Print with blue mountains
Art,  Culture & tradition

Dust collectors? Or precious memories?

None of us are able, at the moment, to gather new travel memories. Perhaps for that reason, the recollections of travels past become all the more precious. And what better way to trigger these memories than browsing through your mementos – old photographs, scrapbooks perhaps, and for those of us who buy them, objects and souvenirs.

I have to confess from the start that I pinched the idea for this post from my great friend Sylvia who wrote a wonderful blog post, ‘A journey around my room’. In it she describes how she was inspired by Xavier de Maistre’s 1790 satire, ‘Voyage autour de ma chambre’ (‘A Journey Round My Room’) to take us on a tour of her den where she displays all her holiday souvenirs.

There are those who will argue that these objects are mere dust-collectors. We have photos to remind us of our travels, after all (often, these days, far too many photos!) And we don’t need ‘things’ to bring back our most precious memories. Or do we?

Young Buddha's head
From Goa

After all, if I didn’t see, every day, this wooden carving of a young Buddha, how often would I recall the man who sold it to us after several evenings of drinking in the bar next door to his shop in Goa. Our conversations with him finally drew us inside to browse and purchase. And not just our Buddha but also the papier maché Christmas tree ornaments, stars and moons, that now hang in our kitchen.

If I had to categorise our purchases I would say they fall into two types, the purely decorative and the practical. I could subdivide the former into pictures and ornaments; while the latter include cushion covers, mats and throws as well as clothing and jewellery. Unlike Sylvia, and de Maistre, a tour of these souvenirs will take us not around a single room but throughout our small house. But let us start in the lounge.


The print from Havana is one of the first such souvenirs we bought. The catch with buying pictures is that we usually have to pay more at home to have them framed than we do for the picture itself; but that hasn’t deterred me from buying them!

My other favourite picture is the small one from Otavalo Market. It’s unusual in that it’s made from embossed leather. The symbol, we were told, is a Pre-Columbian one meaning ‘good energy’.

Much like the Cuban print, the wooden figure from Bali was our first purchase of a carving. As you can see we have bought a number of others since, mainly (but not all) of wood. Unlike pictures they don’t need framing, but they can be a bit delicate and harder to pack.

I love my ‘Japanese corner’ too, especially the carved red wood plate from Nikko. We watched the master craftsman in action and I just had to have one of his pieces! Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of him, as I’d gone back to the shop to make the purchase while Chris waited with all our bags, including my camera, at the station. But I do have one of the equally skilled craftsman in Hakone who made our ‘secret box’.

Man with intricate wood pieces
Secret box maker in Hakone

The collection of cushion covers started with the one from Samarkand and has grown since. They are nice and easy to pack (unless you buy a whole cushion as we did once in Jamaica, which took some squeezing into a suitcase!) But they don’t last forever. The Jamaican one got tatty and was thrown away last year, when we replaced it with the one from Luang Prabang.

Dining room

There are fewer things to see in the next-door dining room.

An incense burner from Oman and pottery from Acoma Pueblo

The little (some would say miniature) plate from Acoma Pueblo is a real favourite. The pottery work there is exquisite. I would have liked to have bought a bigger piece, but it isn’t cheap. The thought of spending a lot of money on something that could get broken on the journey home was enough to persuade me that this smaller item would be the best choice.


The hall is a treasure trove of pictures, and some other items, bought all over the world.

Favourites here include the beautiful print we bought in Takayama, at the top of this page. That photo was taken in the shop where we bought it. I’d only gone in to look at their greetings cards! Unusually we bought this one already framed. It was reasonably priced considering the frame was included and would have worked out much more expensive to have framed at home.

We bought the painting from Samarkand in the Bibi Khanoum Mosque. The artist was seated in the courtyard, painting these detailed images of the beautiful blue tiles to be seen all over Uzbekistan. So this was a perfect souvenir and very inexpensive for an original art-work.

Man painting
The artist at work

The Garnet Tobacco painting was another serendipitous impulse buy. We were driving across Vancouver island and passed a sign advertising First Nations art. There was a large almost empty car-park and a nearly as large hanger-like building. We thought it would be interesting to browse but had no intention of buying – until I fell for this piece! After returning home I researched the painter. I found out that Garnet Tobacco is a very highly rated artist whose works command high prices, so we felt we had got a bargain.

Man wrapped in a red blanket
Signing our picture

We bought the small hippo collage at Karen Blixen’s house just outside Nairobi. A young artist, Tim, was displaying his work on the veranda. We took a liking to him and his work. So we bought this small handmade card to frame, which he kindly offered to sign. The hippo was a nice reminder of the many we had seen earlier on that trip, in Botswana.

I also have to mention the semi-abstract painting of an Austrian village. We bought this while on a lovely day out with a good friend, Karl. He is sadly no longer with us, having succumbed to cancer some years ago, so this is a special memory.

There are also some carvings on a bookcase on the landing. I bought the soapstone totem pole carving on a school camping trip in Canada as a gift for my parents. When we cleared their house this was one of the first items I ‘rescued’, along with the stone musician in the lounge. This my parents themselves bought when we took our first family holiday abroad, visiting relatives in Germany. They called him Fritz and so do I!


