Sunday, June 7, 2009

Best Travel Souvenirs, Mementos, Shwag

A few months ago I stumbled upon the Budget Travel Supermarket Souvenir article, with its quirky mix of items you can buy in foreign supermarkets. Pig-liver patee in handy “to go” portions, grilled shrimp and pepper flavored Pringles, that sort of thing. There’s a good slideshow if you’re interested.

I appreciate supermarket shenanigans as much as the next person. But the article left me a little hungry for more (pun only partially intended). The concept is great — travel souvenirs and mementos from foreign lands — but why limit it to foreign supermarkets?

No, let’s go big here. Let’s open this concept up to any and all travel shwag. I’m hungry for a list of the world’s most quirky, oddest, funniest (both strange & ha ha) and downright weird travel mementos. Did you bring home a shrunken head? A jar of pickled feet? A felt painting of Jesus driving a monster truck?

Don’t be shy. You are not alone in your appreciation of weird & wonderful travel souvenirs. I’ve added a few of my personal favorites, but please send us yours! Simply email your photo (jpeg preferably) with a short explanation at and we will add the best ones to the list below.

Best Travel Souvenirs & Mementos: It’s Unbelizeable

travel souvenirs, travel mementos, travel shwag - i love romania, you better belize it

When I was 22 years old I went to Romania to write a travel guide for other 22-year-olds. Strangely enough, nobody was interested in Romania at the time, especially not the 22 year olds. My mom felt bad, so she bought me an “I Luv Romania” T-shirt. The shirt makes me laugh about a difficult time in my life (you go spend 8 weeks in post-revolution Romania and tell me how you like it). To this day I still know how to say, in Romanian, “No! I do not like pork liver.”

At the other end of the emotional spectrum is my shirt from Belize. It says “You Better Belize It!” Which pretty much sums up the wonderfulness that is Belize (read about the wonderfulness here).

Best Travel Souvenirs & Mementos: Monkey Madness

travel souvenirs, travel mementos, travel shwag - monkey brand tooth powder

I ran out of toothpaste once when I was in Kenya. After much fruitless searching I was informed that in Kenya it’s more common to use tooth powder. Fair enough. So I picked up this — tub? jar? bottle? — of Monkey Brand Black Tooth Powder, imported from India. No, it did not turn my teeth black. Yes, I was worried about that.

Best Travel Souvenirs & Mementos: Allahu Akbar

travel souvenirs, travel mementos, travel shwag - mosque clock istanbul

I bought this mosque clock after taking a trip to Istanbul (read about that trip here), where I became completely enamored with the call to prayer. This clock is perhaps the best travel souvenir I have ever purchased. Every time the alarm goes off I think fondly back on my time in Istanbul and Turkey. If you’re curious to experience the clock’s call-to-prayer alarm firsthand, click here (warning - this is loud).

Best Travel Souvenirs & Mementos: Hutt River Freestate

hutt river province foreign state tshirt

This T-shirt is from the largely unrecognised Principality of the Hutt River Province, which ’seceded’ from Australia in 1970. It’s located in Western Australia, about 5 hours from absolutely nowhere. Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley run a gift shop, as well as guided tours most days. The photo was submitted by John Ryan, author of a superb book on Micronations.

Best Travel Souvenirs & Mementos: The Red Detachment of Women

nixon china ballerina pistol statue

Another entry from John, this time of a female soldier-ballerina statuette with a pistol, from the balllet The Red Detachment of Women. It was a Cultural Revolution favourite in Mao’s China. Richard Nixon saw it in ‘72 and it’s still performed on high rotation. The statue is just over a foot high and was purchased at a market in Beijing in 1998.

Best Travel Souvenirs & Mementos: Singapore Surrender Monkeys

singapore surrender chambers

Another one from John Ryan, who says: “This is a tiny little souvenir fan I picked up in a gift shop on Sentosa in Singapore in 2000. Friends have looked but not seen these since - I wonder if they’re still on sale? Only 7cm (or just under 3 inches) wide, the fan depicts the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese in World War II, with British soldiers signing the surrender papers. Ahhh, the memories!”

Best Travel Souvenirs & Mementos: I Love Minding the Gap

Here’s an entry from David McLagan, who says: “I bought these stickers recently in London and they made laugh - as I’m sure it would anyone that’s travelled by Tube in London for any length of time. (Apologies for my dodgy photo, but I hope you get the idea.) It’s all the excuses London Underground feed you when there are delays. Hilarious.”


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