You’re on vacation, one you probably can barely afford, because you’re in your twenties and for some reason paid time off doesn’t come with actually paying for the vacation. (Seriously jobs, you should look into this as a perk.) You’re trying to balance seeing the world with still eating and trying to not stay in a flea-infested shacks in BF Egypt when you come across the mystical shrine of vacation: the shops.
Shops filled with row upon row of useless junk and silly souvenirs that you’ve seen in every other shop you just had to stop in are calling your name. So how do fulfill your need to buy your precious memories while balancing a limited budget and even less space in your luggage? Not to mention buying something that will actually have a purpose in your life.
Ok stop rolling your eyes, I’m not talking about the steroid-ripped orange men/women in thongs and a creeper smile postcards that you’re buying your pals as a “joke.” (Yeah, we all know you have a drawer full of those at home.) No I’m referring to the more artistic postcards and notecards that act as mini-prints that you can use to decorate your home/dorm/cardboard-box-you-live-in-because-you-can’t-afford-your-student-loans-and-rent/etc.
The past two years I’ve been in the UK during the summer and I came home with a plethora of vintage railway postcards. Back in the day there had been a huge campaign to highlight the best of Britain and these wonderful posters were created to convince people to see Britain by rail or by ship. The best part is they’re place specific so I have some not just from Britain, but the Isle of Skye, Cornwall, Oxford, Wales, London, and more. I also picked up a number of the WWII propaganda prints with Winston Churchill quotes and “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might” on it that just made my life. The best part? I spent maybe £1.50 per postcard – a helluva lot cheaper and more memorable of my time there than most other souvenirs.
If vintage isn’t your thing, you can also buy illustrative notecards or actually good photos not marred up by “WISH YOU WERE HERE LOSER.” I purchased an illustration at the Jane Austen Museum of a print of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth that I adore, as well as a few photos from Scotland from the tops of mountains my lazy ass was never going to climb. The trick is just to find larger versions (hence why notecards are better than postcards- they’re generally bigger) so that you can see it clearly when framed. You also don’t have to go to Europe to get non-trashy prints or find a pretentious gift shop. Walk into the Texaco gas station on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and on the counter you’ll find notecard prints of local photographer Michael Halminksi’s work that you’d spend hundreds on in a larger size. It’s art, but cheap.
I’d also suggest buying one large reprint of something special. Don’t buy it framed or the original, you don’t have that kind of cash and seriously we’re too young to be that pretentious. In England last year I purchased the iconic image of St. Paul’s Cathedral burning from the December 1940 London Blitz. In Scotland I bought a large vintage rail print of the Isle of Skye’s Black Cuillins that captured the exact spot that we’d visited.
The last step is to go home and while you’re wallowing in post-travel depression and misery, start crafting. Frame all those prints and postcards and scatter them throughout your living space. Michael’s and AC Moore are always having a framing/frame sale, thrift shops have gross old ones you can refurbish, and Etsy is full of adorable artsy ones. You don’t have to spend a fortune and you wind up with more original, meaningful, and probably cheaper artwork in your home than you would by buying out Society6. For full disclosure, I did have my St. Paul’s print and map of London professional framed and matted and I spent a small fortune on it. But when I have house of my own, they’re going to be the first things I hang over my mantel.
My suggestion is to keep your memories close, your surroundings interesting, and a constant reminder of your wanderings- it’s a surefire way to ensure you’ll keep going.
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I’m a huge fan of collecting vintage postcards, and not a huge fan of cheap, tacky souvenirs. I’m in Paris on a trip right now, and I have a lovely little stack of gems I’ve found in junk shops here. Great post!