Souvenirs from each country, but what?
March 4, 2012 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Best souvenir to collect from each country I visit?

I searched, but I don't think this sort of question was asked before.

Over the next couple years, I'd like to do quite a bit of traveling, and I'd like to collect some thing from each place. I've also been to quite a few other countries already, so I'd try to acquire one of these things from each of those countries.

The question is, what sort of nifty little souvenir do you think would be cool to collect from each country? Some dirt? Rocks? A pin that I could pin on my travel bag? Maybe sew the flag of each country I visit onto my travel bag?

I hope this doesn't come across as vain.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (58 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I tend to collect bits of money from places I've been - euros, yen, etc. They're pretty easy to acquire, and lots of fun.
posted by dotgirl at 7:24 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

My sister went all over southeast asia recently and collected patches to sew on her backpack. It makes her really happy every time she uses her bag, now, and reminds her of her travels.
The stamps she got in her passport were also pretty great souvenirs!

I've always liked the idea of collecting tiny little glass jars of sand. The little glass jars with cork tops (or something more travel friendly), with sand from all different places!
posted by ameliaaah at 7:25 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, I've been doing money. Even though the euro's a common currency, there are still different designs for each country's mint, so I've got a nice little 'trophy' pile of Euro, a Canadian Tooney, a Korean 100 won note... They take up very littlet space, but you can easily flip through them, show them off, etc, without having to try to remember where each one came from exactly.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:26 PM on March 4, 2012

I always go for currency + a shot glass. Some places you may have to look for toothpick holders *wink wink* instead of shot glasses. If I think I'll have room in my luggage, I'll buy a paper map as well.
posted by AMSBoethius at 7:28 PM on March 4, 2012

My wife and I do shot glasses because it seems every place we visit, large or small, sells a shot glass.
posted by tommccabe at 7:30 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like those smooshed pennies you can get at museums and touristy places. You could collect smooshed coins from as many countries that have those machines, and just collect coins from the countries where you can't find smooshed coins. (Railroad tracks also work, if you're careful and sneaky.)

You could also go to the post offices and collect a couple current stamps from each country.
posted by shortyJBot at 7:30 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a knitter, I always try to buy some yarn or fiber for spinning when I visit a new place; every time I wear whatever I make with the yarn, I'm reminded of my trip. Maybe you have a hobby that requires something similar?
posted by smirkette at 7:38 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

magnets. cheap and easy to carry along!
posted by nanhey at 7:40 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you have a holiday tree, try finding ornaments (or keychains or other baubles to convert into ornaments). They don't need to sit out all year - you unpack them (and relive the memories) once a year.

Also, photos of one thing for comparison. Doors, fire hydrants, toilets - whatever.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:47 PM on March 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

We get my mom a refrigerator magnet wherever we go. Her fridge is basically not visible under all the magnets. They can be hard to find some places, though...I don't think we ever found one in Japan, for instance.
posted by troublesome at 7:51 PM on March 4, 2012

I got small patches (maybe 3in x 2in) of the country flag for every country I've been to. It was important to get the patch THERE, not afterwards. Still haven't decided what I'm going to do with them.
posted by Brittanie at 7:54 PM on March 4, 2012

Newspapers. They have the added advantage, sometimes, of being able to fill in some blanks during the post-trip decompress: "oh, that's what was happening in the square" and so on.
posted by holgate at 7:58 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dirt. At least that's what I'd take. Of course you would have to label them if you are going to many continents or countries.
The coins/stamps are also a great idea
I would take a teaspoon of the terra firma
posted by bebrave! at 8:01 PM on March 4, 2012

Depending on how much room you have in your luggage, non-perishable foods or bottles of some local booze are my favorites. In Korea, for instance, you can get catfood can-sized tins of silkworm larvae (somehow very popular here), and unique mountain berry or medicinal herb liquors.
posted by holterbarbour at 8:11 PM on March 4, 2012

Oh, and my all time favorite, sand. I clean out some of those little breakfast buffet jam jars you get at hotels, and I've filled up a few with different beach or desert sand. I've got Hawaii, Abu Dhabi, Jeju volcanic black sand, and Dead Sea shore in my collection.
posted by holterbarbour at 8:13 PM on March 4, 2012

Dirt, food or any organic matter (shells, etc) is a bad idea unless you know for sure you will never be travelling through countries with strict biosecurity rules (e.g. New Zealand, Australia, many Pacific islands).

