souvenir for minimalist

As an inveterate wanderer who moves cities or countries on a fairly regular basis, I’ve learned to be a pretty dedicated minimalist. After all, the less stuff you have, the easier it is to pack up when the time comes. Of course, when you visit an amazing place it’s nice to bring home a token of the trip as a memory, but tchotchkes don’t fit well in the life of a minimalist — so what’s a girl to do?

In English, the word “souvenir” usually evokes images of kitsch teaspoons, snow globes and fridge magnets, but in French it simply means “memory.” So instead of cluttering your suitcase with token objects that might quickly lose their charm and eventually get stuffed away in a closet, consider these other ways you can memorialize your favorite trips:

cooking class travel

Take a cooking class.

One of the greatest things about traveling to a new country is the food. Whether it’s a local delicacy from a street cart or a home-cooked dish unique to that place, there’s no better way to expand your tastebuds and begin to unravel the fascinating intricacies of a new culture.

With this in mind, I made the decision that instead of buying a physical souvenir, I would try to take a cooking class in each place I visited. Since then I’ve learned to make croissants and crepes in France, chiles rellenos in Guatemala, pesto in Italy, amok in Cambodia, pad Thai in Thailand, and many other exotic (and delicious) dishes. Best of all, it’s a souvenir I can share with others by simply cooking them dinner.

Change your scent.

There are few things that evoke memories as vividly as scent — think about those certain smells that remind you of your childhood, or of a place or cherished person in your life.

Each time I move to a new country or city, I change my perfume. That way, whenever I happen to breathe in that particular scent in my life, I’ll always be transported back to that time and place.

For me, L’Eau Par Kenzo will always remind me of Barcelona, Diptyque’s Olène will forever evoke Paris (especially given the fact that, once on a moonlit night in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a man chased me down the street simply to ask me what perfume I was wearing), and Le Labo’s Santal 33 will eternally conjure New York. Instead of finishing each scent before I move, I make sure to keep a little in each bottle so that I can revisit memories once in awhile, if only for a few seconds.

minimal travel

See a live performance.

Many of us can map out our lives in the concerts we’ve seen, right down to who we were with, what we were wearing and what the weather was like. When you’re planning to be in a certain city, check the local listings to see if any of your favorite artists are playing. Or better yet, treat yourself to something unique to that destination – a flamenco show in Spain, a jazz manouche gig in France, or even a Broadway show in New York City. The memory of that performance is likely to linger in your mind far longer than any object ever could.

Learn a new skill.

What better souvenir to take away from a foreign country than the language itself? Even if you have time for only a few classes, you’ll likely leave with enough vocabulary to immerse yourself in the culture that little bit more. If you’ve got a few weeks (or months) to spare, then enroll yourself in an intensive program to really develop some impressive conversational skills.

Granted, not all of us are language people. So maybe take a dance class or two – that way whenever you dance salsa, you’ll be reminded of your trip to Cuba, or the infectious beat of samba will take you back to that time you spent in Brazil. Not adept at dancing? Try an art class or a lesson in basket-weaving. The point is that once you’ve learned a skill, it’s likely to stick with you for life and will always be a reminder of that place. Plus, it won’t take up any extra room in your suitcase.

Do you have any unique souvenir ideas to share?

Images via Madison Holmlund


  1. I send myself a postcard that includes a brief timeline of the vacation. It’s usually waiting for me when I get home and I tape it in my journal so no clutter! Postcards are perfect for everyone- its cheap, the letter is personal, its happy mail, and makes great fridge art.

  2. I love these ideas! I used to have a very hard time with souvenirs because eventually they all just became clutter that I felt guilty looking at because of my whole Kondo decluttering rather than remembering the trip. One of my favorite things to keep as a souvenir is pressed pennies from the crank machines. They’re super cheap and tiny and I love looking at them from time to time. If it’s in different countries I just like to keep a coin or two!

  3. What a lovely article! I will def try this for now on. Last year my boyfriend and I took a trip to Portland, OR to celebrate our 10th year anniversary and instead of buying souvenirs, we decided to just eat a lot of everything! It was the best decision we could’ve made during that trip as some of those foods we have not been able to find here in Los Angeles. I always think about going back to Portland just to eat a delicious Croque Monsieur!

  4. I always make sure to take mental ‘snapshots’ of my surroundings, especially when photos won’t do the location and the experience justice. Also, since I can’t help but bring home a little trinket, I’ve started collecting Christmas ornaments from every place I visit. They’re hidden away for most of the year, but when I take them all out I spend the afternoon unpacking the many memories and stories associated with each one.

  5. What a wonderful article! I have always tried to sneak out for coffee or breakfast alone, just to experience the city with my own eyes – even if it’s just for 10 minutes, to appreciate the life I am so lucky to live and show gratitude the city I am visiting. I have always loved buying journals, a tote bag and books (in the local language) whenever I travel. These small items always bring a smile to my face whenever I return home and see them in my apartment.

  6. I’m an avid journal keeper and when I first went abroad I had very little extra spending money. So every place we stopped I would pick up a post card and write about what we did there on the back of it and stick it in my journal. It has become a regular practice of mine whenever I travel now.

  7. This is the most unique article about minimalism that I’ve read in a while! I love the idea of learning new skills and how to make new dishes. When I started traveling, I decided to do away with most souvenirs as well. Instead, if I saw something that I wanted to “keep with me” I would take a short video of it. For most of my big trips, I now have videos called “two-second travels” that live on the internet instead of cluttering the outside of my fridge or the surfaces of my furniture. The sights and sounds in those videos always bring me back and allow my memories to stay with me.

  8. We were thinking about how to have a souvenir that isn’t clutter and decided to try setting up a small regular donation to a local charity in each place we visit so every time we see it go out we have a little reminder of the fun we had there, and can hope we left a little something good behind.

  9. These are great suggestions, and I love how they are experience-based souvenirs. I especially like the idea of associating a different fragrance with the new place.

    Thanks and happy travels 🙂

  10. Love this post! I’ve been trying to live a more minimalist life and recently took a trip to Utah. In the past I’ve been one to buy little trinkets when I go on trips, but this time I only spent money on food. I decided instead of getting a thing to remember the trip, to make sure I was truly present in my surroundings and with what was going on. I will treasure those memories much more than I would treasure a fridge magnet or a key chain.

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