Why I Started Buying Books On All My Trips — And How I Discovered They're The Perfect Travel Souvenirs
There are few things I appreciate more in this world than traveling somewhere new or reading something great. That is why I always buy books as souvenirs when I travel. Better than any typical "I Love [Insert Location Here]" t-shirt or tacky branded glassware, my collection of novels from across the country and around the world remind me of my incredible adventures.
I love to travel, and like most people who visit a new place, I like to take a little something home with me to help me remember my trip. For years, I amassed an unruly collection of stereotypical souvenirs — magnets, key chains, shot glasses, t-shirts, mugs, snow globes — but during a big move a few years ago, I found myself staring at my keepsakes and wondering, "Do I really need to take all of this junk with me?" Sure, the chipped glassware and faded sweatshirts were nice reminders of all of the incredible places I have been, but were they really worth packing up, lugging across the state, and finding space for in my new home? The answer I settled on was a resounding "no," so I rid myself of decades of the cheap mementos and made a vow to myself that, on my next trip, I would buy something truly meaningful, something I would use and appreciate and actually enjoy. Flash forward to three years later, and I have amassed an entire library of books from everywhere I've traveled, one that I plan to add to every time I take a trip.
It started in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the whole world, and one I try and visit every year so I can not only catch up with my best friend from college, but so I can make my annual pilgrimage City Lights Books. A famous literary meeting place that's had its doors open since the 1950s, it is perhaps one of the most well-known bookstores in the United States — one that tourists from all over the world visit, including this wandering bibliophile. As I browsed the shelves looking for something to read during my visit, my friend asked me if I wanted to do a little souvenir shopping after we left the bookstore. In that moment, I knew I wouldn’t need to go to anywhere else to get my San Francisco keepsake, because the only memento I needed was the book in my hands: Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution by Brenda Knight. On the inside cover, I wrote the date I purchased the book and the name of the store I bought it in, and Women of the Beat Generation became the first of many book souvenirs I would come to own and love.
What started out as a nerdy way to show my love for travel and reading, buying books as souvenirs has become something of a passion of mine. Not only does it give me another excuse to expand my home library, but it gives me a chance to see the best every new city I visit has to offer: their literary scene. In my travels across the United States and abroad, I’ve found the most charming bookstores and the most delightful people, all of whom have my same love for the written word, not to mention some insider knowledge of the place they call home.
During a girls' trip in New Orleans, I bought a beautiful hardcover edition of the Snopes trilogy at Faulkner House Books. While travelling with friends in the Florida Keys, I picked up a copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway at the author's famous home and museum. On my annual pilgrimage to Cape Cod last summer, I treated myself to a new paperback copy of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, at a beautiful independent bookstore on Main Street in Orleans. This year, I snagged a copy of Melissa Broder's The Pisces at the Provincetown Bookshop, a fitting purchase, I thought, for my weekend at the sea.
I got my paperback of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic in Portland, Maine, and my beloved hardcover of David Sedaris’s diaries, Theft by Finding, in Portland, Oregon. My first volume of Rupi Kaur’s poetry is from Stowe, Vermont, and my umpteenth copy of We Should All Be Feminists was picked up in Denver, Colorado. My Spanish edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is from Costa Rica, and my French version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is from Montreal. To me, these books are better than any key chain, any coffee mug, any branded t-shirt I could have ever found. They’re truly meaningful souvenirs, the kind I like to display proudly on a bookshelf, to revisit when I’m itching for adventure, to share with friends who want to know where I’ve been and what I’ve read. Unlike my old Las Vegas shot glass or my Chicago magnet set, they don’t just remind me of where I’ve been, but who I was when I went there, and that is something truly special.
As of this writing, I am living in Madrid for the summer, another new city I’ve fallen madly in love with. When I walk through it’s grand plazas and along it’s bustling streets, I can see shop after shop filled with painted fans, Flamenco dresses, and keepsake bills of every variety, but I know I won’t be going home with any of it. When I leave in September, my souvenir will be, as it always will be, a book. The only question left to answer is, "which one?"