Collecting travel souvenirs gives us a mental boost

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Collecting travel souvenirs is a practice enjoyed around the world. We may graduate from plastic key rings and shot glasses to more sophisticated baubles; nonetheless, an ingrained desire drives us to collect souvenirs of our adventures. 

The training ground for becoming a collector most likely started in our infancy. Experts theorize that a positive view of holding on to things develops in childhood. We form emotional attachments to objects, even thinking of it as a relationship of sorts. As children, many of us had a favorite blanket or cuddly toy.

For me, it was a pillow for which my dad once drove across three states to retrieve from a roadside motel. For my son, it was white blankie, now tucked away and occasionally brought out to revere.

My travel souvenirs collection started with rocks, Cracker Jacks toys, sea shells and eventually graduated to keeping anything my son ever made, wore or played with. Uh, oops, I think that may fall under hoarding. The point is that for most of us, collecting is emotionally driven. We are reconnecting with positive memories and preserving the past for future generations.

travel souvenirs
A collection of porcelain, hand-enameled cups I collected on my trips to Thailand.

It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Why we collect travel souvenirs

I’ve cut down on the number of travel souvenirs I buy, and I’m more discerning in what I collect. However, if I walk through one of those touristy gift shops, I’m likely to buy at least a t-shirt or two.

Few of us are immune. Travel research shows that the majority of people buy some type of travel souvenir, even though we may differ greatly in what we buy. Some studies show that shopping consumes about a third of travel spending, with souvenir shopping accounting for a significant piece of that statistic.  More than 40% of travelers list shopping as one of their favorite destination activities.

When we collect travel souvenirs, we have something physical to embody the memory. But that’s not the only reason.  Travel psychologists say there’s more to it. Souvenirs are also physical evidence of our journeys. They even coined a phrase to describe the concept: strategic memory protection.

We also collect travel souvenirs as gifts. Women in particular buy souvenirs for this purpose and are more likely to make souvenirs do double duty as a birthday or holiday gifts.  Overall, women are more likely to purchase souvenirs, and they prefer local products.

My parents were the masters of buying travel souvenirs as gifts. We practically needed a whole suitcase to bring back gifts for people in my small hometown of Pawhuska, Oklahoma!

For Allene, it was anything with a pig. For my grandpa, it was frogs. We had to buy collectible spoons, figurines, shells, and then there was the rock period. My mom had to bring back a rock from, like, everywhere. I particularly disliked the dirty rocks. It was almost as though we were apologizing for going on the trip. We went on this great road trip, but you didn’t. Here’s your consolation prize.

The benefits of collecting travel souvenirs

Collectors may be in a different category than travelers who collect souvenirs, but either way, there are psychological advantages. So, whether you collect travel posters or fine art, collecting has a whole host of benefits; here’s a collection (pardon the pun, ha!) of just some of the payoffs of those travel souvenirs:

Relaxation and stress reduction. Given that we as humans have an innate need to collect, it’s a relief to know that experts say these hobbies can reduce stress. Researching, acquiring, organizing, and maintaining the collection can be cathartic.

Appreciation of beauty. A collection can be a source of beauty for ourselves and others. Someone out there will see beauty in your bug collection.

Education. We not only learn as we collect but we also build knowledge that can be shared with others. Think about what stamps have to teach us — everything from history and culture to politics and economics.

Competition. Collecting can be a highly challenging activity that takes a certain level of cunning and patience. The process of acquiring adds to the emotional value of an object.

Investment. For some people, collecting evolves from hobby to business. The old saying “Time is Money” is certainly true for the vintage watch market. Collecting watches is on the rise, thanks to social media and the advent of watch blogs. Recently, Sotheby’s auction house sold a Patek pocket watch for $24 million — the most ever paid at auction.

Social interaction. We tend to get together with others who collect, whether online or at swap meets, to share stories about our collection and make friends with like-minded folks. You can find organizations for almost any type of collection from firearms to dolls to the ever popular stamp.

Adventure. It seems we all love the thrill of the hunt.  For me, it was the McDonald’s Teenie Beanie Babies. The first and only time I turned in to a crazed mom who just had to get the newest one for my son. I’m fairly sure that on one Saturday in Kansas my best friend and I went to every McDonald’s.

Travel souvenir ideas for everyone

Before you start collecting or if you want to scale back on what you collect (like me), then you might want to come up with a plan. But where to start with souvenir ideas? What are cool things to collect while traveling?

Look to your family. Do you have grandparents or aunts and uncles who have a travel souvenir collection? They would be a great place to start for souvenir ideas. I’m sure they would be delighted to share their stories and collection with you. They might even be looking for someone to bequeath the collection.

It’s likely that some of those travel souvenirs or collectibles might be valuable or hold special meaning to your family. You would have the chance to continue a family tradition!

What are your interests? Do you love walking along the beach on vacations? Then consider items that you can pick up along those beach strolls. Seashells are easy to find and a cool thing to collect while traveling.

I love tea. When I travel, I like to find tearooms to visit and souvenirs associated with tea, such as a tea cozy. We’re also a family who loves to use refrigerator magnets. We pick up a magnet on every trip.

Do you have a hobby? For example, if you collect coins or stamps, then you are in luck. Stamps and coins are some of the most popular travel souvenirs and so easy to collect.

Cool things to collect while traveling

Tea towels

I don’t have a collection of tea towels, but I still love picking up one or two on my trips as travel souvenirs. Often, I give them away as birthday and Christmas gifts.

Most tourism sites have gift shops, and a tea towel is a common item in stock.


