Travel collections: what objects do you bring back from your trips?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If I could be a teenager again, ready to embark on a lifetime of travel, I’d probably do a few things differently second time around. One piece of wisdom I’d offer those about to start their travels would be to experience the joy of creating a collection of stuff. If I had brought back a little memento from every place I’d visited, by now I would have an impressive horde of objects.

What you choose to collect is up to you. Preferably it won’t weigh too much or take up much space. It could be something as simple as a sticker. My parents bought me a bright red plastic suitcase when I went to university. In the following 20 years the case visited six continents and hundreds of towns and cities. If I had started to slap stickers onto it the first ones would have looked ridiculous. After a dozen the case would have started to look half decent. By now there wouldn’t be a hint of its original colour and my suitcase would tell its own story.

Of course luggage has a limited lifespan and the red suitcase has recently been retired from service without a single sticker (unless you count a few stray customs and immigration markings). But other things are easier to collect. Some collect fridge magnets, others beer mats and some folks build up drawers full of T-shirts.

Choosing the objects for your travel collections may require some knowledge of your future. At 18 I built up a collection of McDonald’s place-mats from around Europe. I have sheets of paper with local descriptions of culinary paradise in Finnish, Serbo-Croat and German. But my love affair with the golden arches ended many years ago and as a result the place-mat collection never really took off.

If I had to choose an item to collect I would keep a small amount of money from each country: a small note and a coin (although in some countries the smallest note is worth a lot). I have coins and banknotes from nearly 60 countries, although these have been acquired more by poor planning than by design. A particularly heavy set of Austrian Schillings and French Francs are evidence of a hasty exit without the chance to spend loose change.

Money provides a snapshot of that country’s history at the time of your visit. Look back in 20 years and the currency may have changed, the characters depicted on the notes may have been toppled in a revolution or the country itself may no longer exist.

Photos are of course the most popular way to keep a tangible reminder of your travels, but a collection of local items can provide another insight into a country as it was at the time you visited.


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Freelance travel writer

15 Responses to “Travel collections: what objects do you bring back from your trips?”

  1. Good post, as always, Andy 🙂

    December 20, 2011 at 11:37 am
  2. Always fridge magnets; plates, if we can find any that aren’t too chavvy & have wall hanging fittings.

    Like all true collectors, you usually have quite a few before you realise you are a collector!

    December 20, 2011 at 11:46 am
  3. I try to stick with mementoes I’ll use – so jewellery/scarves are favourite (and not too expensive or bulky). I do have quite a collection of carved wooden animals etc dotted around. The best have to be two abstract Brazilian canvases from my honeymoon – ridiculously bulky to transport back but a great reminder every day.

    December 20, 2011 at 12:33 pm
  4. I like to get hold of blatant knock-off football/ rugby replica shirts from dodgy market stalls. I’ll only do it if they cost less than £15 and it’s a country I’d have no particular objection supporting as a second team in that particular sport – so Oman and Samoa, yes, Australia and Germany, no. I wear them on days when I’m not likely to be leaving the house. Although there’s something to be said for going round Macedonia in a Guatemala football shirt, and vice versa.

    December 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm
  5. Ben #

    If money no object, then original artworks without a doubt are superb purchases.

    My favorite purchase is an evil face-mask from Sri Lanka to ward off evil spirits and freak out small children.

    Otherwise a drop of the local liqueur never goes amiss.

    December 20, 2011 at 1:54 pm
  6. Instruments? Haven’t got many myself – madal from Nepal, bunch of tourist tat cowbells from the Tyrol, some castanets… and I’m in the market for a thumb piano while I’m in Africa. Good fun, easy to transport, good talking points. If I started now I’d do that.

    In reality, the only thing I do consistently is photos – don’t think it’s a cop-out if you take them seriously, cherry-pick the best and get good prints framed up for display. For my better half it’s fridge magnets all the way.

