If you’re a bit of a hoarder like me, you’ll relate: souvenirs from your travels aren’t just T-shirts and postcards but also bus tickets, pens from hotels, pub coasters, brochures from places you visited (and even some you didn’t) … the list goes on. I have trouble throwing all this away because it reminds me of so many fun moments. But obviously I can’t keep everything.

Well, I could if I didn’t have a husband who objected and a house which doesn’t have limitless storage, but I do, so I need a strategy. Over the years I’ve devised ways of dealing with the travel “stuff” I’d like to keep, and hope these suggestions help your travel hoarding problem too.

Scan and Discard

Thank goodness for scanners, and the fact that they’ve become small and affordable. These days it is easy to throw a few items on the scanner and quickly and easily have images of them there to be kept forever.

This is perfect for things like tickets (I have a friend who’s kept every boarding pass from seemingly every flight he’s ever taken), brochures, postcards and other miscellaneous scraps of paper you feel like you want to keep. You can still have a record of them without filling up a cupboard!

Store with rows of hanging clogs, Amsterdam
Clogs, Amsterdam © Carmen Escobar Carrio

Scrapbook or Digiscrap

If you’re crafty or creative, you create a travel scrapbook to collate some of the small and flat items you collect on your travels. Combine photos, postcards, tickets, brochures and the like, perhaps even with a little narrative of the matching experiences from your trip.

And if you’re happy to play on the computer you might want to investigate “digiscrap”, or a digital scrap book — using those scanned images and all kinds of other fun bits and pieces to create a nice (digital and therefore easy to store!) memory of your travels.

Display and Rotate

When I first travelled, as a nine-year-old, I had a tendency to collect small trinkets and ornaments. While this tendency has diminished over the years, I still have quite a collection of souvenirs that I can’t bear to part with, and that give me pleasure to see because they’re a reminder of a particular experience or place.

Rather than clutter the living room with these dust-gatherers, I have a set of wall shelves with multiple small compartments, perfect for setting out some of these souvenirs for me to see as I work. I semi-regularly rotate them and keep the undisplayed ones in a box tucked neatly away.

Gift or Donate

There’s something about my travel memorabilia that makes it hard to just throw it away, but if I know it is going to a new (and good) home then I can sometimes manage it!

This is particularly true of the kinds of gifts I often received as a teacher when I lived abroad — multiple ornate fans or Hello Kitty keyrings or other typical Asian souvenirs, for example. There are only so many a person needs, but there’s nothing wrong with them. I sometimes pass these on as gifts to others who will appreciate them (nieces or nephews are good for things like that!) or donate useful things to charity shops.

Bits of Damascus
Souvenir Shop in Old Town, Damascus, Syria © D Jabi

Use Them

As I got older and realised that I was the kind of person who always wanted to bring home some physical thing from the places I visited, I started to get more practical and buy or collect things that actually had a use for them.

At first, though, I still tended to tuck them away as “special” souvenirs. Finally, I realised that the best way to enjoy such souvenirs was to simply use them in every day life, accepting that they will one day break or wear out or stop being useful, and that would be that.

Now I eat Asian meals with some of my favourite chopsticks from Japan, I write shopping lists with pens from unusual hotels spread across the globe, and I bring out coasters from some favourite European pubs for my guests to use when we have a few drinks.

Make a Highlights Selection

The other thing I do now and again with the many things I’ve collected over the years is to sort through them every so often and make a “highlights” collection. As your circumstances change and you travel to new places, or return to old ones, your decisions on what objects are important to you may well change. You may be surprised to see certain objects which you found so essential to hold on to in earlier years!

As much as I love to hold on to things, I also quite enjoy having a good clean out and either finding new uses for objects I had in storage or simply — ouch — throwing them away! Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.

What Do You Keep?

So what about you — what do you tend to collect or hoard from your travels? Everyone has their own specialties! And I’d love to hear any other suggestions on what to do with these kind of objects, so please leave your tips in the comments, too.

