There aren’t too many things I regret doing or not doing when traveling. Sure, there are places I still want to go, places I didn’t get to spend enough time in, and places I spent too much time, but I can’t say that I’ve regretted any of those decisions.
The only thing that I look back on and regret not doing is buying more souvenirs.
Now, I know that souvenir buying is a supposed to be a no-no in the travel community: something that is done only by tourists during their 2-week vacations. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are dozens – if not hundreds – of things that I regret not buying when I had the chance.
There was the hand stitched blanket from Jodhpur, India. There is the hand-carved Buddha statue from Bali. There is the custom made clothing from Vietnam or Kathmandu. My list could go on and on, but the point is the same: I wish I hadn’t been so cheap when I was there the first time and bought the souvenirs that I still think about.
You see, I have come to regard souvenirs as memory joggers. I’ll never forget all of the places Kim and I have been, but most of them are also never going to be on the tip of my tongue, either. Souvenirs are the way that I can keep my travels alive and fresh in my memory, even though I haven’t been to any particular place in years.
Case in point: right now, there is a bright yellow, rubber Eiffel tower on my keychain. This little piece of rubber serves many purposes: it reminds me of one of my favorite places in the world (Paris). It reminds me that there are still places I want to visit. And it reminds me that there are places in this world that are full of awe, that can surprise you, and bring you a cocktail of emotions that only traveling internationally can bring you.
And this is only a cheap piece of rubber with a metal ring on it that I got for free at the Paris tourism info booth. Just think of what that blanket from India could have provided…
There is a viewpoint in the online travel community that sees souvenirs as money wasting, space-takers in your bag. But what I think a lot of long-term travelers don’t fully realize is that they get enjoyment out of not buying those souvenirs – it helps them extend their budget, reduce the weight in their bag, etc. I think that they get just as much enjoyment in not buying those souvenirs as I get out of buying them.
My point is this: when you are traveling and you are debating on whether or not to buy a souvenir, don’t always cheap out. It’s true that many souvenirs are junk and just a waste of money, but not all of them. Some of them will bring a smile to your face every time you look at it hanging on your wall, sitting on your bookshelf, or cover up with it when you sit on your couch. And that enjoyment should be worth whatever amount of money you spend on it.
I’m not suggesting that you go out and drop tons of money on airbrushed t-shirts, shot glasses that have your name printed on them, or anything like that (although, I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the “I went to ___ and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” shirts).
I’m talking about the items in markets that move you or remind you of your experiences or the artwork that you discover along your journeys
Odds are, you’ll never regret spending that money, and the happiness that the souvenir will provide you will last years, if not a lifetime. And if you don’t like it? Well, then the worst-case scenario is that you have a great gift for someone.