I like to travel light and keep my home clutter-free, but there are some keepsakes I can always find room for.
When I look at the items I have brought home from various trips, I see one common theme: they come with a story.
Some I found by accident while looking for something else. Others were bought directly from the maker, who shared anecdotes about them. There are also those that remind me of a fun night out or exploring a particular neighborhood.
Here are some of my favorite souvenirs – plus how I found them.
I wasn’t looking for earrings in San Francisco’s Mission District. I had gone there to walk around, look at murals, and try a Mission-style burrito. But then a sidewalk sign in front of a small co-op gallery caught my attention. Not only was there an arts & crafts sale that day, but a few artists were present. My kind of shopping!
When I stepped inside, I was greeted by a jewelry maker, who then showed me her latest creations. Some of the earrings were unique in that only one pair of a given style had been made. I chose my favorite ones and walked out of the gallery feeling good about the purchase. I had a one of a kind, locally-made product and supported the designer directly. A win-win.
Another memorable jewelry story is from Montmartre in Paris. While trying to navigate the cluster of the area’s winding streets, I happened upon a store that sold items related to… letters. I went in intrigued by the concept and to see what exactly could be found inside.
Among vintage volumes and home décor items, I spotted a bracelet made with pages from a book (as I found out later, it was “L.O.L.A.” by Claire Mazard). I had never seen anything quite like it, and it took me about half a second to decide the bracelet was a keeper.
I enjoy boutique shopping on the road, because it’s an opportunity to find designs that reflect local couture traditions and have a distinct look and feel. Italian and French fashion is especially appealing, and whenever I’m in either of the countries, a little shopping spree is in order.
During my most recent trip to Italy, I was lucky enough to stay close to great shopping areas (and have an expandable suitcase). The items I bought then are some of the nicest I own. I remember the € to $ ratio not being ideal for me at that time, but whatever I paid was worth it in the end.
As an avid reader, I have bookstores on my to-do list in countries where I speak the local language (if I don’t, I’m still curious to see what people read around the world).
I either search for nonfiction about the place I’m visiting, usually culture and history books, or novels by local authors. Some finds would be hard to come by elsewhere. Others might be available online, but clicking around a screen doesn’t compare to browsing aisles of books in an actual store.
Going back home to Krakow means I get to stock up on books in Polish. The Old Town area has several long-running bookstores and the one I usually go to is Księgarnia Hetmańska in the Main Square, located inside a 14th-century Gothic building.
In San Francisco, I always make sure to stop by City Lights Books. This independent retailer-publisher has been around since 1953 and is known for publishing works by Beat Generation authors. I have brought back many paperbacks from there, including “California – A History,” and “San Francisco Stories.” And in Paris, I can’t resist a trip to the famed Shakespeare and Company for English language books about the city.
Whether it’s going to used record stores or live events, music is a big part of my travels too.
One of the most beautiful performances I’ve witnessed took place in Barcelona, and I had found out about it by accident, after getting lost. It was a jazz concert at an intimate cellar pub, and the performer that night was a local band. When the music started playing, I knew right away that I’d like to bring it home. I ended up buying a CD from the band leader after the performance, and to this day I play it frequently.
Bringing bottles of wine home requires the most adjustment (having to check in the bag if you’re flying, or sometimes bringing an extra one), but it’s hard to leave a good wine tasting empty-handed. Luckily, many wineries can ship your purchases, and if you’re doing a road trip, the problem disappears.
I have brought excellent wines from Sonoma, California and southwestern Michigan. Each time I opened a bottle, it felt like a special occasion. I was reminded of my time at the vineyards – talking to the wine makers, touring the facilities, and learning the history behind signature releases. It doesn’t feel the same when you buy wine from a supermarket…
What are your favorite things you’ve brought home from trips?