It is only recently that our collection has spread to the bedroom, prompted in part by a lack of space elsewhere (!), and also by the new furniture we had fitted. We incorporated some shelves especially to display a few items, most of them recent purchases.


Perhaps our largest collection, but of the smallest objects, is to be found in the kitchen. Its walls are adorned with small pictures and its shelves with little hanging items.

The little green woven square is a special memento of our encounter with Leo, whom I wrote about elsewhere in this blog.

And the tiny carved nut is a souvenir from Namibia, carved by a very resourceful guide at the Petrified Forest in Damaraland. Our guide there told us about his life looking after elderly relatives on a farm a couple of miles away. He pointed out the farm and the rough walk he had to take to and from the house several times a day. As we walked and talked, he carved this Malakani nut. We’d been offered these elsewhere, and resisted. But this one was very well done, with a number of animals and my name, so we agreed to buy it in addition to giving him a good tip. When we returned to the car-park he took us aside to pay for the nut, away from the view of the official souvenir stall. And the spot he chose to complete the transaction was …

Two men by a stone wall
Our guide at the Petrified Forest, Namibia

… beside his own very good car. So much for the long daily walks in the hot sun! But it made a good story, and a lovely souvenir of our time in Namibia.

So many souvenirs, so many memories. And as soon as we are able to travel again we will for sure start collecting both again.


I’m returning to this post to note that now travel is again possible, of course we are starting to collect more memories and more souvenirs. Our latest finds include this pretty little tile from an artisan shop in Seville, and a carved mask bought at one of our hotels in Costa Rica.

With this update I’m linking to Ann-Christine’s current Lens Artist’s Challenge theme of Favourite Finds. These are the items I treasure most in my home, not just for themselves but for the memories they evoke.


  • Marsha

    Your home collections are so varied and beautiful, Sarah. You have done a great deal more exotic traveling than I have. You also have them displayed so well. It was such an honor to go through your home like that. This is a beautiful post. I think it might make a fun challenge – Souvenir Challenge. You have things categorized by room. You could invite people to share their rooms, or you could do it by country. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I’m going to follow your links now. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Marsha, I’m so happy you enjoyed this. And yes, it could be a fun challenge – as you’ll have seen, I pinched the idea from a friend so do feel free to pinch it if you’d like to include it as a challenge idea. I don’t think I’ll be starting to run any challenges any time soon – I have such a backlog of material I’d love to share 😄

      • Marsha

        Challenges take a lot of work, and you have to be motivated to do them. Otherwise they would be a chore. It takes a lot of follow-up, too. 🙂

  • rosalieann37

    An eclectic collection. I think I have only one thing displayed in my home and that’s a small print I bought in Barbados 20 years ago of a chattel house. There’s also a map of our journey when we rented a sailboat in the BVI. I just don’t have room on my walls for more
    Buying clothes can be tricky – something really unusual will excite comment the first time you wear it. (What a gorgeous dress) and the second time you wear it. (I love that dress on you), but the third time it would be in thoughts (there’s that dress again)

    • Sarah Wilkie

      You’re right about clothing Rosalie. I’ve bought a few things in the past that just didn’t work when I got them home – and the same goes for jewellery! But I’ve learned from my mistakes and recent purchases have been worn a lot – a cotton shirt from Kerala, a silk mix one from Hoi An 🙂

  • VO

    What a fabulous idea!!!!!! Inspiration trigger! Thank you for that.
    Your home seems to be filled with items which would make me want to have a guided tour as if in a museum… I love homes filled with the dweller’s stories.

  • margaret21

    That’s a lovely collection which must bring so many memories to the fore. Oddly for a hoarder, I don’t tend to collect ‘things’ while travelling, just photos.

  • starship VT

    Sarah, thanks so much for the acknowledgement! I’ve enjoyed reading this post and having a look around at your own special souvenirs which I like very much — the cushion covers, tiny figurines, carvings and framed art are my favorites — as well as the stories attached. I would have added photos of more souvenirs scattered around our home, but my blog would have been the length of a novelette! I’m so glad we share a passion for travel and all that comes with it!!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha, yes I know what you mean about leaving some souvenirs out! At one point I was planning to include some photos of a few bits of jewellery that I’ve bought on recent trips (my older items were sadly stolen when we were burgled some years ago) but I realised that would be too much, and I only have about half of our little kitchen pictures etc. Thank you again for the inspiration 🙂

  • Natalie

    Fabulous look around your ‘rooms’
    Love the cushion covers and the scissors. The little mats are exactly like ours from Chiang Mai in Thailand.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Natalie 🙂 I got my elephant coasters at Siem Reap airport last year. I bought a set with brown trim for my sister, to match her decor, then while we were still waiting for her flight I decided to go back to the shop for a second set for us to keep!

  • SandyL

    Your home looks like one that I’d admire and envy! Im no good at decorating or displaying so I avoid buying souvenirs. Your home makes me think I should’ve 😉 Thanks for sharing

  • Simone

    So nice to be surrounded by all those travel memories! I have mine as well spread throughout the house, bringing so many happy memories. I often regret not bringing back home more. And such a coincidence, I have the exact same coasters on my table! (bottom center one) I bought them in Lima though 🙂

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