I try to make the most of what I buy. I’m generally pretty frugal, with occasional bouts of Target, Old Navy and H&M madness. I’m also secretly a hoarder. As in, at almost 22 years of age I still own clothing from middle school. Now that I finally can’t fit into it all anymore, I’m actually starting to get rid of it.
So how does an aspiring minimalist (I can hear the eye rolling from here!) buy good tokens from abroad, especially if she makes it a habit to travel? Well, here are my guidelines for giving travel gifts to yourself.
- Give yourself an experience and a memory, instead of a thing. Riding on horseback through the Sahara, Hidalgo-style, at an ungodly hour of the night was one of the bets things ever. We sang, we laughed, we fought, and we huddled around a great bonfire in galabiyas. Some scoffed at how much we were spending (I don’t remember how much–apparently it wasn’t too tragic) but it definitely cost me less than all those extravagant dinners some of the scoffers were eating every other night. I wouldn’t trade that night for the world.
- Stay away from tchotchkes. They are cheap, expensive and prone to break. They also mean basically nothing, other than being proof that you went there. Or to China, where they were made.
- Buy decorations. I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool adults who have a house full of foreign awesome, like Dan Hanson’s house. His parents have all this great artwork and sculptures from far away lands, filled with stories and mystery. How much cooler is that than a plastic Eiffel Tower statuette? Besides, you’ll be able to use that decorations longer.
- Buy clothing and jewelry. I’ve gotten so many miles out of my bootylicious Egyptian skinny jeans, and I love being able to tell people where they’re from. “Cairo,” just has a much better ring to it than “The Gap.”
- Go handmade, go local. People can always tell my stuff from Benin. The crazy patterns are a dead giveaway, although strangers assume it’s from Ghana. I love that my dress was custom-made, just for me, and I was able to stimulate the local economy (even if it did involve child labor.)
- Get something that everyone around you has. In Paris, that meant an ultra-cool black jacket. In Cuba, it was an Industriales shirt, for Havana’s baseball team. It means something to you, it can often be a bit of insider knowledge
- The unexpected things. One of my favorite souvenirs is a ring a stranger gave me in Cairo. She and her boyfriend happened upon us: five hot, tired, thirsty, lost Americans. With everyone’s language skills together, they took it upon themselves to bring us to a great local koshery spot. They sat and talked with us, and even brought us around to a juice bar. They knew we were from out of town and made it their personal mission to give us an amazing day. So when she took a ring off her finger and put it on mine and said “it’s yours,” in Arabic, I made her repeat it just in case I misunderstood. We all exchanged hugs, pictures and a few more tokens, and I will never see her again. But that ring is a reminder of the attitude of the Cairenes I met, and how welcoming and sweet they can be.
What’s your perfect souvenir? Do you even buy them?