On The Souvenir Trail


Each time we travel, most of us go back home with more than just a full memory in our Secure Digital cards. Many times, we head back home with a heavier baggage than when we left. Somewhere among the soiled underwear and the smelly socks, the torn guidebooks and the sticky toiletry kit, lies wrapped mementos of that trip of a lifetime. They're our trophies to remind us (and others) of where we've been. In my kitchen, my fridge has magnets to prove it. They're cheap, light and easily displayable. But then, I end up buying more than magnets.

As the plane descends for arrival and we begin to fill that Customs form, we juggle the recesses of our brain hoping we remember what foreign goods we're bringing in and hoping we can still tiptoe away through the Green Lane (oh, does Nothing To Declare mean I'm a frugal traveler?). Key chains for colleagues? Check. Scarf for a friend? Check. Paperweight for the boss who approved the vacation? Check. Refrigerator magnet for my kitchen fridge? Of course, check.

Since the old days of continental conquests - think Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, et al - our adventurous ancestors have pillaged and plundered foreign territories, returning back with camel/horse/elephant caravans laden with their loot. That for them meant more than just riches. That was their trophy to remind them too of where they've been and what they've accomplished.

These days, invading tourists and visitors need only to splurge at souvenir shops, one of those tourist traps where all things kitschy reign supreme. They sell all sorts of made-in-China stuff even if one's not visiting China at all: name plates from Aaron to Zachariah, ash trays, key chains, caps, hats, mugs, pens, pins and scale models of nearby attractions in different sizes to match the budget. For me, nothing beats the tackiness of the T-shirt that wants to scream I've been there! Souvenir shirts not only advertise one's "conquest" but actually help spread the travel bug by infecting others.

How many times have we been stuck in a crowded commute to work and see a guy with "Galapagos" boldly written all over his shirt and wish we're there?




This urge to collect travel mementos spawned souvenir industries to satisfy demand. From DisneyWorld to SeaWorld, souvenir shops in the US are always there to tempt you even before you reach the exit doors. In some countries, there are different approaches to entice the tourist dollar. In Cambodia, grimy kids selling postcards and books follow you all around Angkor Wat. In Mexico, locals display their wares right on the grounds of Chichen Itza.

But what must be taken with a grain of salt are the "factory" visits that are part of city tours. Guides and drivers get commissions from them. In Bangkok, my city tour end up with a trip to a "gem factory" while my tour of Jaipur in India had stops at a "carpet factory" and a "miniature silk painting studio". Of course I knew where it led to - Indian salesmen love to play the mind games of persuasion. So were the aggressive Turkish carpet dealers in Istanbul and the Moroccan rug sellers in Essaouira.

"Hello my friend, please please, come in. Only a few minutes, I will show you something. You don't have to buy anything."

"Can I offer you tea or coffee while I tell you the story how we make these very beautiful things?"

"This is made here by local people. Everything we sell go back to them to help build schools."

"If you can find it in your heart to ask yourself how this will look in your living room, then for sure you will take this home with you."

"Since you are my brother and you will be helping local people, I will give you the best price that no other tourist get."

Listening to the sales pitch is hypnotism in progress. I felt the tug in my psyche and at the other end, the tug in my wallet. Mostly, I win in the mind games but there are times I succumb. I knew better not to show interest but asking "How much is it?" opened the flood gates of bargaining (which is another story).


In the end, I got a $30 tapestry from Turkey, gave it to my mom who until now, has not found a spot at home to hang it to. More recently, my $15 miniature silk painting from India is just lying in between stacks of papers in my apartment. Now that I'm looking at it - and scanning it for this blog - I'm reminded not just of where I bought it but how I was persuaded to needlessly buy it. Note to self: I really should stick to refrigerator magnets next time.


  1. wow! i do buy souvenirs too specially to places that ive been to for the first time.

    my brother collects ref magnets too. my mother collects timble from different countries.

    im actually planning for a contest on souvenirs. so just keep in touch.

  2. i never collected things since i never had a place to put them on. i previously was buying these cute little stuffs when i go places but i stopped doing it for a lack of shelf. :S

  3. You just reminded me of my most favorite purchase ever from all the trips I made. I stumble into a Korean pottery store in Seoul Incheon International Airport on my way back here and made a very expensive purchase of a Korean Porcelain pottery. I hand carried it all the way from Korean, in a wooden box and it sat on my lap for the whole duration of the flight.