I like to buy fabric, but I sew (and now I quilt too) so it's useful to me.

I also own a dictionary for the language of each country I have travelled to. It makes a nice row on my bookshelves. You could do the same thing with tourist guidebooks or phrasebooks.

Postcards, train tickets, movie tickets are also cute. You could make a habit of sending yourself postcards from each location, so that it ends up with the stamp and postmark on it too.
posted by lollusc at 8:15 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Collecting sand is simple and cheap.
Perhaps bottle of good local wine?
Or a book from a famous author?
A local cookbook?
Or a photo of stewardess uniform?
Breakfast photos.
posted by leigh1 at 8:17 PM on March 4, 2012

Postcards are inexpensive and make for cool collages.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:20 PM on March 4, 2012

If you're going to fairly urban areas, I like to do handheld tourist-style maps (usually the laminated sort) or subway/transit maps. There's something particularly iconic and memorable to me about the subway/train maps of places I've been. I also save coins/bills, nothing that'd be expensive or a hardship, whatever the equivalent of a quarter/dollar bill in terms of usefulness would be.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:27 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I collect money; I generally make it a point to accumulate one of each coin and small bill on my last day or two before I leave. My boss collects transit tickets, and going to get them is kind of a fun challenge.

I also take a photo of every meal while travelling, to the degree possible. Not every meal is great, but I still take the pic before the meal, so it's nice looking. Part of it is that I just like food, part of it is a connection to the local culture (I try to search out whatever the local delicacies are), and part of it I think is the additional senses involved; a shot of a really memorable meal evokes the flavour and aroma as well as the memories of where I was, and under what circumstances the meal was eaten.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:48 PM on March 4, 2012

As a seamstress, I like to pick up fabric when I travel. The different fabrics available in different areas are delightful. A friend brought me gorgeous yardage from DR Congo last summer that I can't wait to make into a sundress.

If you are an artist or craftsperson of any stripe, adapt this concept to your particular art.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2012

I did postcards, and tried to write a short note from the trip on the back of each one. I actually bought two postcards in every country and mailed one to my dad, who collects stamps. My boyfriend has tourist maps of the cities he's lived in, which I like.
posted by jacalata at 8:55 PM on March 4, 2012

You could collect a deck of souvenir playing cards from every country you visit. Then, some day, when you've been to 52 countries (or locations) you could take a single card from each deck and create a new, complete deck of cards, with 52 different backs of all the places you've visited. In fact you'd be able to create 52 different complete decks, with each card in a deck coming from a different place.

Keep one deck for yourself and you'd have 51 unique gifts to give family, your kids, friends, or anyone.

Souvenir playing cards are very easy to find. And I think it would be neat to collect them as part of a long-term project. And I like the idea of someday being able to create a unique, functional object, with parts from all over the world. Not only that, but anyone with a deck you'd given them would be able to hold your complete travelogue covering years, or possibly even decades, in the palm of their hand.

And they could play Old Maid with them too.
posted by twinight at 9:18 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I like the map idea. I know someone who travelled extensively for work and collected those kitschy snow globes from each city. Displayed in his office as a collection, they actually looked really cool.
posted by Jubey at 9:36 PM on March 4, 2012

My ex collected floaty pens from her travels.

When she ditched me with all of her stuff, I discovered through ebay that a lot of other people collect them too.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:01 PM on March 4, 2012

Rocks. Go out somewhere and find an interesting-looking golf-ball sized rock and stuff it in your bag. Not a relic or anything. Just a rock.

You want to keep something that reminds you of the place you've been? How about an actual piece of the place you've been?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:10 PM on March 4, 2012

Magnets magnets magnets! I'll tell you why:

1. You can put them on your fridge (or similar metal object) and look at them regularly. You'd think I'd have lost all association with the souvenir magnets on my fridge after seeing them daily but I still find myself regularly glancing at them and reminiscing.

2. If you discriminate a bit about the magnets you choose you'll find that souvenir magnets can be quite artistic. You get to have a fridge (or whatever) coated in art.

3. They're typically pretty cheap (~$5)

4. They probably won't break. If the actual magnet part comes off of the front (which hasn't happened to me yet) you can just Gorilla Glue it all back together.

