Some insight into the pros and cons of travel souvenirs

I recently read with some interest a good Skift (the American travel publication) article about Souvenirs. It was pretty much a look at the good, the bad and let’s face it, in the case of souvenirs, sometimes the downright ugly of these mementoes that we tend to pick up on our travels. I recently travelled to Italy and it’s plain to see why it is currently rated as the World’s top-rated travel destination. It is a beautiful and fascinating place steeped in history and culture and without a doubt, one is tempted to take a little piece of this home with you. Unfortunately, a lot of what you find on the shelves in Europe is anything but authentic to the region and can very easily be Chinese knock-offs with very little value.

So, what’s the problem? – The cons…

Apart from the fact that millions of people spend a lot of money buying useless artefacts apparently some of these cheap souvenirs can be damaging to the environment. In the article, Matt Berna, president of Americas for Intrepid Travel said “Unused souvenirs can damage the environment. If the souvenir is plastic and cheap, it’s likely to end up in a landfill”. So, in essence, what it’s important to try to avoid buying cheap plastic knock-offs and rather opt for something meaningful – and to try to avoid buying what you are unlikely to keep. As Berna says, “What increases the likelihood of use of a souvenir after purchase is their functionality or its meaningfulness to the traveller. People are more likely to value a product that is handcrafted and unique to the destination or a souvenir they helped create” – I couldn’t agree more!

The pros

I, and many others like me I’m sure, look at the souvenirs I have retained from my many travels and realise that they were either purchased at a fairly high price because they are a thing of great beauty and worth, or they are things of great personal meaning. A magnificent vase that sits as a centrepiece in one’s living room as a reminder of a trip to Florence or a magnificently beaded piece of African artwork that adorns a wall in the bedroom reminding one of watching an exquisite sunset in the bush will always be treasured and can never be said to be a threat to sustainability.

We should also never forget the vital importance of our continuing to buy souvenirs. We have a huge advantage here in Africa of knowing that most of the souvenirs are genuinely handmade and this is shown by the many artists that sit and create their pieces as they sell them. It can even happen that if you buy something in an upmarket curio shop in the city when you go into the bush you will see somebody making it, and selling it a bit cheaper! Let us never forget that the creation and the sale of curios is an essential part of African culture for it is not only a financial means to an end, but is an expression of art, crafts and sculpture of a kind that is totally unique to this part of the World.

Be part of the solution

So, even if it is just a small trinket that reminds us of a special moment in our travels, let’s continue to support those who make these things and the communities whose livelihood is dependent on our tourism industry. Handmade crafts are as African as the “Big 5” and the bush itself, so by all means let’s learn to buy wisely and meaningfully, keeping sustainability in mind, but whatever we do – let’s continue to buy and treasure those special souvenirs!LIDIA FOLLI



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