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Takahashi Shōtei, Arriving Ships, 1920s. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Used with permission.

Last time we talked about what to take with us when we go on vacation. This time Id like to talk about what we bring home.

I dont just mean physical souvenirs, although at my age—known to some as the Age of Little Soaps; its a whole era really—I do love a bit of shopping in a novel area, and am no longer embarrassed to say so to my travel companions.

Shopping aside, what I really mean is all the little things that make a vacation so eye-opening. People vary, and this is most noticeable when we get beyond our own precincts.

I always want to remember the surprising little things that people do. What do they eat for breakfast? What do they wear to just browse the bookshop? How do they take in their own city? What can I learn from them?

Some of the things I have learned include: tacos make a really good breakfast, spending the entire day at a museum and having lunch in the café and doing a little work in the courtyard is a thing people are allowed to do, lighting incense and putting it right in the flowerbed is another thing, and grocery-store rosewater makes a perfect toner just as it is.

The “When Home” list

But it’s one thing to experience delights on vacation, where they seem to come by the dozen—it’s another to keep the delight going once home. (I better read that Ross Gay book, eh?) I have found I need to make an effort to remember that Holiday Space and Home Space still share a planet, still share physics and finances and possibilities.

Thus, the “When Home” list, a record of good intentions, and a bit of insurance that I’ll remember what vacation is like and how I can keep the vibe going.

My Santa Fe When Home list, which I’m working through, contains a recipe for a virgin mule, a sketch of a tattoo I might copy, a description of an outfit I saw someone wearing and how to rock it in New England, a link to a crossover jeans tutorial (because I tried on a $400 pair and thought “yeah I could do this”), and this note: Live in creative response! Don’t plan!

Lol. I’ll probably keep planning. And that brings to me this, which I know weve talked about before, but it bears repeating: When we travel, we’re in a very different headspace.

And thats the best headspace from which to plan our next trip. That expansive, free and willing-to-entertain-any-idea headspace. It’s so good to make use of the natural inspiration surrounding us on vacation.

Its also really important not to go too long without a break.

The culture might not remind you, so let me do it: dont come home from holiday without knowing when your next one is. We all need something to look forward to.

What about you? In the comments below, tell us the best new idea youve ever brought home from your travels and why.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Great thoughts on extending the holiday spirit and enjoying things at home. I often find my intentions are good but routines and daily life get in the way. This read re-energized me to take time to enjoy some of my favorite things.

    • I am on vacation reading this, so will start collecting ideas. First on the list: having a coffee first thing in the garden. Completely doable at home.

  • Love this article, reminds me of my vacations. I always try to learn something I can try at home. Sometimes it is a simple recipe from where I went. Presently I am in the country of my birth, Puerto Rico. In many a country crafts and recipes are lost. Many crafts are things in museums. This visit I am learning the bobbin lace called Mundillo. The bobbins by themselves are a beautiful item to have so I got a few. You are never to old to learn something new even if you can’t travel!

    • Amen sister! Have fun learning a new craft.

    • So true!

  • Love all your unique souvenir examples. My tip is to use your instincts! What reminded me was your reference to a virgin mule. On a trip we decided to eat at a nearby chain-ish restaurant. Maybe because its name had the word “tavern” in it, it popped into my head that I should order a Moscow mule. And even though I’d never had a Moscow mule before in my life – nor ever even wanted one! – I knew upon sipping it that it was probably the Best mule I would ever enjoy. (Tried since and failed). Of course use your instincts if you sense danger, too — I don’t want to be responsible for any foolhardiness. Sure would like that virgin recipe, though. More my style these days.

    • Moscow Mule Mocktail
      (Serves two)

      1 C. ginger beer (non-alcoholic variety)
      3 T. lime juice
      1/4 C. simple syrup
      3/4 C. 7-Up or Sprite
      fresh mint & lime wedges for garnish

      Stir ginger beer together with fresh lime juice, simple syrup and 7-up.
      Pour over ice and garnish with fresh mint and lime (immerse both in the drink).

      To cut calories, I use diet ginger beer and diet 7-Up (the small size cans are perfect for this). We like these daily on our week-long cottage stay at a lake where we can sit on the pier and watch the occasional eagle fly overhead. I highly recommend serving with chips and guacamole!

      • If you want to up the ante, get the the Trader Joe jalapeño lime juice! Mucho bueno!

      • Thank you so much for this! I don‘t drink, and this sounds delicious!

  • This seems like a weird thing to take away from a vacation but a travel friend baked an entire bag of potatoes in the oven. I asked why and he told me that after they were baked, he would refrigerate them and then use them for all sorts of potato sides. And they were faster as the potatoes were already cooked! Scoop out the middle and make mashed or twice baked. Dice and make fried potatoes. Endless!

    • I do this too. Not an entire bag! There’s something about the texture of baked potatoes rather than boiled/cooked that makes them taste better in all kinds of potato recipes.

