There is nothing tackier than touristy t-shirts with locale names, glittery plastic key chains too big for use, and mini license plates, with typical names only, usually made in some less desirable third world destination. Yet, as travelers, somewhere in history, a seed was planted that we must bring a souvenir of where we visited, no matter how brief, as a memory. Perhaps a plastic dancing hula girl from Hawaii to mount on a dashboard or else a mini bottle of maple syrup from Vermont? Doesn’t matter. Why take a banal shell or actual artifact when a keepsake has been engineered for you?
Random, non-functional tchotchkes on a shelf collect dust and rather than remind me of fun times, remind me of the money I wasted on them and the real estate they now occupy. My travel memories are not dependent on tokens I’ve collected; my camera not only takes pictures of everywhere we’ve traveled, it can capture a photo of the snow globe I avoided as well.
Perhaps this attitude stems from the immigrant in me. I do not like to waste money on something which is not needed (keyword) or wanted and especially without purpose.
I’ve moved ten times in the last twenty years and every time I load boxes, I reconsider what will come to the new apartment. I purge as I pack; things buried in the back of a closet or under a bed disappears as I was clearly able to survive just fine without it when it was out of sight, out of mind
Alternatively, my strict non-souvenir policy may have evolved from growing up in a family which was never swimming in money. I understood how hard my parents worked for everything and I completely comprehended the hierarchy of what was important (shelter, food, and medical costs over fancy sneakers or souvenirs, for instance). Shopping for mementos seems extremely capitalistic, money wasting, and impractical. More shocking is how “shopping” is actually considered an activity, listed as such, in brochures promoting a hot spot (as in: “stunning beaches, extraordinary culinary expertise, top notch shopping…”). The last thing I want to do on vacation is WASTE TIME SHOPPING, especially for disposable (often Made-in-China) trinkets.
The idea of souvenirs as gifts for others is even more far fetched and seems selfish, gratifying the itch to shop and needing someone to be the recipient of the bad habit. When I was nine years old my grandparents returned from a vacation to Rio de Janeiro and they brought me a t-shirt which said, “My grandparents went to Rio and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” (three decades ago this was considered funny and clever). They also got me a green and white string bikini, which I wore zero times because I saw myself as a fat prepubescent hairy Russian girl and it would take another 25 years before I donned a string bikini confidently (and even though that’s all I wear no, still no credit for being a quarter decade ahead of the curve).
I don’t value “stuff” for its potential trip down nostalgia lane, although I have saved every note or card my husband has ever given me. I used to save ticket stubs from concert and broadway shows but at one point I lost some and deemed the entire collection incomplete and worthless and tossed it all, including the playbills. Twenty years worth of paper memories chucked in the garbage without looking back. (Until now.)
I value memories tremendously above all else; they are the experiences which together construct my life story, but bobble heads, ashtrays, and stuffed animals – those are all garbage as far as I’m concerned.