My Nomadic Childhood Taught Me to Strategize When Buying Travel Souvenirs

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My nomadic childhood had many upsides, like seeing lots of different places, meeting many people. But there were downsides, too. For one, my brother and I were never allowed to accumulate much stuff because of how often we moved. If something wasn’t frequently used, it was certain to be gone the next time we packed up for a new place. While I hated my mom’s strict editing rules back then, I’m super grateful for them today. Throughout my adulthood, at home and especially on my travels, where there are many it’s-now-or-never type temptations when it comes to shopping, I only buy what I know I’ll use. That’s why I never return with travel souvenirs, per se, but I do buy all my essential serveware and dinnerware while abroad.

I started my collection way back in 2007 on a trip to Tokyo, where I fell in love with some Japanese ceramics. Fast forward to today, and my entire collection of plates, serving dishes, bowls, and beyond (for everyday use and special occasions) are from my travels. (Think: rustic terracotta dishes from Lisbon, minimal stoneware dinner plates from Copenhagen, handmade soup bowls from Bali, sleek serving platters from Bangkok, and more.)

Typical travel souvenirs can fade into the background of a home, quickly becoming dust-catchers soon after the buzz and excitement of the trip has passed. Having some everyday essentials that are also my travel mementos allows me to spend a lot of time with daily reminders of the places I’ve been to and the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. 

There’s another bonus, too, which I hadn’t anticipated: When my friends gather around my table, my globally sourced serving items lead to a lot of fun conversations about each of our individual travel experiences. A passing compliment on a bowl can spark a two-hour long chat starting in Bali and ending in Bolivia.

Sticking to buying essential things on your travels means that you never need to find much storage space for them on your return; chances are, you already have a place for these types of “souvenirs.” Everybody needs dinner plates and serving platters, right? You could stick to linens, though, if that makes sense for you, or maybe candlesticks — whatever speaks to you and is something you’ll genuinely reach for to use every day. Perhaps best of all, though, is that just like my travel experiences are unique to me, each of my “souvenirs” are unique to my home.