25 Responses

  1. Nimish

    I have this weird habit of collecting stones/pebbles from places that I have been to. I just keep them. In a small box. I make sure I have small pebbles and not large rocks:p The recent stones that I treasure are the ones I picked up from around Mozart’s burial place at St. Marx Cemetry in Vienna.

    Reply
  2. Meaghan

    I can totally relate, I literally keep everything from my travels. Maps, brochures, tickets, coasters, business cards, everything! (and anything) I’ve always planned on organizing it all into a scrapbook one day but of course one day hasn’t come yet and the boxes are taking up valuable closet space. Thanks for this post, I think you may have motivated me to finally do something with all that stuff.

    Reply
  3. Miruna

    That’s a very nice piece. Over the time I brought a lot of things home from my travels, everything from little bracelets to decorative objects and clothes. The worse part is that I tend to keep everything and I find it impossible to give them away:).

    Reply
  4. lauren

    i do tend to pick up souvenirs. mostly things i can wear but my favorite souvenir is collecting charms for my charm bracelet. that is something i’ll never give away and i wear it all the time. it can be expensive (gold) but i am reminded of all my lovely travels and it’s a great conversation piece!

    Reply
  5. Vicki Austad

    I’ve done a lot of traveling, mostly in the US but also Mexico 3 times. I brought home tons of souvineers and here’s what I’ve learned over the years: Buy lots of postcards, they’re usually better than any photos I could have taken and look awesome in scrapbooks and photo albums. Buy at least 1 hoodie or t-shirt or hat that says where you were. Don’t go overboard buying stuff to bring home to people. They’ll never appreciate the items as much as you do. Buy 1 decent piece of jewelry and wear it proudly whenever you can. The most important: Bring half the clothes and twice the money!
    Vicki from Chaska, Minnesota

    Reply
  6. Mike

    I mostly “bring home” photographs. I do love your idea about scanning tickets, etc, That is brilliant and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of it before. Thanks for sharing and safe travels!

    Reply
  7. Jeff Hotson

    I own a pub. I put my photos in a slide show with the monitor facing customers at one end of the bar and they really enjoy that. I read a lot of books and like to use appropriately sized pieces of paper such as reciepts, train tickets, business card, & etc, especially those that have some obviously foreign printing on them as bookmarks. I belong to bookcrossing and give away my finished books in the pub. I’ve heard that a few people have found those bookmarks to be a neat treat. I also find a way to display some of the more interesting souvenirs around the pub.

    Reply
  8. Amy Stark

    I, too have been collecting all the ephemera from over 20 years of travel. I’m an artist, so I have been able to use them in paintings and collages to tell stories. I can make something for you, too, out of your stuff!

    Reply
  9. Magic Travel Andrew

    I was surprised to read this. It runs counter to my personal experience. I guess you tend to forget that different people are different :D

    I don’t really collect anything aside from the occasional unusual t-shirt which I justify because its cheaper than buying clothes at home. That’s really about it. The more I travel the less I want any physical stuff. I suspect my blog has replaced any desire for souvenirs. Now its so easy to browse through old photos and video of places I’ve been. Old photos and videos have the advantage that they often contain little gems that you had entirely forgotten about.

    Plus, it took months to whittle down my possessions before leaving for our current trip…

    Reply
  10. Mica

    Since I’m an expat I rarely purchase anything but clothing, but I do make up for it by taking loads of photos! Lots of good ideas here though.

    Reply
  11. Audrey

    I tend to buy a few select pieces here and there, but now it’s mostly photos that I keep as ‘souvenirs’. :)

    Reply
  12. Citizlen Nowhere

    Good advice!

    I like to bring home consumables (e.g. spices, etc.) and music, as those don’t take up room in your suitcase or at home, and when you taste the spices or listen to the music, your senses will bring you straight back to the place you were visiting.

