The Rest

Towels As Souvenirs

May 29, 2012

25+ years ago, one of my husband’s older siblings brought his parents a pair of coffee cups back from a vacation. The rest of the family thought that seemed like a great idea and started doing the same.

The mugs my husband and I brought back from our Hawaii honeymoon were shaped like dolphins. The next year we added cable car mugs from San Francisco.

My mother-in-law put up a shelf in her kitchen for the mugs. And then another shelf. And another.

But there are nine kids in my husband’s family, so you can see where this was going.

In fact, here’s a recent picture of our brood on my in-laws 60th anniversary.

Imagine if every adult in that picture brought my in-laws just one mug from one trip.

Goodbye kitchen, hello mug museum. 

At some point my mother-in-law gently hinted that she had enough coffee mugs, thanks, and that ended the tradition.

That’s kind of the problem with souvenirs.

You’re on a fabulous trip and you vow to always remember the wonderful time you’re having. You decide to buy something to take back that will remind you. So you lug home a shot glass or a pair of Mickey Mouse ears or a paperweight. And after a few years – and a few more trips — you have a house full of shot glasses and Mickey Mouse ears and paperweights.

But about ten years ago I stumbled upon something that – for us – has turned out to be the perfect travel souvenir: towels.

Towels meet all of my “ideal souvenir” requirements:

  • They’re affordable.
  • They’re readily available at most vacation spots.
  • They’re really, really easily to pack (Easier than, say, a set of dishes.)
  • We actually use them.

That last part is my favorite because towels aren’t knick knacks that I have to display or dust or decide to get rid of when they’ve ceased being memory-makers and started being clutter.

It started with beach towels. If the kids were on trips with us they picked out their own. If they weren’t, we brought them back to them as gifts.

After a while, though, we had plenty of beach towels. Even with a competitive swimmer/lifeguard in the house, we had enough. And the kids had outgrown the tradition anyway.

So I switched to something even more affordable and even easier to pack: dish towels.

The first one was a Washington DC dish towel that I bought at the Newseum gift shop. It has embroidery on it and came with it’s own fabric case and some kind of commemorative card.

For a long time I kept the towel in its case. I mean, if it came with a case, then surely it should be carefully stored away for…some reason or other.

After a while I took the great big step of hanging it up, but not using it. I’m a slow learner.

Now it’s in the drawer with the rest of my dish towels and I use it all the time. It even has a couple of small stains on it, like regularly used dish towels do.

I have a Boston dish towel now too. And later this summer I’m looking forward to finding one in San Francisco. I get a lot of enjoyment out of these souvenirs that get used every day.

So there’s my souvenir story.

Centsational Girl is having a souvenir link party, so you can hop over there and see what other people’s favorite souvenirs are. This post is also part of The William Morris Project and Frugal Friday.

But I’d like to hear from you: Do you buy souvenirs on vacation? What do you like to bring back?

  1. When I traveled I would buy either earrings or a heart-shaped box as a memento. The earrings took up little space in the luggage, and I bought boxes of fairly sturdy material. Now I only bring home earrings; the boxes took up all the space I allowed them.

  2. I normally get mugs or shot glasses, but this brings up a great point! We aren’t overrun yet, but very close. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I bring home a rock. I write on it where it’s from and date it. In my yard I made a beautiful rock garden…and I just add it to the bunch!

  4. When I was a kid, it was tradition to get salt & pepper shakers for my Grandma. People of her era didn’t travel much and she had shakers from all over as well as the neighborhood garage sales. She passed away 30 years ago and I have her collection – about 1000 pair of shakers! (thankfully, the tradition stopped when she passed!) I love them, but already, I wonder what will happen to them when I’m gone.
    I really like the idea of towels. Way better than salt and pepper shakers.

  5. I love the dish towel idea! Even smaller than the beach towels, but still something you can use daily to remember your trip. :) Visiting from Centsational Girl’s Souvenir Party. Hope you’ll stop by my blog too. :)

  6. I absolutely love this idea, now I’m inspired too! You’re so right, we all need ’em, and they’re easy enough to pack up in a suitcase! Your collection is fantastic, thanks so much for linking up to the party!

  7. Good for you for actually using the tea towels – that’s the hard part. I love that as a souvenir too. We have some from different places. WE also buy mugs, but we use them so they get broken and that keeps the collection under control.

  8. Oh Julie! This story really made me laugh. We have been down similar paths. But now we collect something that is perfect…Christmas Tree ornaments. This way they’re only out once a year and then get put away. And the nice thing about only seeing them once a year is that we reminisce about the wonderful vacations that we’ve enjoyed. We started doing this on our honeymoon and have done so for the last 15 years worth of vacations.

    (We just brought back a mini carved redwood from the National Redwood Forest in Northern California.)


  9. We do the Christmas tree ornaments as well, but frankly I’m overrun with those now. I like the idea of dish towels — I’ll do that for a while!

  10. I have been getting magnets. Sometimes I get Christmas ornaments for my kids as part of their stocking stuffer.

  11. Matchbook covers – pick them up on my travels, write a memory in them (like what we had for diner at fabulous restaurant in Bali) take them home and toss them into a glass bowl.

    Every time we go to light a candle we play “lucky dip” and recall a memory …………….. and they are teeny to pack!!

  12. I used to get tons of souveniers on trips, but I learned after a while that a nice piece of jewelry actually gets used and is a great conversation starter. On my last trip, I bought a turquoise bracelet, and on my next, I’m on the lookout for some new earrings.

  13. After helping my parents move out of their house of 34 years, it made me realize how some souvenirs are just not meant to be with us long-term. That, and the reality had things can really accumulate over the years.

    Of course, using the souvenirs is a different story, which is why your tradition is a neat one!

  14. I have a really big collection of vintage souvenir tea towels! Some of the best ones I inherited from my great Aunt who traveled the world with her Navy captain husband. Scotland, Australia, Jamaica, Germany, Mexico, you name it. Others I’ve found at yard sales and so on. So while I didn’t actually go to most of these places, I do love and enjoy my collection. And I use them too!

  15. Love your towels, esp. the more retro designs.

    As for souvenirs , we are a magnet family. I have a metal board in my laundry room, they stay all together, and I can look at them and get happy memories in what’s otherwise a dark little room!

  16. Great idea. I think I must be really hard on dish towels because I seem to have a steady turn over of them. So, I don’t think I would ever get over run.

  17. LOL I had to come and read this post when I saw it linked up at Life as Mom.
    Recently we purchased a home with cash – a foreclosure. Everything in the house conveyed…and we ended up with a ton of trash cans….trash cans from HOLIDAY INN! HA!!!!
    When I posted this on my Facebook page, I had a lady tell me that she actually got a set of Holiday Inn towels from a relative for Christmas. :-) I think I like your idea a lot better. LOL

  18. You could take the main part of all of your towels and make them into one quilt representing all of the places that you have been to keep you cozy on the couch!

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