Memorabilia Mishmash Part III: The Intelligent Consumer

Jamie Hazlett / Sun Star Columnist
March 1, 2011

Whether you begin your trip with $50 or $50,000, the one thing you are more or less condemned to find plenty of on your vacation is spending opportunities. Traveling guarantees that you will be confronted with schlock-filled storefronts or street-side souvenir sellers aiming to drain your wallet and leave you holding a handful of garbage that you will probably never look upon fondly.  You don’t need a snow globe from Tahiti; not only will you have no place to put it when you get home, it also makes no sense.  Unless you’re buying it specifically for the anachronism, put it back.

Many people make the mistake of thinking they have to bring back something from every place they stop to go to the bathroom on their trip.  Each item should preferably be emblazoned with the locale’s name in an annoyingly bright color or unreadable font, and must be either exorbitantly overpriced so the buyer thinks they’re purchasing quality or so cheap that we crafty tourists won’t be able to wait to brag about the deal we got.  But what are you going to do with what you’re preparing to pay the equivalent of several hours of labor at your boring/annoying/stressful job for?  If you can’t think of a legitimate use or reason why that particular item will bring a smile and good memories to you or the person you’re intending to give it to, walk away.  You can do better.

A big part of intelligent consumerism while on vacation is tailoring your wants to fit your needs.  Are there things that you could use or have wanted for a long time now that your destination is known for producing?  Do you have an interest, skill or talent that is important to you?  Look for things that speak to that need or characteristic.  If you find something that has a history of being made locally in a traditional style, that’s even better.  A musician might plan on buying a Glockenspiel xylophone in Munich; a tea aficionado might search for a unique service set in Tokyo or Beijing.  The possibilities are as endless as your interests.

This isn’t to say that you won’t get pleasure or use out of photo books, funny t-shirts, or other dime-a-dozen items you can pick up on your travels.   Sometimes those things do have sentimental value.  The idea is to shift your focus towards buying mostly or only those items that really move you, the things that you know you will regret not getting for the rest of your life.  There are natural limits to this procedure – namely your budget, since no matter how much owning the original Batmobile might make you grin, you’ll probably never be able to afford it – but practicing it on vacation is a great way to begin using it in everyday life.  Yes, vacation is a time to let go and do what makes you happy, but that’s why it’s such a powerful time to hone skills like smart shopping.  If you can manage to do it on holiday, you can do it anywhere.

If the idea of having things of great sentimental and, in some cases, monetary value around you isn’t enough to get you to give intelligent consumerism a chance, try thinking of it this way: the more money you save by not buying worthless or meaningless garbage at home and abroad, the more money you can put towards planning your next trip.  Besides, who wants to fork over a hundred bucks to ship home a suitcase full of pewter statues of every semi-famous building you saw on your Grand Tour?  The baggage handlers will loathe you eternally, and so will your back after you finish lugging that thing up the stairs.  Don’t be tempted by trash on your next trip – only bring home the things that inspire you.

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