    Hope it’s OK that I linked to your piece on my travel blog, http://www.citizennowhere.wordpress.com (I just started it recently). Greetings from a fellow traveller!

    Reply
  13. Emilia

    We are all hoarders of some kind. We are all guilty of collecting travel memorabilia. Check out moush.com.au.

    It is a personalised art business and we basically create Art out of your things whether it is your collectibles or memorabilia from your travels or your travel photos. We can create some cool art work for your home from your personal items. Check out the website for some examples.

    Let us know if we can help with turning some of your travel stuff into art.

    Emilia

    Reply
  14. Perzen

    A great post and something I can totally relate with. I love collecting brochures o things to do from the various places I visit just cz it is so colorful etc. A few years ago though I came up with a brilliant souvenir idea and I now collect shot glasses from every airport or city I go to. They are small to store , can be used , cheap to buy and are often very unique to that place…

    Reply
  15. Elize

    I love magnets. I buy one in every city I’m in. If I can’t find one, I’ll buy a small tile, or something similar, and make my own .

    I have a huge magnet board in my study, and they are all on there, a constant reminder of where I have been and how far I have come

    Reply
  16. Allison

    We don’t collect. We don’t buy stuff anymore. After years of buying stuff, we got rid of all of it to live in an RV. RV living will curtail the habit of acquisition. Now we take pictures and blog about the event so we remember it years later.

    Reply
  17. YHA New Zealand

    Wow, what a great selection of suggestions! Sorry to sound cheesy, but we think the best thing to collect is memories! Aw. What a “green” souvenir.

    Reply
  18. Eli

    Instead of collecting souvenirs, why not collecting digital photos.

    It’s easier, cleaner and after couple of years it will have much bigger meaning.

    Reply
  19. Shalu Sharma

    You can always sell it on ebay or gift it to your friends. Then there is always your travel shelves where you can put all your travel things there. Its easy to get carried away and buy those small things that we will never use.

    Reply
  20. Michelle

    When trvalleing, I try to find something that exists in the local culture and can be used…this often leads to cooking items for specific foods and drinks. For example, I have a turkish tea set, chop sticks, asado plates from argentina, and Thai tea sleeve. I also picked a wooden tissue box in Palestine (they are on most restaurant tables and in every office I visited) and in Paris I bought a used red and white checked table cloth from an adorable cafe. I get to periodically use these items in everyday life, remember my travels, show friends, and an added bonus is that these items are usually very cheap since staples in the culture.

    Reply
  21. J Munro

    I do a few things with souvenirs from my travels:

    - Tickets and receipts get taped into a travel journal
    - I often just buy a piece of jewellery to remind me of the trip
    - I sometimes buy a charm that represents the country or city for my charm bracelet
    - I have a printers tray on the wall that I use to store small things on – so a pine cone from Pompeii, a pebble from Petra etc.

    You don’t have to keep everything but little reminders and momento’s are always lovely to have.

    Reply
  22. Sharon

    I buy Christmas ornaments or things that can be used as Christmas tree ornaments. I relive the memories of the trips as I put my tree up and I have a unique tree.

    Reply
  23. D. Siekman

    The photographs are a great solution (and really) all we actually need – - -
    however, some of us need MORE than just pictures. So I have taken my paper souvenirs (like) museum passes, subway stubs even menus or napkins and glued them onto a wooden serving tray. There is a ‘pour’ available that equates to 50-coats of varnish. You may have seen this thick – glossy finish used on restaurant tables. It coats & seals your precious items and allows you to use the serving tray to (well) serve! Serve dinner drinks on it or midnite munchies – it is a durable and washable finish.
    With my dimensional items – place inside a shadowbox with a glass door. They are available in small sizes such as (5″ x 5″) or very large. I saw one @ Hobby Lobby designed for a Wedding Dress! It actually became a beautiful piece of art to hang on a wall. As long as you get them out of their storage box, they will be happy & you will too!

    Reply

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