5 favourite travel souvenirs and their stories


To me traveling is like going out there on a mission to collect moments. I leave in excitement and somewhat uncertainty and come back, having gathered all those new experiences and ideas. Whatever may have happened en route, I know more than before. About myself, about others, about this beautiful and strange planet we all live on. I carry this very individual blend of a foreign place’s scents, sounds and emotions with me. From now on until… basically forever. I’m toting it back into my comfort zone like a precious gift to unpack. As much as I try to safely store all those memories in my brain and heart, I also really dig the tangible stuff, the physical memories. Because we all need a friendly reminder from time to time. Because our minds may get messed up, may trick us at some point. And because I just love souvenirs. For the smile on my face when I pass my messy, colourful shelves and for the smiles of my favourite people when they’re being gifted. Sharing souvenirs is sharing stories, snippets of my experiences abroad. And sharing is important. So here are 5 of my favourite souvenirs; I’m excited to hear about yours.


Scotland – the minty moss
I was invited to join a family gathering in a castle-like, extremely British and elegant house in the Scottish woods and my heart was filled with excitement. I had never been to Scotland before; I had only read some very cheeky books in my early adolescence that took place in ancient Scotland and involved a lot of wild sex in the woods. So needless to say, from what I’d read, I imagined Scotland to be quite a magical place. Despite the fact that I did not come across any muscular, red-haired men, casually (and nakedly) strolling through the forest, good old Scotland did not disappoint me. Not at all. Magic all the way. We scratched our arms collecting Scots pine needles to make syrup, hopped into the ice-cold crystal-clear lake water, fell in love with the glittering black soil and the old snaggy trees and simply could not stop admiring nature for its beauty. The horizon seemed purple and the mountains were of an iridescent reddish colour that looked like someone really overdid it with the saturation curve in Photoshop. The thing that fascinated me the most was the deeply mint-coloured, fluffy moss, that covered mostly all the trees and made them look even more impressive. I had to take a piece home to remember. It even still smells like Scotland…




Istanbul – the spice blender
Things at home were quite confusing and I was in serious need of a time out – just some new colours and other thoughts than the ones, that were going around in my mind in circles. The Google Flights “I’m feeling lucky” button was my favourite thing to press during those days and I put up a giant map of the world directly in front of my bed just for the sake of dreaming away. At some point I booked a flight to Istanbul. Because it felt right. It was. Never before had I been to a place so insanely busy, loud and vibrant, that paradoxically managed to calm me down this much. I let go, soaked up the deep blue light, the smell of spices, the peoples smiles. I had plenty of tea with strangers and the most amazing conversations without actually speaking any common language. I admired the city’s buzz sitting on its rooftops, warming my hands with a cup of turkish coffee, drank the freshest pomegranate juice every day, bought a lot of fabrics I never used (but totally wanted to make myself a shirt out of when I got them) and stumbled across this beautiful spice grinder that immediately spoke to me. The whimsical part of myself took it home to literally spice things up. And in a way it did. On a trivial side note it also grinds all the chilies I grow on my window bench just perfectly. Quite a good purchase!




Southern France – the snake
I guess I fell in love with travelling on my family’s long camping trips to the South of France. We would always go there by car, a small dirty whitish Opel car, that we loved and cherished, but  that definitely was not built to host a whole family and their intense amount of camping gear. Me and my sister weren’t bothered at all by the lack of foot space though. In my case quite the opposite – I even enjoyed the adventurously uncomfortable feeling, finding it weirdly cosy. I loved those long drives, sinking deep into the soft, grey polyester seats, listening to Eric Clapton mix tapes and wallowing in thrilling anticipation. I still know this feeling of excitement, when travelling so well. How I longed for that moment of arrival, of smelling the aromatic air, filled with the rattle of cicadas and the wind in the pine trees – because I knew we had an amazing week ahead. We always met my aunt, uncle and cousins at the campsite and for the next week us kids would turn the whole thing into a giant playground. Everything around us seemed special – different than at home and therefore beyond exciting. We particularly loved building massive zoos, turning nature’s materials into animal families, houses and corrals. A pine cone easily resembled a seal and with some paint on it a former branch was turned into a snake. This neon green, wooden snake is one of my oldest souvenirs, I’ve kept it over all those years to remind me of those magical weeks we had, of the spirit of discovery that I think of as so important and never want to lose.


New York – the whale
It was my first time in New York and I could not stop staring at everything around me. Even just the blink of an eye seemed too long with eyes closed. I did not want to miss out, did not want to sleep. What a cliche! I secretly laughed at myself, but just went with it. There were no plans, I just wandered around, my mind aroused, my heart beating fast. Some scenes of my trip seemed like a movie to me, as if I was watching myself from the outside, having coffee with strangers and sugary granola bars on the pavement. It was beautiful, weirdly unreal. One day I strolled through a flea market somewhere in Brooklyn by the water, together with a girl I just met. Her hair was blue (what else) and the grin on her face huge. In a dirty box, full of old plastic soldiers, I found a little pottery whale. It emerged delicately from its surrounding, a shimmering blue. I could not help but rescue it and take it home. A new home for a kitschy whale figurine and a well-spent dollar, that always reminds me of those wonderful first days in New York.



Toronto – the white squirrel
It was one of the last days of my first long stay in Toronto and I was torn between crying out loud and constantly laughing. Not because I wanted to leave but – cheesy fun fact – out of gratitude. Moving to Canada and living there for a while enabled me to access a part of myself that I did not know so well before and that I got to know better during my stay. Thankfully. I lived very close to Trinity Bellwoods, a park that’s famous for (not so) stealthy public drinking and being home to a white squirrel. The white squirrel. All I wanted was to meet this magical creature. And I just never did. Until that particular day, where it casually climbed a tree right in front of me, just like all its infamous grey and black little friends. Unpretentious, all of a sudden, a very likeable little animal. I smiled, notionally said thank you for the absolution to leave and got a small, constantly nodding white squirrel figurine the next day. To remember to say yes to the unknown.




All photos by Tabea Mathern