As an inveterate wanderer who moves cities or countries on a fairly regular basis, I’ve learned to be a pretty dedicated minimalist. After all, the less stuff you have, the easier it is to pack up when the time comes. Of course, when you visit an amazing place it’s nice to bring home a token of the trip as a memory, but tchotchkes don’t fit well in the life of a minimalist — so what’s a girl to do?
In English, the word “souvenir” usually evokes images of kitsch teaspoons, snow globes and fridge magnets, but in French it simply means “memory.” So instead of cluttering your suitcase with token objects that might quickly lose their charm and eventually get stuffed away in a closet, consider these other ways you can memorialize your favorite trips:
Take a cooking class.
One of the greatest things about traveling to a new country is the food. Whether it’s a local delicacy from a street cart or a home-cooked dish unique to that place, there’s no better way to expand your tastebuds and begin to unravel the fascinating intricacies of a new culture.
With this in mind, I made the decision that instead of buying a physical souvenir, I would try to take a cooking class in each place I visited. Since then I’ve learned to make croissants and crepes in France, chiles rellenos in Guatemala, pesto in Italy, amok in Cambodia, pad Thai in Thailand, and many other exotic (and delicious) dishes. Best of all, it’s a souvenir I can share with others by simply cooking them dinner.
Change your scent.
There are few things that evoke memories as vividly as scent — think about those certain smells that remind you of your childhood, or of a place or cherished person in your life.
Each time I move to a new country or city, I change my perfume. That way, whenever I happen to breathe in that particular scent in my life, I’ll always be transported back to that time and place.
For me, L’Eau Par Kenzo will always remind me of Barcelona, Diptyque’s Olène will forever evoke Paris (especially given the fact that, once on a moonlit night in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a man chased me down the street simply to ask me what perfume I was wearing), and Le Labo’s Santal 33 will eternally conjure New York. Instead of finishing each scent before I move, I make sure to keep a little in each bottle so that I can revisit memories once in awhile, if only for a few seconds.
See a live performance.
Many of us can map out our lives in the concerts we’ve seen, right down to who we were with, what we were wearing and what the weather was like. When you’re planning to be in a certain city, check the local listings to see if any of your favorite artists are playing. Or better yet, treat yourself to something unique to that destination – a flamenco show in Spain, a jazz manouche gig in France, or even a Broadway show in New York City. The memory of that performance is likely to linger in your mind far longer than any object ever could.
Learn a new skill.
What better souvenir to take away from a foreign country than the language itself? Even if you have time for only a few classes, you’ll likely leave with enough vocabulary to immerse yourself in the culture that little bit more. If you’ve got a few weeks (or months) to spare, then enroll yourself in an intensive program to really develop some impressive conversational skills.
Granted, not all of us are language people. So maybe take a dance class or two – that way whenever you dance salsa, you’ll be reminded of your trip to Cuba, or the infectious beat of samba will take you back to that time you spent in Brazil. Not adept at dancing? Try an art class or a lesson in basket-weaving. The point is that once you’ve learned a skill, it’s likely to stick with you for life and will always be a reminder of that place. Plus, it won’t take up any extra room in your suitcase.
Do you have any unique souvenir ideas to share?
Images via Madison Holmlund