Intangible Travel Souvenirs

Cuddling with this dog sled puppy in Alaska is one of my most cherished intangible travel “souvenirs”

As a teen, I went to Stonehenge and returned home with the most ridiculous souvenir.

I found an ugly rock, of which I was convinced two things. First, that it had to be 3,500 years old, thereby museum-worthy, and second, that it wielded magical powers.

The rock weighed about 15 pounds and I actually hauled it back with me to the States in my checked luggage. All these years later, I have no idea what happened to it.

Do you also have a ridiculous souvenir in your past?

In my life, I have made more than a few souvenir mistakes, and I resolved years ago to be extremely mindful of what I purchase abroad.

There is one kind of travel souvenir, however, that I never regret bringing home. The intangible kind.

Intangibles travel souvenirs for me have included:

1) A new food experience I want to recreate at home.

Turkish kunefe and lahmacun, Japanese soba, Argentine steak with Chimichurri are all dishes I couldn’t wait to prepare in my own kitchen.

2) A new friendship I’ve made during a trip

I’m still in touch with people I’ve met in youth hostels, standing in line, and on guided tours around the world.

3) A wonderful memory of a unique experience

Listening to jazz with Frenchmen in the Czech Republic. Playing drinking games in Cape Town. Seeing the Aurora Borealis in Alaska. Riding a camel in Egypt. Hitchhiking in Africa. Wading in crystal clear water in Tahiti. Living on a beach in Zanzibar. The memories go on…

4) A deeper knowledge about a country

I have so much more respect and understanding about the world from time in China, Taiwan, Namibia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and so many more countries.

5) Improved language skills

I never knew how far high-school Spanish and French would get me in my lifetime… even in obscure places where you might not expect to use these languages. I was once asked to translate for a visiting Cuban dentist and basketball player in Namibia!

6) An interest in a new destination or region

I visited Argentina, and now the whole South American continent is calling me. I met another traveler in Egypt who said Turkey was the best vacation of her life. She piqued my interest, and you know what? Turkey tops my list of favorites too.

7)  A fresh perspective

From traveling around the world, I’ve learned that there are so many ways of living a life. Who says one way is right?

8) A renewed energy and excitement for living

Not jet-lag. Not laundry. Not 150 unanswered emails. Nothing can dampen the new zest for life I feel returning from a trip.

Perhaps the best thing about all my intangible souvenirs, is that unlike the Stonehenge rock, I know exactly where they are. I don’t have to go through a storage unit looking for them, wonder if I sold them in a garage sale, or feel disappointed when they broke prematurely. Whenever I want to, all I have to do is make a cup of tea and take a mental trip to Africa or Turkey or Italy.

What intangible souvenirs have you’ve brought home?

25 thoughts on “Intangible Travel Souvenirs

  1. Thought provoking post.

    For me, it’s the memories, the tastes and smells, the people I’ve met who’ve left indelible marks and countless photographs that evoke a feeling. And sometimes, the best souvenir I brought back was a renewed outlook on life.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Corinne,
      yes! The people you meet along the way can stay with you for years afterwards! I love how travel makes me see home and my own lifestyle in a new way too… it’s probably the number one reason why I travel.

  2. Awww I heart this post!!! I can’t believe you brought back a 15 pound rock you crazy girl haha. I think the craziest souvenir I ever brought back was a box of 40 cuban cigars that I smuggled into my check in luggage on a flight from La Havana to Cancun.

  3. I love this post – couldn’t agree more. Yes, I adore lovely objects, but I absolutely cherish immaterial experiences (voluntarily downsizing my lifestyle has helped me focus on the latter).

    I am *still* waiting to get to Stonehenge…in fact, I’ve been writing a post about it! (This is a sign :)).

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Jude,
      Yes, I decided at some point to become more minimalist and focus on the experiences more. I hope you make it to Stonehenge!

  4. Mary,

    I chuckled at your 15 pounds stone souvenir story as I am sure many of us have done something similar! One time from local Renaissance festival, I bought a ridiculous 3 ft high rainbow color hat as it seemed like a right thing to do at the time but I never got a chance to wear it ever!

    I like making friends, collecting postcards from places I have visited but lately I am just satisfied with pictures taken by me or family on this places.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Preeti,
      i would love to see that hat! Is it tucked away in some closet now, or did it get “lost” along the way?

