I’ve been lucky enough to take a few trips in the past couple years, to cities like Las Vegas, San Juan, Puerto Vallarta, Rome, New York City and Honolulu. In each place, whether I traveled with family or friends, I made the extra effort to go off the beaten path and see the city from the local perspective.
But on these trips, I’ve been dismayed…nay, shocked…to realize that I cannot buy a unique souvenir of my travels to save my life. What the frappucino is going on here!
I remember traveling as a kid with my parents and coming home with some wonderful little trinket, usually a locally made handicraft. I have a vivid memory of collecting silvery decorative “spoons” through Europe that were affixed to our German walking sticks. Little badges of honor that commemorated a hike, an adventure, or a town that we visited. God, I loved those little badges. So, it’s not surprising that I still look for something tangible to bring home after a trip. A little somethin’ somethin’.
Recent trips took me to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and to Kanaeohe, HI. In Hawaii, I could not find a lei that was actually made in Hawaii. Most read made in Indonesia, although to be fair, China and Korea represented nicely in lei production as well. I spent a thousand dollars on a plane ticket to fly to the South Pacific, only to find that I could easily purchase the same item at my local dollar store.
In Mexico, my friends and I took a taxi to Buceria, a small town boasting more local flavor than tourist traps, but even there we couldn’t find many items that felt authentic. (Now, you might say that we didn’t look hard enough and that may be true. But honestly, I’ve been molested less at roofie-fueled fraternity parties than by the aggressive street vendors in the flea market in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico).
There were some really beautiful pieces of pottery and some lovely silver rings to be had and I was definitely tempted to buy them. But because these very same items are available in Madison, Wisconsin at stores like Chirpa or Little Luxuries or even TJ Maxx, they didn’t have that magical quality that a “purchased souvenir” should have.
My friend Rita wanted to bring home some top shelf tequila and there were only a few items from which she could choose. The sales girl was trying to convince her to buy Patron, and it really struck me as crazy when Rita responded, “That’s twice as much as I pay for it at Cosco!”
Before you send me hate mail, I know that globalization is a great thing (most of the time). I love that the world’s marketplace is now open for craftsmen, particularly women, to market their goods and make a fair living. But there is a selfish part of me that wishes that something, anything, could still be sacred. Sacred…and magical.
The only tangible item I brought back from Mexico was the 4 extra pounds I’m carrying from the margaritas, fajitas and Coronas. That is not an acceptable souvenir.