5. They're small and easily transportable.

6. They're useful if you're the type that likes to use magnets for holding papers and photos up.

7. They're usually pretty easy to find (although I've never been to Japan)

I can't think of anything else that meets more than a few of those points. Dirt? How often are you going to look at that again? And when you do how much nostalgic value will you really get from a vial of dirt? You'd get more nostalgic value with money, but how frequently will you take that out as well? Snowglobes take up lots of room and are fragile. Mugs are also fragile and tend to sit in the back of the cupboard taking up space. Patches might be cool, but what happens when the bag you've sewn them to is ready for Goodwill? Food is nice but you have to worry about customs and once the food is gone, it's gone. Ornaments? Good luck finding those.

Magnets and photos and you'll be set.
posted by Defenestrator at 10:27 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have thousands (not hyperbole) of postcards, both for pleasure and research, and they give me great pleasure to be reminded of the great and amazing things I've seen. I also like buying well-made stationary or cards for gifts: something a little different but practical, and it's unlikely to be something the recipient has already. (I love, for example, the cards with cut-out silhouettes of the skyline or major monuments.)

Spices and recipes or notes on your favorite meal. Magnets, both classy AND terrible. Scarfs or a crafting material. I like getting small pottery pieces-- a candle holder, a trivet, a small dish-- if that's a big thing, though you should check to see if the glazes contain lead in any food dishes, or anything kitchen-related like napkins or salad tongs. While I love to cook, I think you could adapt the idea to anything you like to do, if you want more practical pieces to remind you of your travels. I like the sewing and knitting ideas above. Snow globes are awesome but make sure you pack ziplocs in case they leak. Transportation tickets: trains, buses, cars. Tickets to plays or concerts or museums, which often have little pictures or sketches. Children's books, if you like languages.

Pins and patches are a great idea, I know I've seen Girl Scouts with a designated "patch jacket" or even better, a blanket-- something big enough to contain all their patches and still useful while travelling.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:07 PM on March 4, 2012

I like magnets for all the reasons Defenestrator lists above. I have started buying reusable shopping bags because they are practical while you are there and then remind me of my travels when I'm home and carting groceries around. I don't do this consistently, but I do have some from New York and Venice (plus one I got from my Secret Quonsar from California). I do often buy non-perishable foods, although they only last for so long. I do buy cookbooks. I inadvertently collect subway maps, I love the different designs and do seem to put them aside. I also like maps in general, particularly if there are interesting ones. Small pieces of art are good too. I know some people like to buy either a Christmas tree ornament or something that would serve as a Christmas tree
posted by AnnaRat at 12:53 AM on March 5, 2012

... ornament. Sorry, dropped a word at the end.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:01 AM on March 5, 2012

I buy small pieces of fabric. I have batiks, and saris, and Hawaiian prints, South African oilcloth, West African dresses, Japanese florals, and much much more.

A lot of the things mentioned in this thread are harder to find the further off the beaten path you go (eg countries that lack tourism aren't printing up postcards and badges), but you will always be able to to get fabric. Plus, it's a great excuse to get out into the local markets.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:23 AM on March 5, 2012

I've collected pins for awhile - until I realized I loved going to places that didn't always have a touristy thing to sell you.
posted by chrisinseoul at 1:36 AM on March 5, 2012

Do up little sketches of places and people.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:39 AM on March 5, 2012

I collect snow globes.
posted by violetk at 2:21 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

About money: a retired family friend asked that when I travel to any country, I pick up one of each coin for each of his grandchildren, who are still very young. When I get back, he gets the coins. He gets such a thrill out of cleaning the coins, looking up information about the country and the cultural symbols on the coins, and mounting them for when the grandkids will be old enough to get a sense of wonder out of them. Maybe something like that is interesting to you, even if you don't have grandchildren or even children yet!

I know one guy who collects musical instruments, and a young lady who buys a couple women's/fashion magazines in the local style and language.
posted by whatzit at 3:06 AM on March 5, 2012

Always something forgotten: I'm not serious about it, but I realize I have a lot of very interesting representations of women from places I have been: the quintessential hula girl, a clay figure made in rural Brazil, a Hina doll from Japan...
posted by whatzit at 3:08 AM on March 5, 2012

I love to cook so i collect cookbooks from every country i visit. I like gourmet recipes that feature the regional ingredients of the country. This allows me to expand my culinary options for cooking at home plus i can recreate the dishes i tried on vacations and fell in love with that are not easily found stateside.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 4:50 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also collect fridge magnets. I like to buy them for the attraction/museum I visited too, if I can - rather than just the city I visited. It's best if I find a magnet that relates to the experience I had there.

