My sister is an artist, an incredibly talented painter. I’ve always admired her eye for beauty and color and detail. (And yes, I do come from a very creative family. We’re all creative in our own ways and I love it.) My sister is also a very wise person. Or maybe she’s just a big sister? Either way, we often have deep conversations that give me lots to think about.
On my last visit to South Africa, my sister imparted a little piece of wisdom on me that I have thought about a lot. She said, “Every time you travel, you should buy a piece of art. That’s the best travel souvenir.”
A piece of art is a lot more than a souvenir — it’s a keepsake. It gives you a piece of culture to keep always, especially if it is an important or momentous trip. It’s something to make you smile. Something with a story. Something to treasure.
Before you say something like, “Well, I don’t really have room for a painting,” you should know that art isn’t limited to paintings. Your keepsake piece of art can be anything. It could be a ceramic sculpture, a blown-glass vase, a carved wooden bowl. It could be a pair of beaded earrings, a knit scarf or a leather wallet. It could be a small screenprint, a colorful weaving or a photograph. Your piece of art can be decorative or functional. But above all, it should be something you will put in your home and see or use everyday, reminding you of your special holiday.
You can keep your souvenir for yourself, but these kinds of handmade souvenirs also make really lovely gifts. Just a thought.
Buying art also supports the local, independent artists and designers where you are visiting. Spend some time perusing Etsy and Instagram before you go. Find out if there are any awesome artists whose work you want to check out. Research local galleries and boutiques. You’re certain to find an artist you admire or at least a shop to visit.
What doesn’t count? Stuff from touristy vendors. Skip the crowded markets filled with foreign tourists. Don’t go to the souvenir shops just outside of big attractions. Those places are likely to have lots of items made in China or elsewhere — anywhere but where you are, really. Make your way into the city or countryside.
Some of the best things, though, are the ones you’re not looking for. But you’ll know it when you see it. And you’ll love it forever, always remembering the special moments from that trip. // susannah