habit shift: souvenirs.

July 28, 2022

Recently it came to my attention that Faye thought Cape Cod was the name of a prolific sweatshirt company and not a popular vacation destination. In the past few weeks we have been in and out of our share of balsam-scented souvenir shops. We’ve been tried and tempted by embroidered Adirondack patches bearing bald eagles and bear prints. We’ve very nearly been responsible for the crash of an entire display case of ADK-printed water bottles. We’ve seen more chiseled black bears bearing signs that say Go Away in a jaunty script than I could count. Buffalo plaid? Check. Adirondack chairs by the hundreds? Of course. Bonus if they’re over-sized and made for picture taking.

Having encountered compasses in one too many junior naturalist guides, we did our part to support the Adirondack tourist industry and bought our small campers tiny compasses on carabiners from the local camp store. They were most assuredly not used for orienteering and everyone in the family had a slightly different and incorrect take on how they’re supposed to function. On one hike, Silas hooked all three carabiners together and hung them off the strap of his backwards baseball cap so that he looked like some kind of terrestrial anglerfish prowling through the woods. We bought a small bottle of Adirondack-made maple syrup and a small bottle of honey and enjoyed both daily at breakfast while camping. We’ll polish off the rest here in Brooklyn.

But my favorite kind of souvenir, no surprise, is the one that doesn’t get put on a shelf or forgotten about immediately upon its homecoming. The best souvenirs settle themselves right into the way of things—souvenir objects that transition themselves into everyday objects. On this trip, we bought a yellow birch bowl. It’s wide and a little tall and it fits solidly in between the palms of two hands. We found it a local craft fair where my kids regaled the bowl maker with their recently stockpiled fish factoids and the bowl maker regaled my kids with videos of his lathe shooting curls of wood around his North Country studio. The bowl doesn’t say ADK on it or boast the silhouette of a moose. Indeed, to anyone else’s eye, the bowl is just a bowl. But at dinner on nights when it holds our family’s salad or at breakfast when it cradles fresh peaches, we’ll remember—or at least not forget—our two weeks in the woods and the friendly bowl maker who left his mark on the bowl’s bottom. Gary Pierce, Yellow Birch, 2022.

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20 Comments

  • Reply Lexie July 28, 2022 at 1:19 pm

    This is my usual approach with souvenirs, but I never really thought about how I would approach the topic with children. All those little trinkets certainly add up over time. You are lucky that everyone in your house is on board with this approach! 🙂

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  • Reply c July 28, 2022 at 2:48 pm

    Amen! Our souvenirs tend to be the same. Food is number one and something utilitarian if we happen to need it. WE always end up talking about meals we had, food we tried or the characters we meet on vacation.

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  • Reply Ally July 28, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    I love this. Ages ago, before kids, I used to visit a thrift or consignment shop wherever I traveled, and aim to pick something from there as a souvenir – something I would actually wear, not just a costume. It took time, to comb through these random thrift stores looking for something I both wanted and had a use for, which is why this was a pre-kids endeavor, but I loved it so much, both during the trip and afterwards. Over the years some of my favorite finds were a gorgeous sweater from a small town in France, a brightly colored silk scarf from Miami, some perfectly worn jeans from a town outside of Dallas, and a 1950s housedress from a small Pennsylvania town, a dress which still bore the tag of the garment workers’ union, as it had been made in a union shop.
    .
    My parents were my greatest models in this kind of thing, as they stocked our house with all kinds of found furniture and home goods from our various trips. Probably our most beloved, as kids at least, was the chair lift they stumbled upon during a ski vacation – a nearby resort was replacing its lift chairs and selling off the old ones for dirt cheap. My parents bought it and somehow hung it on our front porch as as porch swing and we all just LOVED it. Whenever I feel stressed about the hodge-podge state of my own home decor, I think of the beloved treasures of my youth – the ski lift chair swing, the sturdy green kitchen cabinet repurposed as a bookshelf, the French bistro shelves turned coffee station – and I remember: curating a home that is physically made up of beloved and happy memories doesn’t happen in a month of “decorating.” It happens over a lifetime of living.

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  • Reply Floppo July 28, 2022 at 9:26 pm

    The bowl souvenier its just so lovely Erin, thank you for sharing. When I traveled to London with my family, we went to the Tower of London and in the gift shop I bought a wooden spoon for cooking, just that, and whenever I see it, I remember our wonderful trip!

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  • Reply Jojo July 28, 2022 at 10:36 pm

    I so agree . I really dislike all the things for sale with the name of the place so I love your idea of buying something to remember that place that is somewhat ordinary. Well received.

    • Reply cathy July 29, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      Great idea, Erin. The bowl is lovely. We don’t tend to buy souvenirs (at least not traditional ones). We pick up food and art/crafts that are enjoyed on the trip and then at home. Though I enjoy the art every day (like a handblown glass float from the Oregon coast), I like the idea of utilitarian souvenirs.

  • Reply Amy July 29, 2022 at 11:19 am

    This post is equal parts lovely and hilarious. I had been on the fence about camping with kids, but these memories are tipping me toward adventure.

  • Reply Ali July 29, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    I limit souvenirs to two on any given adventure: one cool, locally-made thing like a bowl or a cutting board or a textile that we can all use and appreciate semi- regularly, and one Christmas tree ornament. Every year, unpacking and hanging the ornaments is that much sweeter when we’re reminiscing on family vacations of yore 🙂

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  • Reply TC July 29, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    My go-to souvenirs are a new book from an independent shop and coffee. I love the week after my vacation opening the coffee bag each morning and feeling those vacation vibes linger.

