Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Souvenirs - Simple green frugal style

Well, it turns out we ARE taking a mini vacation this summer - just a weekend really. Hubby's Mom will be visiting her family in Arkansas and we're going to take a drive up and visit with her and her family while she's there. It'll be a quick trip (driving up on a Friday and returning on a Monday), but it's better than nothing and we're both in need of some serious time away from work - not just physical since we can both work from home as needed, but rather a mental break. Hopefully, this will get us through until later this year when a more serious trip is planned.  

Starting to think about taking a trip, though, made me reminiscence of some wondeful past adventures. Up until I got sick a couple years ago, I had spend a good part of my adult life (since 1999 anyway) planning and going on vacations - England, France, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, China, Canada, Spain, even Liechtenstein - many of those multiple times! And after quite a few trips of lugging really heavy suitcases around, I finally figured out, it's way more fun to travel light. My last one-month trip to France/England was done with a carry-on size suitcase (and I didn't miss a thing)!

Of course, limiting your space isn't just about what to bring, it's about what you can bring home. So I've also become pretty picky about souvenirs. I've brought home all kinds of unique goodies, but really, my favorite souvenirs are some of the cheapest and easiest to find, not to mention that they don't take up much room and are a constant reminder of wonderful days gone by. What are these treasures? Magnets and post cards, of course! The magnets I try to buy wherever I go and as you can see from the photo, I have quite a collection going!  I love that it's a constant reminder of all the life I've lived so far - all those amazing adventures! The postcards I buy, write a note to my dog on the back, and mail home. I know it sounds silly and I've been teased many a time, but it's always fun to get home, watch the post cards trickle in, and relive those moments at the cafe in Siena, the view from the top tier of the Eiffel Tower, people watching in Rome, walking down to the bakery each morning in Prades for a fresh loaf...

Hmm. Is my passport up to date?

So how do you travel? Are you a heavy packer (I need 10 pairs of shoes, just in case), or a light packer (the ones on my feet are just fine, thanks)? Other ideas for simple, green, or frugal, yet memorable souvenirs? 

25 comments:

Rapunzel said...

A very timely post for me, Heather, as I am planning a trip to NYC for early next month! It'll be the first time in the Big Apple for me and I am beyond excited.

I am a heavy packer, unfortunately, am teased terribly about it by my family. My shoes get their very own duffel bag! *blush* However, since we are likely riding the subway with our luggage, I might have to pare down this time. Yikes!

I too collect magnets from our travels; I haven't "been around" much, though...plan to change that in the coming years.

Burbanmom said...

I love the post card idea! Rather than just buying them and stuffing them in a suitcase - they get to go on an adventure of their own!

My kids love to collect souvenirs when on trips. Usually leaves, seashells, or flora. Sometimes a placemat from a restaurant or a hotel notepad.

Personally, I take my digital camera and collect pictures. Lots and lots and lots of pictures!

Beany said...

My husband and I are very light packers. The most we've taken is a single backpack for each of us. One reason is that neither of us want to bother with checking stuff in, and since we're always ill prepared and running through terminals it helps to pack light.

I generally take pictures to serve as souvenirs because I know if I buy some knick knack I'll wind up tossing it in the trash. And now with digital cameras picture taking is cheap. I like the postcard idea though. I think I'll be doing many postcard mailings in my upcoming trip.

Tammi said...

Wow that's awesome that you've traveled so much! I haven't been anywhere that was real souvenir worthy...

I don't think there is such a thing as light packing when you have kids. Haha! But I can try.

Kelsie said...

I collect ephemera when I'm on a trip--menus, cocktail stirrers, matchbooks, ticket stubs, odd coinage, stamps, etc. I think these little practical items really serve to tie me to the places and moments where I used them. With few exceptions, ephemera is what I bring home with me at the end of a trip--cheap, and terribly fun to look at later on.

As for packing, I usually limit myself to a single, comfortable back-pack...and my laptop. I lived out of a backpack for three months when traveling one summer, and when I got back to my house, I couldn't believe the amount of STUFF I had, and how much of it seemed totally unnecessary.

Heather @ SGF said...

Rapunzel - I've only been to NYC once and loved it. I hope you have a wonderful time! Anything special planned while you're there?

My mom is a heavy packer. When she visits she has one large case just for makeup/toiletries, several for clothes, and she always brings her own food supplies. We all tease her too but it makes her feel better about traveling, so my step-dad indulges her.

Burbanmom - When I was living in my studio apartment, I decorated using the post cards I had collected from all over the world. It was pretty cool. And I love reading the backs of them from time to time. Lots of memories there - plus you get the variety of foreign stamps in the deal.

A friend of mine always came back from trips with rocks, and leaves and stuff. It always drove me nuts. The only cool thing I remember was totally illegal. We went to an unrestored section of the Great Wall of China and he came home with a piece. That was pretty cool. But don't tell anyone :)

Beany - I've done the backpack route for trips that are a week or less in the US - visiting family and stuff. Especially if it includes flying. You're right, I don't like dealing with the hassle of checking (and them loosing) luggage. So not worth it if you can help it!

Tammi - I've been to some really cool places and had amazing adventures. The photo I have as my header (although it's been stretched a bit to fit the header) is from a month I spent housesitting in southern france. Talk about cool!

Kelsie - cool things to save! And I'm sure they fit nicely in a small box you can pull out from time to time and peruse. It's neat that you mention that after living out of a backpack for so long you came home to realize you have tons of stuff. I can totally relate. We own very little and still it always seems like a lot. Did you do any downsizing after returning from that trip?

maryann said...

I'm probably somewhere in between. I usually don't pack enough and it usually ends up being the wrong season's worth of items. For example, went to NC to visit my mom for Thanksgiving, packed fall cloths (long sleeve tees and pants) well the weather was about 80+. definitely no problem with shoes, I only one a black pair, brown pair and 3 pairs of sandals. I try to keep my wardrobe pretty basic so I can get away with less in general, makes things easier.

arduous said...

I'm a pretty light packer, though it kind of depends. If I'm traveling by car, for instance, I'm more likely to pack more than if I'm traveling by air.

Mostly, my favorite souvenirs are pictures. I've gotten into the habit of journalling my days in the countries I go to. Then I type out the journal entries and paste them into a scrapbook with the pictures.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Hope you enjoy your brief, but much needed vacation.

I love your idea of packing light on a trip, I bet that DOES make it a lot easier. I haven't done too much traveling in my day, but when I do, it seems that I don't bring enough (I'm one of those "oh I won't need that" when I will, kind of people), and I always forget to bring something important.

Great idea with the souvenirs. My favorite "souvenirs" are pictures!

Heather @ SGF said...

maryann- I do the same things. Most of the stuff I have can form multiple outfits. Lots of tans, white, blacks and jeanish stuff. I can get away with not having a lot of clothes that way 'cause once you mix and match, no one knows the difference (or at least they don't say anything :)

arduous - Your scrapbooks sound really nice! And won't it be nice to sit down with a grandchild or grandniece or nephew and watch them fawn over the little things you saved. I think that would be cool.

jennifer - I'm totally the opposite. I usually take a few things "just in case" and end up wishing I would have left it at home. Maybe we should pack together and balance each other out :)

Joan said...

I'm medium - is that a cop out? I've never had anyone comment that I bring too much stuff but on the other hand there is always items I never wear.

fearlesschef said...

I always buy myself a magnet and I bring them back for my family as well. And I like to bring my dogs a special treat home, too!

As far as packing goes, Sweets totally over packs! But on the same subject, I under pack and have to go buy socks... like on our honeymoon! :D I'm still learning...

When my family traveled as a child, we always packed enough clothes for any situation... cold or warm... plus bedding, plus a cooler full of food, boxes of food (we were vegetarian before it was cool and on the menu) and school work ( we were homeschooled)so our station wagon was always filled to the brim with stuff. And I don't want my children to dread going on vacation with me, so I really try to pare down on the packing... but that's when you miss socks. GO figure.

eco 'burban mom said...

I'm a pretty light packer, though I travel a lot for work and by nature that makes you want to carry less and less. And wear lots of black!

My husband and I collect the coasters from our table from pubs, restaurants and bars in the places we visit. Then, when we have a drink or are sitting in the living room with a glass, we take out a coaster from the coffee table drawer and have a great time talking about them - all for free! Our favorites are from our trip to Munich, all those beer gardens were a riot!

Heather said...

Ok, I love this post! To prove it, I'm de-lurking to announce myself as another Heather who also collects postcards! Not just of places I've been, but I also nag everyone I know who travels to send them to me from their destination. :) I just love them.

I haven't had much opportunity for traveling yet (I'm a grad student), so the postcards I get (especially those from other countries) are my vicarious window to the world. And of course, looking back over them I'm fondly reminded of all my friends and loved ones who cared enough to write to me on their trip.

For placed I've actually been to, I'm with Arduous and the scrapbook/journal. Capturing the thoughts and impressions I have at a certain place and time is so important in remembering what it was like to be there, maybe even more important than pictures (although they help). I also like to incorporate ticket stubs, wristbands, or any other small objects from trips that help in telling the story more completely. It feeds my creative side, and helps document my travels all at once!

Kathryn B. said...

Pencils are my cheap, compact souvenir of choice. Dozens of travel destinations, all fitting conveniently in a big glass jar on my shelf :)

Heather @ SGF said...

joan - not a cop-out at all. Some of us are just perfect packers :)

fearlesschef - it must be a whole different ball game to pack for kids. I guess that's when you just take the car and forget the plane, huh?

eco 'burban mom - ooh! I liked Munich too! The beer gardens were fun, it was the food I had trouble with. I very distinctly remember trying to be brave and I ordered the ham and veggie plate (wanting the veggies, but trying to be german by ordering the meat). My plate came and I got a few tiny veggies and I swear the rest must have been 1/2 an entire pig. Um Yeah. Can we get that to go?