  5. Hello Mary,

    Noticed your comment on Locusts and Wildhoney and decided to pop over. This is such an interesting page and I think you had me at Stonehenge. That’s how fascinated I am by the place(Nope, I haven’t been there – yet).

    Btw, I just brought back 4 pebbles from Newcastle beach in Ireland but strangely enough they make me smile as they bring back memories of my holiday there. I guess I’m gonna lose track of these rocks someday but the memories of the new people I met, the fun time I had with my family, the colours, smells, new experiences etc -now that will remain with me till I eh, lose my memory I suppose. 🙂

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Kavita,
      Thanks for stopping by. I actually do have some small rocks and sea glass from the beach, which I’ve made a nice little artistic display of… I don’t know if those things will return with them when I move back to the States, but they’re nice to look at now. Good luck with Stonehenge!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Cuban,
      Actually I love the idea of a bookmark… opening a favorite book and remembering a favorite place! When you travel, do you seek out dance performances? A friend and I when we travel together always make up a silly interpretative dance about our trip afterwards, and of course we incorporate local dance “moves” or so we think…

  6. I once found some big stones on the streets of New York, being thrown in the days when they were taking out cobblestones and putting in pavement… So I rescued two, giving one to a friend who was leaving NYC (she she could always have her piece of New York) and kept one myself (which I still have) so that New York and I would always be together! We still are… xo bb

  7. P.S. I have some vivid food memories too. 1 hour left in Florence. I randomly walk into this place for a bite and have the best focaccia I have ever eaten. I thought about that taste for a whole year till I went back. That was 1994, and I’ve been back almost every year. Then three years ago I was Genova. Same thing. The most astounding focaccia and farinata just 10 minutes before leaving town… Indelible memories… xo bb

    • maryrichardson

      You know, I have vivid food memories too! I’ve desperately searched back alleys and small hidden streets looking for the odd cafe I happened to visit 10 years, … sometimes to find it still going strong. It’s sad when the place has closed though!

  8. I love this Mary! For me, the best souveneirs I’ve taken home are jewelry and clothes.. the unique things I’ve found in the beach stalls and huts in Uruguay that I will never find again!I wouldn’t trade it for the world! Odd too, how I agonized over spending the money to buy things for myself while traveling through South America.. and now that’s all I have that’s leftover.. that and great memories!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Kelly,
      Now am I a fan of the odd piece! Maybe not a big rock, but something unique absolutely that calls to you is special, and it is fun to find them years later…

  9. fun and lovely post! I think your list is great. The most important intangible things I always feel I bring home are a more open mind and increased self confidence.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Margo,
      Yes! I usually feel more self-confidence returning home as well! As fun as travel is, there are often sticky situations that challenge us. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Reading this brought back so many memories for me on many of my trips. I like to think I bring back intangible souvenirs from all of my trips at least by the memories I bring back. I met a couple of Guatemalans and became friends with them on Facebook. I loved this jazz club I went to in Viet Nam.

    Sometimes the memory is only good looking back on it too. The border crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua was scary. It was raining, people crowding all over me and confusing. Now I look back on it and laugh.

    • maryrichardson

      Good point Steve about the memories being better than the actual events. I have lots of similar stories of scary rides and unsavory people too!

  11. I think I bring back intangible souvenirs from every trip in the ways you mention–memories, new friendships, and renewed energy and excitement for life. In fact, I prefer to bring back intangible souvenirs. I don’t like accumulating “things”. My photos, my memories and my notes are all I need to bring home from my travels. Although I think I would have been really, really tempted to bring that puppy home. 🙂

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Gray,
      Yes, I’m glad you mentioned “notes.” I’m increasingly trying to keep better more details journals of my time abroad. It’s amazing how reading little details years later can jog all kinds of memories.

      I still think about that puppy longingly!

  12. Great post. The best decision I ever made was to randomly pick a Spanish school in Antigua, Guatemala off the internet and spend a couple months there. I can still read and speak the language relatively fluently-which is far more progress I ever made in any Spanish class stateside!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Claire,
      Absolutely studying language abroad is so worthwhile… isn’t it amazing how a few months of immersion really entrench that language in you? I feel that way about a high school exchange program I did in France, and I still draw on that French sometimes.

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