Souvenirs are the staple of many tourist attractions and travel stories.  Everything from keychains, mugs, and t-shirts to bookends, posters, and replica artifacts.  While these are all well and good, I’ve always been more drawn towards “paper souvenirs.” Every new place I’ve been in probably the last 10 years I’ve collected this particular type of souvenir.  I’ve kept boarding passes, maps, ticket stubs, metro tickets, programs,  business cards and postcards. These are usually free or cheap. Postcards usually run about a quarter or less per card, while ticket stubs or metro tickets cost more because you’re paying for a service but keeping them is proof you’ve been there (“hey look! I rode the bus in Paris!”).

I’m not sure when I really came up with this idea or if I even consciously knew what I was doing at first. It just became a habit to keep my boarding passes and pick up maps everywhere I went.  Postcards always seemed so old fashioned in a romantic kind of way and I always the idea of “the weather is beautiful. wish you were here” type correspondence, even if I never engaged in it myself. Now I still wouldn’t be able to do it because my dad ruined it with Jimmy Buffett. If I ever did actually send a postcard from some faraway place it would have to be addressed to my dad and it would only say “the weather is here, I wish you were beautiful.”….Now that I’ve said it, that has to be the first thing I do next time I travel anywhere.

Versatility is another perk I’ve noticed when it comes to paper souvenirs. There are many ways to display and/or store them that can be as personalized as you want it to be.  You can add them to photo albums with photos of the place they pertain to. You can use a map of the area and make a poster with all the different cards you accumulated attached to their spot on the map. Ticket stubs, cards and, programs can all be displayed in a shadow box on the wall or on a shelf. The things you can do with these items truly is limitless and are not even limited by your own creativity as there are thousands of DIYs to be found online.

Maps , I have found, are one of the best souvenirs. You pick them up when you get to a new place to help you get around (ooh utility!) and keep them as a nice little memento of a place you’ve visited. I spent a little bit of time in Paris several years ago.  I took a boat tour (kept the ticket of course),and walked along the Seine.  I went to the Louvre (again, kept my ticket of course), found a map and wandered around.  At one point I got lost (thanks for the help, map) but I eventually found my way out again.  I got close to the Moulin Rouge, saw the prices and ran, but not before I grabbed a free program.  After coming back home I was describing the hostel I had stayed at to a friend.  I couldn’t remember the name of it or exactly where it was. All I remembered was the atrocious state of the building (seriously, no one should be allowed there ever) and that it was fairly close to the Moulin Rouge.  I found my handy dandy Paris map that I had picked up moments after entering the city and opened it up to see if I could backtrack my route from the Moulin Rouge to the hostel.  Lo and behold! Past me had circled the address of the hostel and had even written in the name. That was the moment I found out that I was a genius and decided once and for all that maps would always be my favorite souvenir.  If you use them correctly, not only will they help you navigate the city while you’re there, but they’ll also help you remember the places that you have been long after the fact.

Some maps have traveling advice printed on them. The map that I picked up in Amsterdam (now well worn and taped together in some spots) has advertisements/advice on which places are the best to go printed on the sides of the map with arrows pointing where they are in the city. All the museums are plainly labeled with little cartoony buildings and the year round carnival in Dam Square is highlighted with a little Ferris Wheel. The map I picked up in Brugge is one of my favorites though.  It has advice on how to blend in like a local (rent a bike to run over other tourists), where to buy the best chocolate (grocery store chocolate, not the fancy looking chocolate shops), as well as slang that’s “bére cool” to use and etiquette for different places (don’t steal from the church collection plate, only the elderly are allowed to do that.) This particular tourist map is clearly marked and put together with an obvious sense of humor that I’ve enjoyed long after leaving the country.

I have been known to buy the odd keychain (usually for someone back home) but the paper souvenirs always made more sense to me. Yes, I am a cheapskate at heart but these are also easier to transport as they take up minimal space in a suitcase and a lot simpler to put in a travel journal or photo album.  You can laugh at me looking at postcards while you’re in line to buy an “I love Berlin” shirt, but I get the last laugh when I take out my travel book with all my memories 20 years later and you’re stuck with a faded shirt lost somewhere in storage.


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