I Used to Dread Getting My Mom This Souvenir — Now It’s My Favorite Kitchen Decor

published May 12, 2024
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images of writers mug collection
Credit: Photos:Isis Briones; Design: Apartment Therapy

New city, new Starbucks mug. This was the souvenir I always got for my mom once I started traveling the world in 2017, when my then-boyfriend (now husband!) moved to Burundi in East Africa for work. 

In my Filipino culture, “pasalubong” is the tradition of bringing something back for friends and family when you’ve been away for a while. It’s not about what you give — loved ones just want to feel appreciated and thought of during your trip. My mom was a huge foodie, so I always coupled my Starbucks scores with small delicacies from each city or country. Nothing beat the look on her face when she received another mug to add to her collection, though. 

Initially, she and my dad met me in popular destinations like Paris, Venice, and Barcelona. Starbucks was our spot when my mom wanted an extra-sweet frappuccino that, as you’d expect, wasn’t the easiest to find anywhere else in Europe. My mom had a chronic illness that caused her to be picky with food and drinks, but she also wanted a taste of home in a new place.

Credit: Isis Briones

Over time, my mom got sicker, and my parents no longer traveled with me, which made getting the Starbucks mugs an even bigger deal. Because she wasn’t able to go, I still wanted her to feel connected to what would have been our adventures together. Once, over a couple of weeks, I traveled from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Dubai, UAE, with a pit stop at the airport in Amman, Jordan, before heading home to Richmond, Virginia, and — of course — I lugged a trio of carefully wrapped mugs in my carry-on suitcase the whole way. 

You can imagine the stress of going from country to country carrying around breakables. It was even more challenging tracking down the mugs abroad in the first place, as a Starbucks usually wasn’t near my hotel or somehow always seemed to be on the opposite side of the airport. Nevertheless, I rarely missed a flight or the chance to snag a mug for my mom.

Credit: Isis Briones

In February, my husband’s work moved us overseas again, this time to Cairo, Egypt. But about a year before we left, my mom passed away. To memorialize my mom and our shared love of travel, I decided to ship her mug collection across the Atlantic. We placed them front and center in our kitchen, and they’ve made our apartment in an unfamiliar country feel like home. 

When I was collecting the mugs, I used to dread my mom’s reminders to seek out a distant Starbucks. Now, I couldn’t be more grateful for these sentimental mementos that I hope to pass on to my children. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they’re stackable and colorful, which is ideal for a practical maximalist like myself!