Thanks to more interest in home handicrafts, like sewing and quilting, collecting thimbles is trending. The renewed interest in sewing has something to do with social media, especially Pinterest, but also because we have new generations who are interested in learning old skills.


If you can figure out a theme for a figurine collection, then it’s easier to keep your eyes open for something when you travel. I used to pick up a pig figurine in every place I traveled for an older family friend. She had pigs from all over the world!


Charms are definitely one of the cool things to collect while traveling and a great choice for all age groups. You can have multiple charm bracelets by theme so you never run out of choices! Charms make great travel souvenirs to bring back to friends and family.

Learn more about collectibles and travel souvenirs

You can find plenty of online resources and books about specific types of collections (e.g. coins, stamps, dolls), but a general guide to collectibles and their up-to-date values is not so easy to find. Not many exist. The three choices below represent the cream of the crop when it comes to general collecting resources.

This is it — the authoritative guide often referred to as the collector’s bible. Warman’s has been around for 70 years and the book is in its 51st edition. Comprehensive listings of nearly 70 categories are illustrated with 1,500 color photographs. Perhaps my favorite part is the introduction that accompanies each category. These sections include history, market trends, and advice from experts.

While Warman’s may be the granddaddy of collecting resources, the annual tome published by Antique Trader magazine is hailed as the No. 1 price guide year after year. It’s more comprehensive in terms of categories, subcategories, and photos as compared to Warman’s.  The category introductions are also thorough, but the writing is not as sophisticated (but still good) in comparison to Noah Fleisher, the editor of Warman’s. However, if it’s an incredibly comprehensive listing of collectibles and values you want along with nearly 4,000 colored photos, then this is your guide.

Miller’s Collectibles Handbook & Price Guide rounds out our list of recommendations. The author, Judith Miller, is highly regarded by collectors and dealers. Miller regularly appears as an expert on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. She has been featured on The Martha Stewart Show, CNN, The House Detectives, and other television programs. The guide has images of more than 4,000 objects in full color, each with a detailed description and current price range.

How to display travel souvenirs

My preference for displaying collectibles is a cabinet, and if it can be closed, then so much the better. It’s true that I don’t enjoy dusting my collectibles, but I’m more worried about breaking one while I’m dusting.

Putting my collection of souvenirs behind glass doors decreases the time I spent dusting, but still allows for the sheer enjoyment of seeing the collection.

We’ve researched cabinets and displays to protect your collection of souvenirs, and pulled together this list of our best picks.

Small display cabinets for your collection of travel souvenirs

Mirrored-back acrylic case

This case by Ikee Design comes with a magnetic closure and 4 removable shelves.

Extra large flat display case

The Two Timbers oak-finished wood box comes with a latched locking lid.

Wall curio for minatures

Solid wood cabinet in oak and three other finishes. Includes brackets for wall hanging.

Large display cabinets for your collection of travel souvenirs

5-tiered glass tower

The open tower has a small footprint but will help your collectibles stand out. The glass shelves are tempered and the stainless steel posts are rust-proof.

Mirrored console

The Home Fare cabinet in cherry finish has a lighted interior, antique brass hardware, and v-grooved glass.

Ricardo curio cabinet

This is our most expensive pick, and no wonder – it’s made by Howard Miller! Notice how the door slides both ways.

How to display your wine collection

No matter the value of your wine collection, consider both how you store and display your wine. For example, location makes a difference. Sunlight and warm temperatures are not ideal conditions for your wine bottle collection.

But not all of us have a lot of choices for where to store our wine. If the kitchen is the best location, then a small wine cooler may be the best option.

Best small to medium wine coolers

Free-standing wine coolers should not be fully recessed or built in to maintain the best even cooling. Leave at least 4 to 6 inches around the sides, top, and back of the cooler to ensure good air circulation.

Before operating, let the wine cooler sit for 24 hours after you take it out of the box and insulating protection it was shipped in.

Our top three recommendations for free-standing wine refrigerators:

Both of the Schmecke wine coolers have compression technology to ensure a steady temperature control that is not affected by temperature of the room. That’s a huge plus because most small refrigerators are not equipped to handle steady cooling when placed in a warm or hot room.

Schmecke’s temperature controls can be set for a range between 41 degrees Fahrenheit to 64F. You can convert the temperature control to Celsius.

The double-paned Thermopane glass front is UV-resistant. You can turn on the energy-efficient LED light to gently illuminate your collection. These both come with a built-in lock and two keys.

The WIE wine cooler comes in two sizes: 18 or 28 bottles. It has the same beneficial features as the Schmecke wine coolers.

Best large wine refrigerators

The larger wine refrigerators have many of the same features as the smaller version; however, our two recommended ones can be free-standing or built-in. Delivery of these models is curbside; no interior delivery. My experience has been that the delivery driver is often willing to deliver inside the garage. But, I never count on it.

The Kalamera 157-bottle wine cooler comes with the following features:

  • Removable beech wood racks so that you can store non-standard sized bottles
  • LED interior lighting
  • Stainless steel, triple-layered tempered glass door
  • Low vibration and noise level to keep wine sediment from shifting
  • Dual-zone thermostat

The EdgeStar 141-bottle wine cooler comes with the following features:

  • Dual-zone thermostat
  • Removable shelves to accommodate larger wine bottles
  • 14 roll-out shelves with wood fronts
  • Powerful circulation fans move air evenly throughout the unit to help maintain temperature.
  • Integrated true-key lock

We would love to hear more about your travel souvenirs adventures. What do you collect? Drop in and chat by leaving a comment below.

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