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  • Reply Katie July 29, 2022 at 2:21 pm

    I love this so much. I try to do this when I travel. And if I don’t find something I love, I tend to come home with nothing or something consumable. Also, I loved your description of the ADK. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the course of my life, and have very fond memories of camping with my parents and brother on Alger Island on 4th Lake.

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  • Reply Liz July 29, 2022 at 2:23 pm

    This resonated so much with me. Thank you.
    My mom and her sister spent a summer just after college traveling through Europe, each with only a small backpack. My mom’s souvenir from the trip was a very small Le Creuset saucepan that she bought in France and still uses 50+ years later.

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  • Reply Lee Ann July 29, 2022 at 5:09 pm

    Love this. Art is our favourite travel purchase. The walls of our small home reflect some of our most cherished memories.
    I’ve also heard of sending yourself a postcard from every trip — and wish I’d started this years ago.

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  • Reply Catherine July 29, 2022 at 5:53 pm

    I’ve been a reader of your blog for years but this might very well be my first time commenting! (And that’s not because your work doesn’t resonate deeply, it does!).

    But the Adirondacks live in my bones. It’s the place my family came from & the place I spend every summer with my young family now.

    I’ve always found the people of the ADK to be among the most honorably, humbly, and authentically simple in their approach to living: stay close to the earth, let it be quietly stunning, be wildly devoted to your craft & forever wildly devoted to leaving no trace (and protecting this forever wild land).

    I love that you’ve highlighted a maker doing their craft with devotion and mastery hard-won with simply doing the the thing, practicing daily, not at all concerned with influencing, etc. That’s as Simple Matters as it comes 🙂

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  • Reply Sarah July 29, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    My favourite practical souvenir is a reusable grocery bag – I use them all the time and they are a constant reminder that yes, I have been to other places! I have two from a Trader Joes in Connecticut and a big one from Carrefour in Spain – that one carried two very nice bottles of wine back to my hotel :-).

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  • Reply Swissrose July 30, 2022 at 3:26 am

    I buy local wool and have both the enjoyment of making and then using/wearing the result as a very much appreciated souvenir.

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  • Reply Sue July 30, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    That bowl is the most perfect souvenir for a family, well chosen.
    My favourite souvenir is from a holiday we had on Guernsey, many years ago and is the watch that I wear daily. Mine broke while we were away and couldn’t be mended so I bought myself a new one, just simple and plain but it still works and reminds me of that holiday every single time I look at it.

  • Reply Terese Blå. August 2, 2022 at 7:14 am

    Wonderful.

  • Reply Madeleine August 4, 2022 at 1:52 am

    Im with you, Erin. When I travel, my preferred souvenir is a piece of local pottery. It surprises me that tourist shops have t figured that out. I live in a city popular with tourists during the “cruise ship season.” Our Main Street is overrun with tacky tourists shops. Have you ever wanted a low quality, oversized nightgown with a drawing of a stick man being chased by a bear and the words “Canadian fast food” printed underneath? Come visit! When the pandemic put a stop to cruise ships, the local business owners were up in arms, according to several newspaper articles I read. “We have an entire warehouse of souvenirs that we can’t sell to anyone now!” they complained. I do not want these folks to suffer, of course, but I felt the solution was so obvious. Maybe selling cheap, plastic Canadiana keychains (made elsewhere, of course) that not a single local will buy is a poor business model. Why not sell beautiful locally made goods that actually reflect the people, culture, and environment of the city and region?? You’d double your clientele: both tourists and locals would frequent such a shop. Three cheers for more meaningful, reflective souvenirs.

  • Reply Diane August 15, 2022 at 10:58 pm

    That bowl is exactly the kind of thing we bring home as souvenirs. They are the ones that are meaningful, useful, and while being a memory they also create memories at home.

  • Reply Sal August 24, 2022 at 5:38 am

    Ah I love Swiss Rose’s wool souvenir! My children are adults now but every year when they were children we would go to the same little beautiful artists seaside town in Cornwall. Every trip I would find a cafe I loved on the first morning which I would go back to every morning for my coffee. Usually the cafe also sold cups or used locally available ones so I would buy one to take home each year to remind me of my lovely mornings.

    One year I was sitting in the cafe and no cups appealed to me. We like a LOT of cups, but even for a British tea and coffee obsessed household we had enough. On a whim I picked up a Sock Knitting Kit from the craft shop next to the cafe. It had a skein of sock wool which apparently would magically make a striped sock, a set of double pointed needles, a pattern and two gorgeous little handmade beaded stitch markers. It came in it’s own little organza bag, threaded with ribbon ties. The craft shop owner had taken so much trouble to make it look beautiful.

    I was absolutely unable to knit or follow a pattern at that point. Worse than that, I was a Failed Knitter having tried to learn both as a child and from my left handed dear friend as a college student

    I had a knitter in the family who cast on for me and who worked the tricky bits and untangled whatever mess I had got myself into over and over again but I kept going and made a wearable pair of slightly mismatched socks. I went straight down to my local yarn store to buy a second ball of gorgeous magically striping sock wool and I’ve not stopped knitting since. That was fifteen years ago and many many pairs of socks have followed the first. I still have them and am a bit overawed at all the joy and calm and hours of pleasure I have had from that one foolhardy decision to buy a sock kit instead of another cup

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