  • In Italy where it stayed light until after 9 PM, we started walking after dinner every night. It was so wonderful; quiet, beautiful soft light and the air smelled so good. We are continuing the after dinner walks at home which is lovely too and reminds us of beautiful Italy.

  • In early June we got back from a Rick Steves tour of Scotland, our first with the RS company. Monday we booked a tour of southern France with him. When my older daughter visits from Berlin with her husband, the next trip together is always in the works. Souvenirs? Something based on hobbies, of course. Knitting, crocheting, sewing, cooking, reading, gardening, photography. Something I can use everyday, which brings the memories back immediately.

  • I long ago graduated to thing I can use as souvenirs — I’ve been combing and brushing my hair remembering Paris for decades. But I love the idea of intangible souvenirs — habits, recipes (not just foodstuffs) … or as the old song goes “the way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the memory of all that, no no they can’t take that away from me” so I can always remember Paris, London, or some other place by little things that I can incorporate into my daily life and routines. Thanks for the idea.

    • Very nice; thoughts are a wonderful thing!!

  • I was just back on Cape Cod and saw a tchotchke with the saying: Happiness comes in waves. I brought it back to CO. I see it every morning and nod to that truth.

  • Such inspiration. Thank you. Usually I just bring back happy memories and a suitcase full of dirty laundry. That will change. Thank you.

  • Marrying a master travel planner (my term for him, nothing official!) was the best thing I ever did. He plans amazing trips, thinks through all the “what ifs” and works on the next one before we leave. I am a lucky, lucky girl to be able to see the world with this gem. And yes, I do try and pack some wonder into my bag for the return trip!

  • Years ago my husband and I started taking one trip a year with good friends to far away places. We all love photography so we take a lot of pictures and take notes on the “stories” that happen along the way. When we get home my husband, bless him!, goes to work finding the best photos and creates a wonderful book, complete with the stories. All four of us agree this is the best souvenir of all — since each time we look at a book we can transport right back to the trip. Although the photography is wonderful, it’s the stories that bring back the memories. And, by the way, as we get older we’ve started scheduling two trips a year. You never know how much longer we’ll all be able to travel together.

  • I suspect many of us buy yarn when we travel that we can’t otherwise get at home. I was in Cape Town this summer and bought some yarn at Cowgirl Blues. My little cousin was with me (we’ve gone on many yarn shopping excursions around the world together). She got to see the dying process, which was cool. I also picked up some cook stitch markers and tapestry needles at a craft store at the V&A waterfront. These “souvenirs” are great tools with lots of happy memories associated with them.

    In other travels I’ve learned: how to make mole over a fire (Oaxaca), how to etch glass (Japan), and how to kayak (Canada). Traveling = being a lifelong learner for me.

  • Live simply. Pare down the lists to essentials. Relax. Breathe. Don’t overbook today

  • Wait, what? “Grocery-store rose water”? Say more, please.

    • It’s awesome. Whole Foods carries the Heritage Store brand–and even there, it’s (relatively) inexpensive.

  • I also enjoy the local bookshops I purchase books by local authors that have a sense of time & place of the area I’m visiting. I’ve found they are the true place as your shop at home will not carry them & as interesting a story you have come across it will be difficult to bring to mind.
    Andulisian Tilework, a variety on New Orleans, & 157 Recipes from Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis are in my library.

  • The best “souvenir” I brought home happened from my veryfirst trip to Europe in 1969, the summer I turned 22. We toured the Alhambra and were told that the Muslim workers deliberately made mistakes because they believed only Allah was perfect. I remember that every time I find mistakes in my knitting that only I will ever know about.

  • For me, a tweak: “Planning is helpful and fun. _Live_ in creative response—be open, interested, and ready to pivot.”

  • Mine is a bit mundane. My husband was awarded a cruise through the Greek Islands from his job at the time. Every evening when we retired to our cabin, we enjoyed a beautiful turn down service complete with a daily gift/souvenir (which ranged from slippers to photos to blue eye charms, etc.). It came to be that we eagerly anticipated what we might find at the end of each day. We were fairly young at the time and not diligent house keepers. After that trip we started making our bed at home every morning because of how luxurious it felt to climb into a made up bed each night. Twenty some years later, we’re still doing it. We had been chronic “messy bedders” prior to the trip. You’ve inspired me to include an occasional gift on the pillow to revive the vacation vibe of that incredible experience (a poem, a chocolate, new PJs…lots of ideas!). Thank you!

  • Many years ago on my first trip to France, I learned that I can change my responses to things that irk me. Back then, smelling cigarette smoke bothered me a lot. It annoyed me and turned me grumpy and the guide books said that it would often be in the air in France. I didn’t want to poison a precious French instant mentally kvetching about smoke. So–I decided that nothing about it would bother me in France. I didn’t invent reasons why it wouldn’t; I just plain decided, very firmly, that it wouldn’t. It didn’t! And it still doesn’t!

