The best souvenirs

16 Sep

“Nice sandals.”
“Where did you get your shoes?”

Every time I wear these beauties, I brace myself for a slew of compliments and more than a little envy. I bought my sandals in Verona, Italy for 40 Euros back in 2006, and I haven’t seen anything like them in the U.S. for less than $200. When I tell this to admirers, they look a little deflated.

I’m not a fashion person, but without question my favorite souvenirs are the clothes, shoes, and accessories I’ve brought back from trips abroad. Here’s why:

1. Functionality. Unlike the more useless souvenirs in my collection (I’m thinking ceramic figurines, ethnic artifacts, and the like), fashion pieces don’t just sit on a shelf and get dusty. They’re actually useful. These pink sneakers from Vienna are my go-to shoes for traipsing around amusement parks and big cities. I wear them on walks around my neighborhood, too.

2. Remembrance. Every time I wear my sandals from Verona, I’m reminded of eating mascarpone gelato, wandering medieval streets, and the patter of the rain against my tent at Castel San Pietro. I have a beautiful collection of postcards from that trip, which no doubt would invoke similar memories. But for every time I’ve actually flipped through them, I’ve probably worn my sandals another 10 times. As I tie the laces around my ankle, I feel a distant connection to that little store along a cobblestone street where I first tried them on.

And I always think of my friend Amy when I wear these earrings. She was with me when I bought them in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, as a sort of reward for walking the Camino.

3. Storytelling. So that postcard collection? The truth is, no one really wants to look at them, not even my husband. This is the plight of all travelers returning home — few listen, even fewer understand. I can’t fix the problem completely, but I have found my souvenir rings and skirts and shoes and earrings to be a much better conversation starter than, say, a 50-page scrapbook or endless photos of me in front of famous landmarks. For example, every time my husband wears the “Aca Joe” shirt he bought in Nicaragua, people want to know who Aca Joe is, and he inevitably recounts the tale of our honeymoon and my hospitalization in a third world country. It’s a great talking point.

4. Trendsetting. I could be wrong here, but I always considered sandals like the ones above the original gladiator sandal. Certainly, the European version didn’t make it across the Atlantic in the same incarnation. However, as someone who is usually oblivious to trends, I smugly congratulated myself when gladiator sandals became fashionable a year after I bought mine. As you can imagine, a grass skirt from Papua New Guinea won’t have the same cachet as the latest styles from France. But with Europe, at least, you can be reasonably assured that your souvenir will put you ahead of the fashion curve.

So skip the souvenir shot glasses and pick-up something unique and wearable next time you are out of the country. If you’re already wise to this tip, feel free to share your favorite finds in the comments below.

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