You can buy magnets in Japan. I bought a magnet with an old poster of Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla on it from a comic book store. I also have a pikachu and hello kitty magnet. I know where the magnets came from, they don't have to say "Japan" on them.
posted by lizbunny at 5:12 AM on March 5, 2012

Another snow globe collector. Are they made there? No. Does it seem off to have a snow globe from Egypt? Yes. But something about them gets cooler with quantity.
posted by mckenney at 5:51 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is more in the spirit than to the letter: I buy the Rough Guide for each place I'm going, and will eventually figure uot a bookcase/shelf solution to display them.
posted by troywestfield at 5:56 AM on March 5, 2012

If you are a beer or wine drinker, or not:

-Beer labels (can be a little futzy to peel off the bottles when you're in a cafe, but works well if they're damp. I paste them down in a notebook or journal as I'm travelling or after the fact.)
-Wine labels or corks
-Bottle caps--could be from beer or soda, many non-US countries traffic almost exlusively in returnable glass bottles for soda, so you could find interesting options.

When I travel, I like to pick up a cheap, thin school notebook and make a simple scrapbook. The ones that are planner-sized work well. And often you can find cheap notebooks with some very goofy designs on the cover which are great in themselves. My notebook from India has a bizarre painting of a terrified clown riding a galloping donkey. Sometimes I take pages out of the middle so I end up with a complete book without having to fill a million pages. You could write in it as you go or, like me, just make pretty collages (buy a glue stick with your notebook). I usually have colored pens or pencils or watercolors while travelling for embellishing. I hold onto ticket stubs, napkins, maps, brochures, food labels and packaging, news paper clippings, postcards and paste it all in, more or less organized and annotated.
posted by dahliachewswell at 6:08 AM on March 5, 2012

I'm another coin collector, though I've never been outside of the States yet, I have friends collect coins for me when they go, and it's super easy for them to do. I have a treasure box full of coins from all over the world. It's great fun.

I also collect smooshed pennies if I can find the machines -- one of the cheapest souveniers one can bring back from a place is a smooshed penny, and there's just something about them that I like.
posted by patheral at 6:46 AM on March 5, 2012

The great thing about fridge magnet-collecting is trying to find the kitschiest one possible. Sometimes it tells you something about how the local folk see themselves.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:56 AM on March 5, 2012

I'm a magnet collector, too, and it's awesome. Whenever I visit a new place I've got my eyes open for the perfect magnet to sum up my trip, which I usually buy on the last day. Like I went to Washington, DC, a few months back, and the Zoo was my favorite part of the visit so I got a fun mosaic panda manget for five bucks somewhere. And then my souvenirs stare at me every time I open the fridge! It's great. I've taken scads of tiny little weekend trips that I would've forgotten about if I didn't have the magnets to remind me of how fun the trips were. (Sometimes I buy a combo magnet-photo holder like this for extra awesome trip memories.)
posted by jabes at 7:10 AM on March 5, 2012

I also always buy a ticky-tacky magnet from the place I'm visiting.
posted by Windigo at 7:51 AM on March 5, 2012

I collect football (soccer) jerseys. Pretty easy to find in most countries, and they roll up into a dark corner of your bag pretty well. Bonus: extra shirt you won't feel like too much of a doofus wearing. Mostly.
posted by piedmont at 8:00 AM on March 5, 2012

In terms of actual touristy souvenirs, we usually get a magnet from each location, and we do enjoy looking at them and reminiscing.

However, I'm a bit of a minimalist and don't enjoy having a lot of clutter - so my favorite thing to get is something I'll actually use or wear. Beach wear is obvious - for example, I'd always get a little thrill of rememberance whenever I wore my Tevas from Rarotonga (sadly, worn to death and no longer with us), and I still bring my sarong from Fiji whenever I go to the beach (really useful! not just for women, either). Jewelry is probably my favorite - the earrings I bought in the Dominican Republic are probably my all-time favorite, and the silver bracelet I got in Santa Fe brings back great memories every time I wear it. Kitchenware is sometimes available, touristy or not - I have mugs that I use from Auckland and Amsterdam, and teatowels from Dublin. These items don't usually have the name of the place plastered across them, personally, I like that.
posted by widdershins at 11:20 AM on March 5, 2012

