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Stamp Out T-Shirts! Bring Home Real Souvenirs

I recently returned from two weeks in Europe and the Middle East, and as always when I travel my thoughts were occupied by important issues and weighty matters—specifically, what to bring back as souvenirs.

During my first trip to Europe, while in college, I collected beer coasters from the various bistros, bars, and bodegas I visited, from Copenhagen to Cadiz. But after I got married my wife made me throw them away because, well, they looked like something a wandering college student might bring back from his first trip to Europe.

So then I began collecting Do Not Disturb door signs from the various hotels at which I’ve stayed around the world. They’re flat, so they’re easy to pack in your suitcase, and they’re usually pretty well branded with the hotel name. Sometimes they’re even well designed. But frankly, they look sort of messy when you have four or five hanging from the door to your bedroom at home. I still have a few on my office door at work, but I’ve pretty much nixed that idea.

I later decided to start collecting something more practical, something that would not only remind me of the places I’d visited but would have a utility, a function, a purpose: hotel notepads (above, top). Some of them are especially beautiful, with creative artwork printed on high-quality paper. And I do occasionally use them. But it must strike my colleagues as peculiar to receive a mundane memo from me (“Hey Harry, I need those updated figures asap!”) on stationery from the Oberoi Udaivilas resort in Udaipur, India, or Sweden's Grythyttans Gastgivaregaard. For the most part, the notepads remain unused, filling up a rather large desk drawer and rarely seeing the light of day. (Note to self: Potential Christmas presents, perhaps?)

My current passion is masks. I have samples from Macau and Indonesia, Mexico and Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Thailand, and more. True, they can be bulky to bring home, but they are so much more decorative than notepads. It seems like almost every culture on earth produces idiosyncratic masks, with the possible exception of Scotland. Not only do they look great on my office wall (my wife alleges they don't pair well with our Victorian-style decor at home), but they are visible reminders of some of the fascinating countries I've seen and people I've met.

What do you collect when you travel? Post a comment here or send me a photo of your collection at askmark@aexp.com.

Mark Orwoll is the international editor at Travel + Leisure.

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