Masthead header

Magnets to Mugs: Why We Love Souvenirs

Travel pictures as souvenirs

Image: Andrea Y.’s AwesomeBox

If your grandmother always brought you a stuffed animal, a hat, or (horror of horrors), a pair of socks whenever she took her annual Hawaiian vacation, you’re not alone. According to a 2014 report, the “gift, novelty, and souvenir store” industry in the United States is estimated to be worth a whopping $18 billion—with a “b!”

What is it about our travels—particularly those summer adventures that take us to far-off places (or sometimes, familiar locations) that make us want to not only snap photos of each and every stop, but also, make sure we have something physical to show for it and gift to friends and family when we get back?

Why we buy souvenirs and other travel gifts

Before there was Instagram or even slide carousels, small trinkets were the best way to remember your carefree days of beating the heat—which, according to PBS, was the real reason behind the standardization of summer, as opposed to the much-held misconception that we take a break because of a holdover from our agrarian days.

Additionally, a hat or a shirt is also typically considered the lesser of two evils; peoples’ travel photos have long been viewed as a kind of torture, rather than a fun way to share memories.

Looking through slides of someone else enjoying a beach isn’t really the most engrossing way to spend an afternoon—and yet, a good travel story can be a delight. We just tend to need something more physical than a photo to go with it.

There’s also, of course, a kind of nostalgic aspect to the acquisition of summer gifts and travel trinkets. Chiefly, writes one journalist for the Entrepreneur, it’s to make up for the fact that not everyone gets to go on every trip. From his article: I can’t stop buying: from a college bookstore here, a minor-league ballpark there, a colorful barbecue joint, even a generic sports bar.

The reason, I suspect, has to do with validating my travels. Being away from family and friends week after week can lead to feelings of displacement and loss. These are days I’ll never get back. Even if I tweak my schedule to never miss a game or a recital, my boys will be a year older before I know it. And then another.

Buying up T-shirts can’t change that. But it can provide a tangible benefit to travel–as well as tangible evidence that I’ve actually been someplace. If I don’t come home from Milwaukee with at least a T-shirt, it’s almost like I didn’t go there at all.

And therein lies the thrust of our need for souvenirs: We want to make sure everyone knows we went, we want to remind ourselves what a good time we had, and that we were thinking of them the whole time.

But can a mug or a pair of socks really do all that?

DIY Your Summer Souvenirs

Photos of your trip are still the best way to remember the room, the view, and the people you met along the way—not to mention the hairstyles and Bermuda shorts you’ll want to look back on with laughter—but there’s a better way to share them than with a snore-inducing slideshow. In addition to the postcards and the pool toys you bring back, consider capturing your summer travel with a kind of photo album that incorporates both images and stories with an AwesomeBox. By combining the most engaging photos from the trip, along with the memories and moments you hope to cherish forever, you and your travel partners can create a souvenir unlike any you’d find on the boardwalk.

Pull together the photos from everyone on your trip, as well as your favorite memories to create one tangible reminder of the best times from your summer trip.

Even when we’re not the ones sunning on the beach or waiting in line for a TSA scan, we still like to take part in the travels of others, and share our experiences with our family and friends. And instead of boring them by flipping through every photo (“here we are on the golf course. Here we are on the golf course again!”), we can create our own summer travel memories that capture the best of the best—and leave the mugs and magnets for the rest.