Beer pads, antique photos, french postcards, police badges, film posters, locally made clothes, outsider art - lots of good possibilities outside of some trash you might find at a tourist kiosk. I generally enjoy heading to the local antique store/flea market before I even consider going to any tourist shop. I could have wandered the Marais flea market for days on my last trip to Paris.
posted by JJ86 at 11:33 AM on March 5, 2012

I've traveled a little, and my souvenirs are varied, based on what I need/want at home, and what's available from the country; a rug from Greece, a printed 'stained glass' rose window light catcher from Paris, olivewood cutting board from Italy, a wool shawl from Scotland, etc. I get to enjoy the souvenir, as well as occsaionally saying "Thank you; I got it in San Francisco" or wherever. I know someone who has a sand collection, in spice jars, that friends have collected worldwide. It looks nifty. Magnets are excellent; you may want to specialize - art museum magnets, or magnets in the shape of the country, etc. Always mail yourself a postcard - you get the postcard, the stamp, and the postmark.
posted by theora55 at 12:08 PM on March 5, 2012

I keep a small notebook with me when I travel for notes about train times, where I'm going, handwritten maps, etc. Not a "journal" per se, but they become fantastic reminders of where I went and what I did.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:19 PM on March 5, 2012

A deck of cards where every card had a different back would be an invitation to count cards, even subconsciously. It's a nice idea but perhaps not terribly functional.
posted by jacalata at 12:56 PM on March 5, 2012

Oh! another thought... I used to collect salt & pepper shakers. It might be neat to have a set from all over the world. Just a thought.
posted by patheral at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2012

I get a lot of small decorate dishes/bowls usually made by a local craftsperson. Somewhat breakable, but if you get a small one it's easy to wrap up in clothes and I've never had one break. I also have a lot of animal figurines.
posted by whoaali at 4:59 PM on March 5, 2012

Back before music was so easy to get, I collected a cassette tape of local music everywhere I went. Now, I have a can of pens at my office that reminds me of places I've been. I also have playing cards from all over (the cards are different sizes, so you can't really make a usable deck by mixing), and magnets, but I limited them to magnets WITH A CLIP, just because there were too many to choose from.

But my favorite souvenir was when I stayed in Rome for a semester and had to buy toiletries. I brought home a bottle of sunscreen with the label printed in Italian and every time I used that for the next summer I remembered how much fun I'd had. Just an everyday thing, but it was very special to me.
posted by CathyG at 5:00 PM on March 5, 2012

My Dad likes to get a dish towel whenever he travels. Then he gets to remember his trips when he does the dishes.
posted by carolr at 6:59 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I went to France as a teenager, I bought a typical mini Eiffel Tower as the required standard souvenir, but I also bought a record (a 45 rpm single!) and a pop music magazine. I knew nothing about the artist whose record I bought - Francis Lalanne - but I ended up REALLY liking it, and I've kept the magazine all these years ... it gives me lots of opportunities to practice my French, and it reminds me of what was popular way back when.
posted by kristi at 10:02 AM on March 6, 2012

I try to buy scarves and jewellery wherever I go. Of course, for me scarves are a little impractical to wear in my home town's subtropical climate, but I hang them up on the back of a door so I can still admire them. A couple I also rotate through the house as throws on the lounge. The added bonus is that my mum now buys a scarf as a memento for me on her travels. Scarves and jewellery are so easy to find room for.

A small notebook to write one's travel diary in, from the place you're staying in, carries much more sentiment years later.

I also collect ticket stubs, bottle labels, train tickets, postcards etc with the intention that (one day) I will frame them as a giant collage. (The day I uncover my much-treasured concert tickets that I'd kept from the 1990s in my cupboard is the day I start this project.)

I have also framed a NYC subway map (in fact, anything from the MTA museum store is great), and postcards of Iznik tiles from Istanbul - cheaper and easier than buying the actual (expensive and heavy) tiles.
posted by chronic sublime at 4:17 PM on March 9, 2012

I try and buy a CD of local music wherever I go. It could be weird to me versions of popular songs or folk music or whatever. That way, you get to go into a record shop and ask about the local music - popular unsigned bands, etc., so you get to talk to people and find out what is truly local to the place. I have mariachi music from New Mexico, a popular singer from Croatia ... it's given me a lot of pleasure and they are not big to pack, obviously.
posted by LyzzyBee at 10:34 AM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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