The Souvenir I Always Bring Home from a Trip, No Matter Where I Go

published Mar 22, 2023
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Bottle of port beside a painting.
Credit: Jennifer Prince

As a teenager, I traveled to New York City to see highlights like Times Square and the Empire State Building. I’ve been there many times since, and although I can’t remember the specific circumstances of my first visit, I do recall being excited to buy souvenirs. As a 16-year-old, I was enamored of shops with three-for-$10 T-shirts and replica handbags sold on corners. 

However, now that I’m an adult, when I want to memorialize a trip with a souvenir, I steer clear of mass-produced items and veer towards longer-lasting goods instead. As a travel writer, I have the opportunity to visit many places, and my memento of choice tends to fall into one category — something one-of-a-kind that I can’t get anywhere else. Here are the general types of items I look for and the stories of a few meaningful souvenirs I’ve brought home.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Artisan Goods

My foray into buying lasting mementos began with reasonably priced paintings. I have an eclectic design style and a lot of thrifted original art fills my home. One of my favorites is from a 2017 trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The city was a lovely place with colorful buildings and I purchased a $65 painting of a street scene to serve as a reminder. More recently, I was on cruise through the Panama Canal, and when we stopped in Cartagena I noticed a mother painting a beautiful rendition of the city as her daughter sat beside her. I bought the art so quickly that it wasn’t quite dry and was still on a cardboard background. I’m unsure when or if I’ll have it framed because, as it is, it reminds me of the impulse of the moment.

Besides paintings, I like frequenting artisan shops and handmade markets to find unique goods. On a trip with Paradisus Los Cabos, we went to the San José market, where I splurged on a linen dress purchased straight from the designer. My home is also filled with other small, decorative items, such as a gourd-turned-plant hanger that I bought while visiting Nantipa in Costa Rica. I always feel good purchasing directly from artisans to infuse money into the local community. 

Local Drinks

My husband and I joke that we have the most extensive stash of alcohol that no one’s allowed to drink. Although that’s partially true, there are a few highly sentimental liquid goods that I’ve brought home from trips. The one caveat for me is that I must get them from the craft maker, making these beverages special. My most recent purchases were coffee liqueur — which is easy to sip on its own or makes a tasty cocktail — from 10 Torr in Reno and a bottle of Mexican mezcal that I sampled during a tasting via Blue Desert Cabo. I’ll be consuming those.

One bottle I refuse to open yet is a purchase I made in 2018 from a small winery in Portugal. I was on a tour through the Douro Valley and couldn’t leave without the port rosé I sampled during a tasting. The wine was made in small batches, and the bottles featured hand stenciling, so having one in my collection makes me smile. I hope to open it for a special occasion and keep the empty bottle on display to hold a houseplant cutting someday.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Vintage Items

To say that I love vintage things is an understatement. My mom started an antique shop when I was 5, so I grew up thrifting and going to vintage stores and yard sales. I also buy and sell vintage items and have spaces in four different locations. When I travel, wandering through flea markets and antique malls adds to my travel experience, and the main thing that draws my attention when I’m out and about is vintage clothing stores.

On a visit to Wisconsin, I was delighted to find Seven Suns Vintage — if you ever find yourself in the city of Eau Claire, it’s a worthy stop — where I picked up an adorable dress. Likewise, on a recent trip to Winston-Salem, I snagged a deadstock (meaning never worn, but vintage) velour jacket at Design Archives. When I wear these items, they showcase my personal style while reminding me of my time in these places.