  4. i love the colors of the first pic. i might paint my house that way lol.

  5. nice souvenirs! I'm a bit of a souvenir fiend myself, I have a miniature combined skyline of NY, TO, Tokyo, etc sitting on my desk collecting dust hehe...

    I love that first pic, awesome composition and colours!

  6. oh that's where my hubs and i are good. in our travels (few as they are), we always have a game plan, and we stick to what we wanted to buy: postcards for my collection, magnets for sil and me, tshirts for us and for pasalubongs, and the stretched penny from the machine.

    but that silk screen print is really adorable. i hope you'd find a place to show it off.

    i bet your house is full of knick knacks from all your travel; must be a mini gift shop too.

  7. Those are some nice souvenirs but I like best the miniature print! That looks nice.
    I love the color output of your pictures--it's like those old Kodakchrome photos that's rare nowadays.
    The first pic is gorgeous!

  8. oh, what colorful walls! they do
    paint them like that?? it's like crazy he he

    those souvenirs are very cute.

  9. Nice collections.... Sana, magkaroon din ako nga ganyan....

  10. Hi Dong,
    That sounds interesting. Looking forward to it!

    Hi Jasperjugan,
    Yup, that's the problem...we do run out of space. Thanks.

    Hi Clint,
    It sat on your lap the whole time? That must really be a precious cargo.

    Hi Lawstude,
    Your house will really stand out in your neighborhood if you do that he he he!

    Hi Angelo,
    Thanks for appreciating the pic! The woman is the vendor at the very colorful barrio La Boca in Buenos Aires.

    Hi Photo Cache,
    It's really difficult to collect so much because of limited space where I live and the kind of travel I do (I can't bring big stuff).

    Hi Dennis Villegas,
    Wow, I didn't even realize that. Coming from a very good photographer like you, I feel flattered.

    Hi Bing,
    The walls in the neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires is entirely painted in bright colors.

    Hi Lionheart,
    You can, marami naman collectible items kahit saan ka pumunta sa Pilipinas.

  11. I also collect ref magnets from places i have been to; my ref is full of them :-). I also buy some key chains and mugs,.mostly cheap ones as I always have limited budget when I travel.
    But hey, I love that carpet from India.:-)

  12. Hi Friend.. Interesting post.. Keep up the good work.. Will drop by your blog often.. Do find time to visit my blog.. Keep in touch.. Take care.. Cheers mate!

  13. got me smiling with your post :D I collect souvenirs too from my trips. I mostly collect ref magnets, keychains. I am starting to buy those little cute landmarks but am afraid i might stop it soon for lack of space.

  14. Souvenir is part of our ritual as well. I used to buy fridge magnets. But it became too busy on my little frige so I have moved on to Christmas ornaments. It was nice to get to bring it out once a year and display on my tree. Most of the time, I buy other items that can be used as an ornament to represent the countries.

    And as commercialized as it sounds, I also collect Hard Rock Cafe pin. :) I always look for pin that represent the city.

    -Amy @ The Q Family

  15. I'm guilty too of collecting magnets whenever I travel plus I make sure I mail a postcard to my family home. They are part of my to-do list that I religiously follow :) You have good insights in your blog. I saw your airplane food pics---never really liked airplane meals! I still prefer home style cooking so I really miss eating "real" food during my flights. Cheers!

  16. Hello Dennis, Thanks for posting your comment in the blogsite and it is much appreciated. Yeah same as your passion, I love to visit places, moving around the world!

    This travelling experience also provide me extra income thru blogging and posting of images.

    Im wondering if you are interested to join. No commitment at all just share our travel experiences to the site, including photos, reviews, etc. If you are active, then you get more cash by Paypal! You will be an asset to the site as well and being Pinoy you can help built-up the database of tourist attractions in the Philippines.

    If you are interested, you can send me your reply at: tupcoeaa@yaahoo.com

    I will send you the invitation. All the best. Rey

  17. Ako ga collect ko ug Starbucks City Mug... Kinda pricey but I don't have to buy each time as there are some places I have been to which doesn't have Starbucks outlet...


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