rachel – I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts 🙂
That’s a great idea to buy something unique to the place you’re visiting, such as something they’re known for like Harris Tweed. That’s definitely meaningful. Thank you for sharing what you like to collect!
Ruth Lytle says
Great ideas! I love the idea of collecting books – never thought of that. I often get an ornament and I usually get some jewelry. Not expensive jewelry but something like a cute pair of earrings.
Thanks Ruth! Ah yes! Jewelry is another great one – and something you can use often. I bought a pair of handmade earrings on one of our trips and they were my favourite, but I lost one. It’s the only earring I’ve ever lost too. I’m telling myself it’s a good reason to go back so I can get another pair.
I used to buy mugs, magnets, puzzles, and postcards too but now I only get a Christmas ornament I can display on my tree every year and take lots of pictures!
Thank you for sharing Suani! Yes, photographs are a must! Puzzles are a fun idea too.
Great tips for traveling. Your posts are always so informative and I love reading them. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks so much Allie! I’m so glad you’re enjoying them 🙂