    The idea sounds odd but it worked for me. It still comes in handy from time to time. 🙂

    • This is an excellent example of how to rewire your brain! You can use your executive function (frontal lobes, plus most of verbal, plan-making left brain) to direct your limbic system (most ancient part of human brain, deeply connected to smells, think survival) and right brain (less verbal, more whole picture) to choose another response to any stimulus. In this case, cigarette smoke. You can practice this while walking down the laundry detergent aisle in your local grocery store. Try smiling and saying to yourself, “Wow everything smells so fresh and clean!” I think travel is an easy rewire for most of us, bec it allows us to perceive things differently. Same brain, new response. It’s a great idea to carry that forth into our routine lives. Thanks Max! Brilliant again!

  • I used to buy a grocery bag when we grocery shopped on our trips. They are an incredibly cheap souvenir, and very useful. I am not a big tchotchke person.

    A framed photo of a particularly memorable time is also a great reminder. We have a pic of our kids delightedly (is that a word?!) feeding the pigeons at the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

  • One of the MOST important and TRUTHS I learned in my second year of college. It was a Values Clarification class. I mean, at 19, ??? WHAT IS THAT?


  • Thanks for this important PSA!

    Go out of one’s way to buy the better bread or coffee (or tea or cheese or vegetables …) especially from a local source/grower/roaster.

    Make time for the aperitivo pause in the late afternoon – even if just 20 or 30 minutes to catch up, chat and have a light snack. Even on a weekday.

  • Thank you so much Diane for the mocktail recipe! I had a busy day (preparing for a trip, of all things) and didn’t have time to check back to see if someone might have provided one. I have saved it to my computer so it will be with me wherever I go (family get-togethers most likely) as well as at home. Going to read all the rest of those delicious travel comments tomorrow morning with my coffee.

  • OH ! How very true! Although I have moved from Colorado to return to Oregon, there is an enormous difference between spending five days on the Coast and returning to Eugene. How could the difference between 100-200 miles make such a difference in the way that I see the world ? Hearing the Ocean and the sense in the air make my Holiday.
    Now my plan is to wander further north to see what treasures are still to be discovered.

  • I always come home from traveling wanting to knit or crochet something inspired by what I’ve seen – whether it’s the colors of nature on a camping trip, the brightly colored purses from El Salvador, or tatted lace inspired by something my grandmother made before I was born. (Maybe MDK could do a post on tatting some time? Pretty please?)

  • Using the physical souvenirs we have brought home. The hoop earrings I bought in Switzerland on a trip with my mother, lovely body lotion from a small shop found in Vermont while camping, the BEST salsa sauce from Tucson, wearing my Irish sweater that Mom bought me while shopping in Ireland; all evoke happy thoughts and memories long after the trips were over.

  • Lighting incense and putting it in your garden? I’ve never heard of that, but I’m buying some incense today! No matter where we travel, domestic or foreign we always end up sitting outside at a table enjoying a beverage and watching the people. Or it may be on the rooftop of a hotel enjoying a sunset. So we keep that vibe going all summer and into fall by enjoying our patio in our little yard as much as possible. We call it the Bistro; a table, four chairs and an umbrella (that has seen many summers). Two foldable chaise lounge chairs (the aluminum/webbed kind) and a little table. Assuming the weather allows it, we enjoy morning coffee out there, a light lunch sometimes, the reading hour in the afternoon, a cocktail hour or maybe even dinner if the bugs allow. We’re heading to NYC in the fall, and I know we’ll be sitting outside somewhere at some point. Off to buy that incense!

  • Wonderful. I come home with pictures from on my phone like so many people and yes, I take the fountain or the outside of the church or castle. But I turn around and take a photo in the opposite direction, the cat on the street, the dog asleep under the table, the menu, my beverage glimmering in the sun, the inside of the cafe, looking out the front window, the small niche in the church while others are capturing the stain glass windows (I do capture those as well). Usually on a three week trip to Europe I come home with 3300 pictures. And I can remember my days. While taking photos, I put a cation under them while the tour guide is talking. I capture a unique fact about the structure, the war hero or the small street with its unique lighting and shadows. Yes, I have my next trip planned for the fall of 2924, and four trips already planned and paid for for 2025. Just this past week friends from 300 miles away called and asked about my travel plans for February 2026. So here we go .

  • That it is a valid use of your time just to sit and read. I read a lot on holiday, but when at home it’s in little pockets: just before I go to sleep, just before I get up, my lunch break, waiting rooms. Why not spend an hour or two reading on a weekend afternoon – not as a time-filler, but just because you like it?

  • When I got back from a beach vacation, I told my manager, “Look. I don’t want to be here. I’m not going to pretend I want to be here. It would be best if you just stay away from me for a couple weeks.” [She laughed at me and said, “fat chance.”]

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