    December 20, 2011 at 2:09 pm
  7. I used to bring all sorts of crap back home, including shot glasses and ashtrays. But one day I decided it was enough and threw everything away! Now, I just stick to postcards and currencies.

    December 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm
  8. We did have a work thing about collecting snow globes from every country you had been too. My favourite was the one from Luxor with the pyramid inside. We had to stop it after it just got too silly and was taking up too much room.

    Personally I like to collect local maps. It gives such an insight into a country’s insecurities. Spain is about the size of Europe on most of their maps. And have a cracking upside down Australia map (again big)…

    December 20, 2011 at 6:21 pm
  9. Nice post. I collect postcards and coasters.

    December 21, 2011 at 4:06 am
  10. I began with a birdcage from Hong Kong but soon switched to items that fit into overhead bins and finally settled on local tea towels. They’re light, last forever and remind me of the colourful postage stamps of my childhood with maps of the country, birds or wildlife. One from Jamaica even has a recipe and I esp love my vintage tea towels from various Paris flea markets.

    December 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm
  11. Hi Andy – I tend to haul back bottles of hot sauce. I’ve got quite the collection from various places and hold on to them even after I’ve used up the contents. Some are kind of ratty looking, but each has a story to tell.

    I’m also a bit of a mapaholic so do tend to hold onto maps that I collect en route. Again, even if they are mucked up with bits of food, are rumpled and even torn, they are colourful reminders of where I’ve been.

    My other category is art & jewellery. I bought a fabulous huge acrylic on canvas nude at a flea market in Sydney, Australia, took it off its frame and rolled it up in dry cleaning bags to get it home safely. The story of getting it home was as good as the actual painting! And jewellery. I’ve got quite a collection of funky, frequently inexpensive rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets from all over the place.

    December 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm
  12. Thank you to everyone for sharing your collection confessions. Quite a few here that I never considered: snow globes, tiles, maps, football shirts, even hot sauce bottles (very good call Gwen).
    And it’s great to know so many buy those fridge magnets – I’ve always wondered where the demand was to match all that supply…

    December 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm
  13. Hi Andy

    It’s Chris from Green Abode here..I’ve worked out how to set up a Gravatar now! BTW – was good to meet you at the event a few weeks back now.

    Here’s 3 things that spring to mind that I have brought back (but I have an endless list!).

    1. Notes/Coins – I have a large collection of notes/cones from everywhere I’ve been. I’ve got a good pre-Euro collection (remember those 100,000 Italian Lire notes!) and from the other many countries I’ve been lucky to visit. I’ve got a comprehensive collection from India as I’ve been there many times including my last trip of 6.5 months.

    2. Berlin Wall – on my first Interrail trip back in ’91 very much of the Berlin Wall was still intact. So much so that it was easy to just chip off a chunk with no worries about the was just the done thing to do. I took off a piece about the size of a golf ball. As they’ve taken practically all of it down yet I can rest knowing that I didn’t take a piece of their national it was all coming down.
    – As a side note I revisited Berlin at the beginning of 2011..what a fantastic place..and I have no doubt I will back again within a few years.

    3. Ganesh statue – Ganesh is my favourite Hindu gods from the many temples that you see in India. I’m a big fan of elephants and also Ganesh is the god of many things including wisdom, wealth and knowledge. I’ve also read that Ganesh is the god of travel. Anyhow I’ve got a beautifully crafted brass Ganesh which I bought from Fort Kochi in Kerala.

    That’s the first three things to come to mind.

    December 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm
    • Hi Chris
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re one of the lucky ones to have a bit of the Wall. I visited Berlin in 1992 and the only bits of wall for sale then were more than likely from someone’s garden.
      The Ganesh statues must make a great collection. What’s the largest one you’ve managed to bring home?

      December 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm
      • Andy

        Yes..lucky on the Berlin Wall. That reminds me I’m not sure where it was a long time ago now!

        Ganesh – I only brought back one so not really a collection. The one and only is about 25 cm high and weights a good 3 kilo I’d say.

        January 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm