What Do You Buy When You’re On Vacation?


When you’re on vacation, you’ve got to get souvenirs right?  It’s part of the fun of traveling, taking wacky photos of yourself “holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa” or sending a post card “Hello From Sunny…”  “Wish you were here!”

Over the last few years, I’ve developed some fun, and funny, travel collections.  These are the things I seek out when I’m away from home.  Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and reason I started blogging, hence the name, has a chapter in her book where she discusses the importance of collections to happiness.  Rubin didn’t herself collect anything at the time, and during her happiness experiment began collecting bluebirds and placing them around her office.  A keen idea for her work.

Buying something for the sake of a collection in hopes it will make happier isn’t going to last, and I’m sure Rubin knows that.  It’s the meaning behind the item that makes it special, or makes you feel good.

The fabulous blogger August McLaughlin captures the sentimental of things with her charming story of friendship and Five Fab Uses of Object Affection.  Love this post!  Check it out, you probably have a similar story.

My guilty pleasure travel buys include things that make me remember where I was when I bought them and what I felt when I traveled there.

Slide Pens

Top to Bottom: Seattle Space Needle, Toronto CN Tower, Plymouth Mayflower, Keystone’s Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse

Weird, right?  I collect slide pens.  They’re getting harder and harder to find!  As a kid, I remember these pens and loved playing with them.  Now, I collect them from places I go and always reminisce when I write with one about the trip I took.  Since not every place I go has these, I’ve taken to buying any pen while traveling.  For example, my pen from South Korea has images of their currency on it.


L to R: Seattle, Boston, New Orleans, Niagara Falls, South Korea, Niagara Cave, and South Dakota

Another rarity for me, I collect bracelets from trips I take.  I don’t normally buy bracelets because my wrists, heck my arms, are sticks.  It’s hard to find ones that fit.  But for some reason, I always find a bracelet while I’m traveling.  What’s become a better tradition is that I buy 2 and give the other to my sister.  Sometimes hers is a different color, but each trip I take, she knows she’s getting a bracelet for her birthday.  Not only do I think of my trip, but I think of my sister too.


New Orleans, Madeline Island, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone

Probably a more common collection, but I’ve just recently started.  It’s a lot easier to pack a bracelet or a pen in your suitcase and not worry about them breaking.  But I love drinking out of my vacation mugs while I’m working.  When I use the Cafe’ du Monde mug, I remember eating beignets and drinking cafe’ au lait while listening to a Jazz band in New Orleans.  My Madeline Island mug reminds me of my weekend getaway with my book club and skyping and interviewing author Jay Gilbertson.  Now, I’ve added two new mugs to my collection.

You know what my longest and biggest collection is?  POST CARDS

Granted I take a lot of photos on my journey, but I still buy, send and save a lot of post cards!  My mom got me started with it as a kid.  Post cards were still cool then.  We were notorious for not having a camera with us, or just using a really crappy one, so my mom would buy post cards to get a nice image of the places we were seeing.  The habit stuck.

I buy post cards of things I may have taken pictures of, but chances are, the post card is nicer.  It’s a keepsake shot.  I like filling my journal with them when I write about my trip.  I also save brochures, programs, and maps – in that sense, I’m a bit of a hoarder, but paper doesn’t take up a ton of room.

How ’bout you?  What do you collect when your traveling?  How did your collection start?  What’s your favorite piece in your collection?

27 responses

  1. I don’t collect anything but thinking of it, I guess I find myself buying a piece of jewellery on every trip! Earings and bracelets from Tunisia (many of them, many trips, my husband comes from that country!), a necklace with a pearl from Honolulu, I almost bought a white gold ring in San Francisco (way too expensive!!!), a watch in Morocco, another in Paris… Souvenirs that will last forever. But I love pens too, I should think of it on the next trip…

    1. Jewelry keepsakes are perfect if you ask me. Every time you wear them, you’re reminded of where you were when bought them, what parts of vacation you loved most. AND, they’re easy to pack!

  2. Hi Jess! I collect art, mostly prints by local artisans, and my husband is a t-shirt junkie. I remember those slide pens, too. So much fun!! Happy travels. 🙂

    1. Artwork is a great one too. I always admire those prints and tile scenes when I’m traveling, but with roommates, I just don’t trust they’ll all stay in tact. When I have my own place, then I’ll go all out!!

      I do have a good collection of sweatshirts/t-shirts too. 🙂

  3. Oh the bracelets are a great idea! I love bracelets and rings-my fave jewelry. I like you pens, too.
    I buy a lot of postcards, too. The pictures are usually of spots I didn’t get to see. I used to buy mugs but Hubs tries to discourage that. Not going to let him stop me, though. 🙂 Probably the biggest collection of mementos is key chains and lighthouses. I have figurines of lighthouses I hope to visit and some of those I have visited. I also sometimes buy a matted photograph of the location. I have one Newport, RI and Corolla on The Outer Banks, NC.

    1. Did I ever tell you my parents lived in Newport? When my dad was in the Navy, my mom lived on the military base there. I have her old id card in one of my journals that she had to use whenever she shopped the post stores.

      I like my mug collection. Don’t stop yours! I also started a magnet collection this year. So I have a few from Korea and Yellowstone. Again, just fun reminders of where I’ve been.

      I’d love to go Lighthouse touring with you. My mom likes them too and it’s always worth it for the view. Toured some with my family around the Door County area of Wisconsin (which you’d LOVE) as well as in Michigan when I went on a mini road trip/camping excursion with a friend. My getaway with my book club to Madeline Island has a Lake Superior cruise to view the lighthouses. Hopefully next year if Joe and I go up for a few days we can take that cruise. OR – perhaps when you come to WI, we’ll make a lighthouse trip together. 😀

      1. Oh, how cool that your parents lived there! It’s a gorgeous place! I loved the Cliff Walk and seeing all sailboats on the water. Oooh, a lighthouse trip would be great! The one on Lake Superior sounds like fun.
        Oh, after reading the other comments I’m reminded of all the other stuff I collect. I bring sand home from each beach I visit and keep it in a jar with shells from the beach. I used to collect magnet but then I got into collecting tiles–I have one from Alexandria Bay, Las Vegas, Disneyworld, The Jersey Shore, and Margaritaville @ Universal Studios, among other places. (I’m a collector-really-not a hoarder. lol)

        1. Lol. I like your disclaimer at the end. I should tell that to my mom. She collects newspaper clippings. Years and years of old town articles. Someday she’ll make a museum curator very happy.

  4. I’m at the stage of trying to do away with my collections in preparation for my next stage of life as a perpetual traveler. 🙂 I’m not much of a tchotchke person; memories are my preferred souvenirs. However, I do tend to bring a few things home. My purple sarong was a vacation purchase. I’ve bought ankle bracelets. And I’m very into shells and stones and other natural items. Oh, and I adore soaps to scent my drawers and linen closets.

    1. Not much of a collector eh? 😉

      I get some of those items too. Soaps are fun, and a good present for my mom who loves bath products.

      I have rocks and shells from Korea, and from a lot of the places my dad and brother have traveled like Egypt and Greece.

      When I first really started traveling, I actually bought very little. I was still in school and poor. I took tons of photos in Italy and Ireland and those were my keepsakes.

      Where’s your next trip to?

  5. I’m not much a collector either, though I like having keepsakes I’ll use to remember places by. I have a shawl from a trip to Morrow Bay I love, and a mug from NYC. Pretty eclectic mix, but maybe that IS a collection. Hmm…. Love the pens! And the post. 🙂

    1. It still counts as a collection! Like you posted, all those things have meaning for you. That’s what counts.

  6. I am all about the magnets. Especially if I’m visiting a place that has great art museums. Matt and I have also started buying local art whenever we go on a trip. Since we are still under student loans, we’ve only been able to get prints, but hopefully someday we will be able to afford the actual art. I’ve always been someone who over buys when it comes to “silly” souvenirs but I’ve never regretted it. My Guinness bottle opener key chain I bought in Ireland is one of my favorite possessions, despite my travel partner’s protests that I would “never use it.”

    1. Love it! It’s the little things!

  7. I just collect treasured moments, and you and Joe figure prominently in the memories of this year’s vacation.

    1. I’m bummed we didn’t get to hang out longer, but walking the Friendshio gardens with you and Sharon was a real treat. Sharon’s excitement is wonderfully infectious! I bet she’s the one keeping you so young. 😉

  8. Hi Jess

    I used to collect mugs. At one stage I only needed a dozen more to have one from every state and a misunderstanding resulted in my dad throwing them all out! I was gutted, but afterwards I started to realize it was ridiculous and managed to break the habit. Now I go places and don’t have the obsession to buy something. Fortunately (?) my wife fills that role now 😀


    1. I was seriously so sad reading your comment after learning all your mugs were lost! You’re so lucky you found your wife to look out for you! 😉

  9. I definitely buy mugs. Picked up a couple from Wall Drug and Crazy Horse last year. But my big splurge is refrigerator magnets. If I’ve been somewhere, I like to advertise that fact on the front of my fridge. Plus, bonus: they’re cheap!

    1. I have you beat, Mark. Postcards are the cheapest souvenir! LOL.

      But…you probably spend less than I when we add in the jewelry. *nonchalant whistling*

  10. Having downsized from a 5-bedroom house to a condo, a lot of my travel “collections” through my lifetime have been dispersed, so to speak. I always blow up a photo or two and have them mounted but unframed on the walls around my desk and I make a photo book to help keep our memories alive. There is one thing though that I still buy wherever we go and that’s a tea towel so I can continue to fantasize about trips when I’m cleaning up in the kitchen. They’re cheap and easy to pack! Keep building your collections, Jess, and enjoy them!

    1. Oh I love your photo idea. My brother’s house is full of those collage frames from all his trips all over. I was thinking I should start something like that cause we do take a lot of photos. Oooh maybe I can do something like that as a present to Joe! (Don’t worry, I doubt he’ll read this. LOL) It would be fun to have around the house. Thanks for the idea Patricia!

  11. It’s not so much about traveling, but I collect matchbooks. My grandmother collected a few, and then I added to her collection and kept going. It used to be very common for restaurants, hotels, and other establishments to have matchbooks or matchboxes with their name and logo on them. However, you almost can’t find them anymore with the vast decrease in public smoking. I don’t miss the cigarette smoke in public places, but I do miss my matchbooks.

    I love the bracelets! I do have a bracelet from Mexico City that reminds me of my trip.

    1. Yep, I remember matchbooks. Used to have them for our family restaurant. But I haven’t seen any in quite a few months. I’m with you, glad there’s no cigarette smoke, but I did like the memento.

  12. I love to collect fridge magnets, the cheesier the better!

    1. Love cheesy magnets! How fun!

  13. […] What do you Buy When You’re on Vacation? by Jess Witkins. And while you’re at her site be sure to check out the posts on her recent travels – spectacular pictures! […]

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