Through the years, I have collected various travel souvenirs or memories. Back in the 1970s, I collected “patches” from ski resorts. I think the idea was to sew them onto your ski parka to look like you were cool enough to go to places like Vail, Aspen, Sun Valley, Taos, Snowbird, and Val d’Isere (France).
Then in my middle years, I brought home useless things like jewelry and T-shirts. I doubt if I own any of that crap right now. I must have worn the T-shirts, but who knows if anyone actually enjoyed or wore the jewelry. For a number of years, we collected a small piece of art, postcard, or painting typical of the area, had it framed, and hung it on our living room wall. I also like match books and boxes, but with fewer smokers, these are dying a slow death!
Now, my travel souvenir is the lowly, often disdained magnet. I have a “collection” of magnets on the back of my front door. Yes, the door is made of some type of metal, duh! This collection must number in the hundreds.
A collector of magnets is called a memomagnetist. Some Russian collector of magnets came up with this terminology. Louise Greenfarb of Henderson, NV has the largest collection of magnets, over 19,300 according to the Guinness Book of Records as of 1997. Some experts say the collection is now well over 30,000!
I must have lost all the magnets I had at work when I retired, another hundred or so. Maybe it was karma, Kramer? Generally, it is just a fin or less for a decent magnet. And now, the modern refrigerator does not have the traditional sheet metal exterior, so magnets don’t stick!!! The real question is, which one is the best? I have no clue.
Unlike most conventional magnets that have distinct north and south poles, flat refrigerator magnets made from composite materials are often constructed with alternating north and south poles on the same surface of the plane; this can be felt by taking two similar (or identical) refrigerator magnets and sliding them against each other with the “magnetic” sides facing each other: the magnets will alternately repel and attract as they are moved a few millimeters. This construction gives twice the magnetism on one side and is thus more effective at keeping the large planar magnet uniformly stuck onto the steel refrigerator than a uniformly-polarized magnet would be. It is also responsible for making the front of the magnet (the picture side) nearly non-magnetic. The arrangement is called a Halbach array
Some people do through great trouble to bring a memorable souvenir home. I admire them for their diligence and tenacity. The most impressive are those who will soak the label off of a beer or wine bottle, meticulously dry it between the pages of a cheap novel, and bring it home, adding it to their collection. I say, good job! Way too much effort for something I will never look at again.
You have heard of the really cheap souvenir collectors. They collect things like soap or shampoo bottles from the hotel. Or perhaps a cardboard coaster at a local brew pub. Worse yet, how about bottle caps or wine corks? I knew of someone who actually collected pennies! But souvenirs must be affordable.
Back when my parents would travel, I remember them bringing home things like ash trays, towels embossed with the hotel’s name, and postcards. About the only “free” items left in the hotel room now are the little soap and shampoo products with the hotel’s name splashed across the front. The best item I ever stole from a hotel was a cloth laundry bag in Penang, Malaysia. Pretty sad!
Of course, the Taj Mahal of collecting occurs when you take (steal) something that you know is highly illegal or prohibited. These would be things like a piece of the Taj, Great Pyramid, or Angkor Wat, Westminster Abbey, the Vatican, or the Sydney Opera House. Who would dare do this?
Then, some collectors like to defy the “traditions” of the country or locale. It is said that you should never take a pebble or stone from a country. You will never return, and something bad will happen to you. This is true for Japan, Hawaii, Tahiti, Malta, Crete, the Galapagos, and other island vacation spots.
I have often thought of bringing home contraband, things like Cuban cigars, coca leaves (from Peru), and rhinoceros horns from Africa (just kidding!). Recently, some friends have been caught with items like dried meat (jerky or bitong), illegal teas, endangered animals, and restricted artifacts. You know who you are!!!
Souvenir hunting actually goes back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Blame it on the pilgrims. In fact, to this day, religious pilgrimages account for about $8 billion of the travel industry. But it was the World’s Fair in London in 1851, where the location-stamped souvenir reared its ugly head. Practical items, like playing cards, paperweights, women’s compacts, and cigarette lighters (just kidding), became must-have impulsive items of the day.
Today, along with my refrigerator magnets, the ubiquitous T-shirts and baseball caps have taken over even the seediest of souvenir shops or convenience stores. Don’t forget shot glasses, ashtrays, and silver spoons. Some authors even go so far as to say that we live in a souvenir society, where everything we do and see must be commemorated.
Souvenirs are status symbols, trophies of our trips. We are at the point where the souvenir T-shirt might create as much interest as your red Ferrari! How many times have you seen a bloke with a T-shirt of some remote place you have visited. Have you been tempted to say, “I was there, too?”
I think the old-fashioned photo, even the digital version, is still one of the best ways to evoke fond memories and great times. And they are easily shared, either with the physical photo itself or online through various photo services. Remember when you had to endure a two-hour slide show of a relative who had been to Hawaii?
But should you strive for something different? How about the guy who collects sim cards? I can’t get too excited about that. One guy does the silly crushed penny souvenir from each place visited. Another cheap skate collected the “Do Not Disturb” signs from hotels where they stayed. Pretty sad! Two rather weird souvenirs are the toenail clipper and the pencil sharpener.
Leftover coins are great for coin collectors. I recently gave all of my African coins to a fellow that maintains our cars. Never did he think he would be graced with coins from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa. He was over joyed, and I felt quite good being able to give him something he could enjoy and cherish.
As we age, we become minimalists, at least I have. I prefer to have the souvenir or memory between my ears, in my memory bank. Do I really care if anyone else “sees” or “feels” it? Not really. If I happen to have an encounter with you, I can tell you about it. And I have written extensively about my travels for all of you. I think that is just about all!