Years ago on a trip to South Beach Miami, I found myself shooting several photos of bright orange umbrellas against a blue sky on Lincoln Avenue. There were green palm trees and the afternoon sun reflected in mirrored buildings in the background, and I was in love with the moment.
As I drew closer, I discovered those umbrellas were actually the outdoor seating for a popular restaurant with a handful of international locations, any of which I’d wanted to visit for years. Not only had I just snapped a number of great photos, I was right on top of a restaurant after my own foodie-fusion-loving heart.
Naturally, it was a memory I wanted to preserve… but how? Ask the server of this upscale eatery about hat and t-shirt options? Steal a menu? Yank a palm frond of one of the patio trees? All of those options seemed a tad gauche, and from what I understand, palm fronds are not easy to pack.
Like many attractions, this restaurant group has a well-stocked online shop with everything from cookbooks to kids’ chopsticks that could eliminate the problem of schlepping any foodie souvenirs home. But gift items are often expensive, as are shipping costs – and most of us don’t earmark part of our travel budget for the purchase of things that will essentially serve as ‘memories after the fact.’
As I pondered, I grabbed a bright green and orange business card from the hostess podium and slipped it into my camera bag. It of course included the address, so I could remember exactly where I’d found the restaurant and taken those photos. Good field notes, I thought.
But without realizing it, I’d embarked on what would become my preferred way to collect souvenirs from my travels: the free way, coupled with a little craftiness upon returning home.
This wasn’t exactly a eureka moment… for years I’d gone on all sorts of trips around the Northeast with my parents, and little craft projects between my mother and I had often followed, either inspired by or incorporating some treasures from a recent trip.
Later in life, I made my own souvenirs out of necessity; as a fairly broke study-abroad student in England during my junior year of college, I gathered bookmarks, postcards, notepads, stamps, and posters with aplomb (Did I mention I was studying abroad as an English major?), and later created my own mementos. I framed an off-white postcard depicting an early pencil sketch of the Tortoise from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in an inexpensive bamboo frame for my living room. I had a friend who could knit – after attempting to teach me to knit – make me a scarf in the colors of the Oxford University college I’d attended. I photocopied the pledge I had to recite in order to check out books from the Bodleian Library, which to this day hangs in my office as a reminder not to ‘kindle therein any fire or flame.’
I love these little things. Nearly 15 years later, I still have all of them. They’re not particularly valuable in the monetary sense, but they’re pieces of the past that inspire ideas for the future. And that, in the truest sense, is a souvenir: something that is kept as a reminder of a moment in time.
A Call to Collect
That brings me back to Miami and the restaurant business card.
The most practical reason for Do-it-Yourself souvenirs is, of course, to save money. When airline costs, attraction tickets, hotel fees, and expensive dinners add up, vacations can throttle even the most carefully planned budgets.