Are they just pointless knick-knacks, a waste of space in the backpack? Are they designed solely to overcharge tourists or are they a meaningful way to preserve the memory of some of life’s greatest experiences? Whatever your thoughts on souvenirs, they pose a problem for minimalists. On the face of it, it seems that a true minimalist will only pack the bare essentials, but this isn’t necessarily true. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who wrote the book on minimalism, define a minimalist lifestyle as choosing your possessions “more deliberately and more consciously.” With that in mind, you can apply the same wisdom to your collection of souvenirs. Being mindful about what you purchase and why, means you will get the most significant benefit from your purchases, for the lowest cost, in terms of money, packing space, and convenience.
They Can Be Practical
There are a number of items you will have to bring with you wherever you go. Why not replace these with souvenir gifts? For instance, if you travel with five T-shirts, they could be from five different trips. Minimalists love this two-birds-with-one-stone approach. You have the memories, but you also have a practical item that you would have needed anyway.
A penknife from Peru is much cooler than just buying one from Amazon. A water bottle which has the picture of a mountain you just climbed is bound to mean more to you than just any old plain container. In theory, every item in your backpack could end up being from some exotic part of the world, containing the memories of your adventures. That’s pretty damn cool.
You may want to buy a souvenir that you leave at home, but this can still be practical. For instance, if you loved the food you ate in Thailand, then why not buy a recipe book from a local store? That way you can home cook a meal and be instantly transported back to your Thai trip. The smells and tastes will provide a powerful reminder. You can be confident that you have chosen a souvenir with the practical value that you will actually use.
They Can Be Digital
If the 21st Century has been good for anyone, it has been good for minimalists. It is incredible the number of objects that we can now store online that were once heavy, bulky items, like books and VHS videotapes. Now, you can optimally keep tourist souvenirs digitally. For instance, keeping a daily journal is one of the best ways to capture memories. However, you don’t need to fill physical notebooks. Instead, start an online blog. This practice is a far more in-depth, personal, unique, and meaningful souvenir, compared to gifts bought from a store. It keeps an accurate record of the activities you have done each day and what you felt at the time. At any moment, you can open the blog up and relive those experiences.
The same goes for photos. Rather than popping one in a snow globe at a souvenir store, find a way to store them online. This action can be as simple as dumping them into a Facebook album, but you could be a bit more creative. Perhaps set up a dedicated travel Instagram profile to place your best snaps. Gone are the days of heavy albums filled with out of focus, finger covering the lens, disposable photographs. By posting the photos on an app like Instagram, you can showcase the very best of your vacation. You can always print digital images in the future, but the copy on a screen is enough to provide nostalgia. It sure beats buying souvenirs from a novelty store.
They Can Be Small
The problem with souvenirs is that they are often bought on a whim. You see something bright and shiny, and you decide you have to have it. This habit leads to backpacks filled with oversized Toblerone bars and bottles of tequila. A giant Guinness hat from Dublin might seem like a fun, novelty item at the time, but eventually, it just becomes a tacky burden, gathering dust in a storage container at home.
If you aren’t going down the practical route, then the point of a souvenir is not the thing itself, but the meaning that it holds. This belief means that you can derive the same pleasure from a smaller item. A silver ring with an engraving on it can provide all the same happy memories but takes up next to no space. You could consider collecting fridge magnets or postcards. They’ll slide into any bag unnoticed, but offer just enough to act as a physical manifestation of a travel memory. The idea is all about being intentional during your tourist shopping. If you see five items that you like, pick the smallest and lightest, and you can continue to enjoy the freedom of minimalist travel.
The Appeal of Travel Tattoos
Tourists make up a considerable proportion of the tattoos purchased in any given country. For instance, in Thailand, 70% of tattoos are bought by tourists. In Berlin and Miami Beach, this number increases to 80%. Without travelers, many tattoo parlors would be out of business! It is understandable why tourists choose to get inked on the road. A tattoo generally holds a deep meaning for the wearer and so too do travel experiences, so the two go hand in hand. A tattoo takes up no space in a bag, weighs nothing and yet is accessible at all times and holds a travel memory for a lifetime. In many ways, it is the ultimate minimalist souvenir.
Packing light allows you to move freely and maintain optimal productivity at all times. However, souvenirs can be incredibly meaningful and help you to relive some of life’s best moments. How can the two be reconciled? It’s all a matter of balance and doing what is right for you. Does the meaning an object have to you outweigh the inconvenience of carrying it around? Answering this question allows you to be intentional with your purchases. You can pick the smallest knick knacks or find a way to collect souvenirs which have no mass at all. Whether they are digital, replacements for items you already pack or inked directly into your skin, it is entirely possible to embrace minimalist travel and collect souvenirs along the way.
Written by Thom Brown