Heather - The best is yet to come. I didn't start traveling until after college. It opened up a whole new look on the world for me. I hope that at some point to start traveling again. I learned so much about myself and the world by experiencing other cultures. And I love the little trinket ideas of things you save from your travels!

Kathryn - ooh. Now there's a neat idea! Similar to the magnets, it's something you can see/use every day to remind you of your adventures. How cool?!

eco 'burban mom said...

heather - My most hilarious Munich meal? Pig Knuckle! Turns out, my hubby actually likes them. UGH. I got to Frankfurt a few times a year (work!) and when he goes along there is also a historic district where they serve applewein (also by law it must be the cheapest item on the menu) and pig knuckles. It's literally the cheapest meal you could ever eat in Europe! And, it such a local thing too, which I like. I prefer to eat where the locals eat, even if it might mean... knuckle!
Thought you could use that tidbit as a frugal girl, I assume you are a frugal traveler too! :o) If you ever go, let me know and I will pass along the restaurants!

Heather @ SGF said...

Eew! Pig knuckles? I'm not sure I could handle that, but then when I was in China, I'm not exactly sure what all I ate. Sometimes it's better NOT to know, yeah?

I'm definitely a frugal traveller. I like to stay in small family owned inns or hostels. Then there's the house in France that I housesat. That was cool. I'm pretty frugal on the food too. Italy meant lots of different kinds of pizzas, pastas, and paninis in tiny, hole in the wall cafes. In Greece I stayed with a friend's family most of the time so I got plenty of authentic food, for sure.

As much as we try to live simply, I think we still expect to splurge when we travel, when in reality, I've found that living simply on vacation makes for a much richer experience.

I'll definitely be in touch next time we take a trip. Would be fun to plan together and to get your advice on cool places!

Melissa said...

hey, we have the same Vegas magnet as you! My husband not only collects them, but he arranges them "geographically" on the fridge! I am a light packer...I rarely bring more than a carry on. To me, it makes the trip a lot more enjoyable not to be weighed down with stuff!f

Cookiemouse said...

I always take far more than I need.

kim said...

I wish I could say I was a light packer.....*sigh*

When I was in England I bought a button (pin) at every castle I went to. I also like doing the fridge magenets.

When my folks travel, they bring me foodie stuff, regional beer and regional wine!

Heather @ SGF said...

Melissa - I agree. I like being able to run around with a backpack and not have to worry about a bunch of stuff. It's keeps it simple - probably the only thing simple about traveling, but at least it's something...

cookiemouse - my mom does to. It makes her feel safer about traveling, I think. If you ever want help rethinking your packing. Rick Steves (a very experienced European traveller who writes some great books) has tons of good advice.

Kim - I love food stuff from around the world, too. I've brought lots of wines back from all over. The "sweets" from China were a little weird, but fun. I also brought back some rice wine from China. I gave it as a gift so I don't know how it tasted, but the bottle was just gorgeous!

eco 'burban mom said...

I totally agree on the pig knuckles, though they are a local favorite. We try to eat and stay like locals too, you're right it absolutely changes the experience. We did the same when it Italy with our kids. We ate pizza on the street, sidewalk caffes and gelato every night. If we drug them to stuffy tourist restaurants, they would have been miserable and us too. We found we had such an enjoyable trip venturing into grocery stores, buying neat things from markets etc. Our kids learned to live like Italian kids!

We should certainly touch base before we travel anywhere, sounds like we have a lot of similar travel techniques!

Simply Authentic said...

I love post cards too! I like to buy functional souvenirs for the most part-so clothing, arts & crafts, cards, etc. While in Argentina I bought jewelry, leather key chains, and woven pot holders for most people. In Santa Fe, I again bought hand-made jewelry. Another simple thing is taking incredible photos and having them blown up to larger sizes and framed.

In terms of packing, in the non-winter months I fit it all into a backpack. I've learned to wear stylish items that for the most part can all go together and can be rolled to fit easily into one bag. I take minimal beauty items (basic make-up, toothbrush, comb, & face lotion) and then I use soap, shampoo, & toothpaste from wherever I am staying. For shoes, I take running shoes & usually 2 pairs of shoes that are both dressy and casual, go with everything I've packed, and are great for walking (such as ballet flats). I always have something I can hike in, something I can go out in, multifunctional shirts, and at least one each of the following: jeans, multifunctional skirt, lightweight sweater, sweatshirt, and pjs. Toss in some underwear, a sports bra, 2 pairs of socks, 2 regular bras, a book, and a water bottle and you're good for over a week.

Great comment question!

Heather @ SGF said...

Eco 'burban mom - I just loved those little pizza places where they have the ginormous slabs of pizza. You just tell them how much you want, they cut it, heat it up and you eat it folded over like a sandwich. The places near the train station in Rome were my favorite for pizza. My favorite panini was in a tiny place in Florence - Panini Vegetariano (just tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil). Mmmmm. Yummy memories!

Simply Authentic - we've thought about blowing up pics and framing them too. Not done it yet (I don't have much enthusiasm for decorating) but it would be really cool! I have some great photos from Paris...