For many people, the term 'souvenir' calls up childhood memories of forgettable trinkets and hideous t-shirts, bric-a-brac and fashion faux pas destined for the depths of rarely opened drawers. But for travellers, the right memento often occupies pride of place in their homes and has the power to conjure up vivid memories of a trip.
We asked Lonely Planet staff to share some of the stories behind their favourite souvenirs, showcasing how a miscellany of musical instruments, fridge magnets and even mundane objects like rocks can embody a beloved place or perfect moment from our travels.
An eyebrow-raising sitar from India
I grew up around sitar music as my dad's best friend from school used to play to us when we were little. Since then I'd always wanted a sitar of my own, so I did some research and found a reputable maker in Delhi. After half a dozen trips to his shop, I found a sitar I was happy with and paid a tin-box wallah to make a case to carry it home.
I had to detune 21 strings and wrap the instrument in wadding, but it turned up on the conveyor at London City without a scratch. The other passengers were all business commuters and I got some funny looks as this oddly-shaped box rolled out as one of the only items in the hold. These days, my kids rarely give me enough time to tune up all those strings, but even having it sitting at home transports me back to the subcontinent.
Joe Bindloss, Destination Editor for the Indian subcontinent. Follow Joe’s tweets @joe_planet.
A personal piece of Mount Everest
After two weeks travelling across Tibet, I made it to Everest Base Camp, where – breathless from the altitude – I sat down on a boulder to gaze at the mountain. My Tibetan guide, who’d travelled with me throughout the trip and had a strong intuitive sense, inexplicably said, 'You can pick something up, it’s okay, but please ask permission from the mountain goddess first if you wish to take something away,' and then left me to my thoughts.
Until that moment, I had no conscious notion of taking an Everest rock home, but suddenly this became an important spiritual task. I couldn’t say how long I spent inspecting stones to find the one that felt right, then following the guide’s instructions, I asked Qomolangma – goddess mother of the universe and the Tibetan name for Everest – for permission. The stone sits on my bedside now as a sacred token of this most special trip.
Megan Eaves, Destination Editor for North Asia. Follow Megan’s tweets @megoizzy.
Tacky magnets from travels around the world
The very best souvenirs are things that act as a talking point, trigger great memories, take pride of place in your home but don't take up too much space. My collection of ugly magnets from around the world fulfils all of these requirements!
It started with one oddly polite tulip-filled clog from Amsterdam stating 'Regards, Holland', and led to a collection of around 150 different magnets. When browsing for our next potential buy, we have several strict rules to follow: it must include the destination name, it must be the tackiest available, and it must not be offensive. Highlights of the collection include a wobbly-legged octopus from Aruba, a toothpick holder from Bulgaria and a set of bagpipes from Edinburgh that, when pressed, still delivers a rousing rendition of Scotland the Brave.
Claire Naylor, Senior Editor. Follow Claire’s tweets @RoadTripJones.
A gifted cushion cover from Cappadocia
April 2010. An unpronounceable Icelandic volcano erupts, causing travel mayhem. Halfway around the world, I'm in Cappadocia, Turkey, stuck for an unknown period of time but with plenty to do in this extraordinary region.
Visiting some locals who still live in traditional cave dwellings, I am greeted by a friendly old woman. She invites me into her home and offers me tea. Somehow I manage to communicate that I'm unable to get home (hand-waving volcano impressions were involved). She points to some beautiful cushion covers she makes to sell to tourists. I assume she wants me to buy one but, in broken English, she explains she'd like me to take one, for free, so that I have something from her home as a souvenir for when I finally make it back to mine. I still have that cover and think of the woman and Cappadocia every time I see it.
Clifton Wilkinson, Destination Editor for Britain, Ireland and Iceland. Follow Cliff’s tweets @cliff_wilkinson.
A tattoo of a bear from Berlin (sort of)
I was in Berlin over New Year and, between visits to Christmas markets and afternoons spent perusing unusual art galleries, drank a lot of the local Berliner beer, recognisable by the bear on the logo. Potentially as a result of this, I decided now was the right time to get my first proper tattoo, and my favourite tipple provided the perfect inspiration.
On New Year's Day I went to every tattoo parlour I could find in Kreuzberg but all of them were shut. I was determined to see this through, so as soon as I got back to the UK I went to my local tattoo shop in Oxford and had the little bear tattooed on my leg. I'd almost forgotten I didn't get it done in Berlin, so that kind of counts, right?
Joe Davis, Online Marketing Coordinator. Follow Joe’s tweets @joedavis_.
Fossilised fish scales from the Jurassic Coast
For once, rough weather on a family holiday to the British seaside had its benefits. We were on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, and storms had caused several sections of cliff there to collapse and give up their treasures. Picking around the shoreline, we found quite a few commonplace fossils: sea urchins, ammonites, the pointy skeletons of squid-like belemnites.
One strangely patterned black pebble turned out to be a section of the side of a fish, a Pholidophorus – one of the first to evolve scales. It blew my mind to think that this humble creature once swam in seas filled with prehistoric giants, including 50-foot Mosasaurs and Megalodon, the largest shark to have ever lived.
Peter Grunert, Group Editor of Lonely Planet magazines. Follow Peter’s tweets @peter_grunert.
A tattooed hunk picked up in Croatia
I had forgotten that taking a cheap 6am flight from Stansted was a false economy, and arrived a three-hour plane and one-hour taxi journey later in Šibenik, Croatia, in a complete daze. As I took the giant step down from the jetty and onto a tiny wooden boat full of haphazardly placed suitcases, I heard a voice. 'Watch out for that bolt!' he said, as I tripped, span on one heel and landed, with his arms wrapped around me.
It was by no means love at first sight – he has dreadful tattoos – but we chatted all the way to island-festival Obonjan, became best friends, and moved in together a year later. We've gone back to Croatia every summer since, although to a different spot each time, and I’ve only considered returning him once or twice.
Hazel Lubbock, Digital Platform Editor. Follow Hazel’s tweets @hazellubbock.