Collectibles For Your Trip Around The World

In just a few days, the Fall 2015 class of Semester at Sea will embark on their once-in-a-lifetime journey around the world. They will be the first to sail on the new Campus, the World Odyssey, and I may admit to some jealous-sea. (#sorrynotsorry)

A very clear memory for me about SAS was the weight of cost during all the excitement of seeing the world. It was a monumental effort to go on SAS at all, and I wanted to walk away with something tangible I could remember, but that wouldn’t leave me broke. As people wiser than me often remind me: it’s the experiences you bring home that matter most.

collecting semesteratsea

I went on SAS fully intending to buy a lapel pin at every port. Cheap, small, and so very Rotary International. I did not for a second think that I would have trouble finding them, but I could not find one in Burma/Myanmar OR India OR Ghana. (Some of my fellow SASers did. Lucky bastards.)

Luckily I unexpectedly started collecting something else (nobody who knows me was surprised though) – BOOKS! But I’ve already written about that before. This post is about other suggestions, with the help of many intrepid travelers who sailed with me. I have tried to organise these from least expensive to most.

1. Your own photos – my favourite keepsakes from the voyage are photos I took, or my friends took while we were hanging out. A lot more REAL than any of the other souvenirs I have. Take pictures with your phone, or a cheap little camera.

I took a photo of the ocean from our cabin window every single day of Semester at Sea. Some of them were fuzzy, but they are special to me as they chronicle the voyage as I saw it every morning.

Some people took the same photo in every country (doing something significant, etc). If you have the funds, sure, you might want to splurge on something with better specs; but trust me: one day when your grandkids are paging through your albums, they aren’t going to complain about the photo quality.

My shipboard friend, Jen. Click for her blog.

2. Souvenir Jars – you might collect sea sand, shells, or anything else. The most costly thing will end up being the jars, and I’m certain one can find cheap ones at various outlets. Via Martha Stewart.good-things-vacation-jars-md108770-145_vert3. Canned Air – This is quite cute and you can make it yourself. It’s really just a memory, the kind of thing you might buy at a souvenir shop, but a sweet idea. Again, cost would depend on the container you get.  Maybe you’re artsy and you have bunches of these tins just lying around! CON: having to carry containers in your luggage. Perhaps not heavy, but bulky.4. Flags, shot glasses, magnets – You will find them in all countries to varying degrees because all countries have some patriotism, but they can also be fairly expensive if you buy from typical souvenir shops. If you purchase them from vendors off the street, remember to bargain! In Ghana, we could even barter. (Thanks to EricaNicole and Alice for sharing their pictures. Nicole noted that one of her magnets from Myanmar broke in transit.)

5. Currency – considering you will probably need money in every country, you may as well keep change in every country. I still have lots of coins that I fully intend to turn into a bracelet… some day.

Like this one from What I Wore - click for link!
Like this one from What I Wore – click for link!

6. Postcards – easy and gorgeous. You will find them in all countries. Small enough not to ruin your luggage space. Special if you send them to friends and family from various countries, but they don’t always reach their destination. (The postcards I sent from Hawaii still haven’t reached their destinations… two and a half years later.)

7. Magazines – one class my roommate was in actually had to read a magazine in every country, so whenever she was done with her local magazine, I got to read it. CON: sometimes expensive, heavy, and prone to damage.

8. Candies! – PRO: delicious CON: not all candies are delicious. But, that certainly adds to the experience. And once they’re gone… they’re gone. I kept my coconut candies from Vietnam too long, and they went bad. Include in this trips to the grocery store in every country and you’re sure to feel immersed. (In China I bought a toothbrush because… I don’t know. It was cute. And I had friends who bought chopsticks in each country. Fun fact: there are different kinds of chopsticks.)

9. Bracelets – I did actually successfully buy a bracelet in every country. Not all of them lasted (textile bracelets don’t do well when you wear them for long periods). They can range from cheap to pricey. Suggestion: if you are a bracelet person, consider traveling with a bunch on bracelets from your own country that you are willing to trade. People like trading. As Matador postulates, bracelets are the new passport stamps.


10. More books – Rico and his wife (who did audiovisuals on our voyage, and many other things, and brought their gorgeous kids along) bought a kid’s book in each country. Some voyager’s tried to buy a copy of their favourite books (Madeline, Pride and Prejudice) in each country’s native language, but many encountered some difficulty. Says Rico, “It has been an amazing supplement for the kids experience, even if they don’t know the language!”

Children's books around the world, courtesy of Rico Andrade.
Children’s books around the world, courtesy of Rico Andrade.

11. Bottom line: Be creative! We had voyagers who collected guitar picks, fabric (to make a quilt) and even paintings. Ultimately, you want to remember your experience fondly, and that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on collectibles. I kept all my maps from the various countries because one of my favourite memories is walking through foreign cities, and getting pleasantly lost. If you end up collecting something, let it be fun to collect, and fond to remember.

Dear Nancy, who became a mentor both on the ship and off.
Dear Nancy, who became a mentor both on the ship and off.

Do you collect anything when you travel, or do you prefer the minimalist way of life?


  1. These are great ideas, especially the bracelet using coins. Love it. I also collect anything from key holders, post cards & blank cards where I ask natives to write in their language a lovely quote/note.

  2. Oh Mariechen, I love how many incredible memories you have brought back with this post. Thank you thank you thank you! One of the truly wonderful gifts of the SAS (or any travel) experience is how it keeps enriching your life for ever after. From the joy you receive through those memories to the understanding and wisdom you gain from even the most difficult of situations you encountered to the enduring warmth of the friendships you made. I count your friendship one of my treasures, thank you again!!!!
    ❤️ Nancy

  3. I’ve been to 20 countries and wish I was more consistent in souvenir gathering! However, I do make it a point to buy a book from each country, and I keep local cafe/grocery/museum receipts and postcards in the book as bookmarks and reminders for all the places I toted my books around.

    I also keep currency around 1) as a souvenir and 2) as an incentive/reminder that I need to go back to spend it!

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