As a backpacker, one may think that souvenirs are out of the question. But with some creativity and the occasional splurge, it is possible to return home with more than just fading memories and a hundred thousand photographs. There have been times, though, where I curse myself for either backpacking or being too cheap to want to ship stuff home. But I admit, my bank account does thank me. But one of these days, I may break down and buy adult sized mementos. In the meantime, I continue to search for unique little things that bring back the memories of a particular trip. Here are some of the backpacking souvenirs I have at home:
One of the things I love searching for when travelling is a souvenir that exemplifies a unique group – one example is something from an indigenous group. The Kalinago people of Dominica are among the original inhabitants of the island and while I had always known that I have Kalinago ancestry, it wasn’t until I went to Dominica that I realized how much my face embodies said ancestry. I definitely had to buy something that not only represented my visit to this gorgeous verdant gem of an island but also speaks to my heritage. As luck would have it, what I ended up getting also fit into my backpack!
This island has a fascinating history and an unexpected strong Irish connection. I loved this slow paced island that has one main road. Montserrat also has a volcano that on one hand is very cool to see but on the other, it has tragically cut off almost half the island from inhabitation since it erupted for the first time in recent memory in 1995. It is still forbidden to enter the exclusion zone today. One of the souvenirs I got from this island was a piece of pumice, which was formed from the volcanic eruptions. Not only is it small, it is very light as well – perfect for a backpacker!
So, here, I wasn’t quite backpacking as I was in the country for three months, volunteering. I still count it, though, because what I brought with me to the country would have fit into my backpack if I exclude the items brought specifically for the project and the village. One of the best souvenirs I bought for myself in Guyana was a set of wooden bowls made from purple heartwood. It is a gorgeous wood, extremely hard and naturally purple! I’m especially proud of them because it was my first real attempt at bargaining. I didn’t really get much off the price but I did get a pair of salad utensils for free… So while these probably wouldn’t have all fit into my backpack, the extra bowl or two would have gone in the carry-on. No one said backpackers can’t have carry-on luggage!
The problem with Turkey is that it has an incredible amount of beautiful things that you just want to buy it ALL and figure out later how you’ll get it home. The amount of times I had to mentally slap myself, it was ridiculous – and I’m not even a shopper. But one thing that works well for backpackers is textiles as they’re light and they can be folded. One of my favourite purchases was an antique (about 90 yrs old) camel bag that had been cut open. At least that is what was claimed – I have no idea of its provenance but if they say camel bag, I say camel bag. It rolled up nicely and definitely fit into my backpack!
Okay, so this souvenir is pre-backpacking days but it is one of my first souvenirs and so I had to include it on this list. I was about 12 years old when my parents took the family to Europe for the first time, primarily to meet my French great-grandmother. At some point during the trip, we also took a detour to the Pyrenees and it was here that my grubby little hands found this water bag. Sure it’s touristy but what do you expect from a 12 year old?
Sometimes souvenirs are not bought but rather are given to you. Sure they’re meant to promote and advertise a particular business (ie. all those pens you have in that bottom drawer) but sometimes, it’s so cute you don’t care. Bonus if it is small enough to toss into your backpack!
I have the good fortune to have someone living in London (ie free place to stay) so I’ve been a few times, now. However, I’ve never found London a place for unique souvenirs that appeal to me. There are tons of unique things to find but nothing that says “England”. So far, anyway – I’m more than happy to keep looking! On one of my visits, though, I went to the Royal Albert Hall for a showing of the second Lord of the Rings film and the London Symphony Orchestra played the soundtrack live. It was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. And as luck would have it, Howard Shore, the composer of the soundtrack, was there. So of course, despite already owning the soundtrack, I bought a new one and stood in line for 2 hours to get his autograph.
This country has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to things to bring home. Backpacking meant that I had to try to limit my spending – I didn’t manage to limit in the number of things I bought but I did manage to keep them all small: jewelry and knick knacks. Two that I purchased represent, for me, the bright colours of the country.
Technically I bought this in Canada before heading off to do the Camino Frances. However, the sellos (stamps) inside are from each and every evening stop I made along the Way. The memories attached to each sello are 100% Spanish and are absolutely priceless. Not all souvenirs cost money, that’s for sure.
Anywhere and Everywhere (maybe except Antarctica)
The number one souvenir for a backpacker has got to be the lowly postcard. They are cheap, light, small, and you don’t even have to carry them around if you mail them to yourself at home. For years now, I’ve tried to buy a postcard not only from each country that I’ve visited, but also from each city/town/village. They now adorn a wall in my home and I absolutely love it.
So, how about you? What kind souvenir do you recommend for a backpacker? What is your favourite souvenir from your own travels?