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Things to bring back with you when travelling to interesting places!

When you visit an exotic locality, make sure you bring back something interesting that's special. It should be something that's archetypal to the place, and also it's worthwhile thinking about whether it is a good choice. For example, if you visit the Sahara desert, for goodness sakes make sure you bring back a sample of SAND! This, soil-sample retrieval, is a well-respected technique as per the NASA Apollo moon missions, and is a darn sight better than being back some touristy tat!

For example, if you visit Panama, what's the obvious thing to bring back:

* A hat - well, not bad. Panama is known for Panama hats, but it is fairly obvious as a choice, and you can see which people are the tourists in Tocumen International Airport in Panama. By the way, genuine Panama Hats are actually made in Ecuador.

* A test-tube or bottle full of water from the Panama Canal. That's much more original, and besides, if you've got a bottle and plenty of spare test-tubes, then unlike a HAT, you can give away samples to your friends.

* Cheap key-ring with "Panama" on. Well, OK, but remember, these things are so cheap that they are made in China, regardless of the tourist destination.

* A test-tube sample of sand from the beach with some sea-water included. Perfect.

Actually, the beach samples are perfect, for almost any location. Take along some bottles or culture-tubes, and grab a sample. NASA take2. Geologically these things are virtually impossible to fake. I have samples from Sri Lanka which are geologically unmistakable as the coast of the Indian Ocean!

* Note that a "culture tube" is a Pyrex glass tube, as per a test-tube, but with a screw-cap, so your sample can be sealed.

Oh, if only I'd got a soil-sample of Tabacon, the spa resort near Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica! It would be a classic! However, I was too busy packing my kit to remember to pack the soil-sample-and-return tubes!

Please DO beware of cheap tourist tat. It is often made in China and exported around the world, so these items are representative of a homogeneous world, not a locally typical world! In fact, it's such a classic, that some people have become "collectors of tourist tat", ie things such as touristy keyrings, which are almost universally made in China and yet are available worldwide with [location] printed on them!

Try to think logically about what the place is famous worldwide for, so, for example, if you're visiting Antarctica, for goodness sakes bring back some snow. OK, it will have melted by the time you get home, but you can still say it is genuine Antarctican Snow. If the place you're visiting is famous for tea or coffee, bring back some tea / coffee appropriately, eg. India, China, Sri Lanka for tea, and Costa Rica, Columbia, for coffee. If you visit the United States, bring back a dollar note, an example of the American Dream. Tourist souvenirs of the Statue of Liberty are also available, but they vary in quality, whereas dollar notes always smell the same. After the futile wars the USA had in the early zero-zeros decade, you can get a dollar note for about 60 pence UK (subject to currency fluctuation). You can afford to give them away to your friends! This helps an ailing economy as well as cheering people up. Same applies to the Belize Currency, which also has its problems, because the country is basically corrupt.

If you visit the UK, there are plenty of quintessentially British things you can collect as souvenirs. If you visit London, a Tube Map (circuit diagram style classic diagram of the London Underground train system) is a must! Also see London Souvenir Shop (actually, I'm not sure they still have an affiliate program).

Newspapers, local newspapers, in any place in the world, are a worthwhile collectable souvenir! If you don't speak the language, then it makes the newspaper especially exotic and special!

Try to find things which are typical of the place you are visiting! I mean, imagine you're a future astronaut, visiting an alien world, and you want to pick up something to take back home with you to help to pay for the space mission. Choose something stereotypical of the place. A soil sample, photos, and things that are OF the place!

A space-mission mentality is useful for any exploration you may be going for. If you're wondering about this, try to remember that you're an Explorer, rather than just a tourist!

I know I've mentioned beach samples in culture tubes before, but this is brought into stark relief when you know that geologists anywhere in the world can recognise, if if they are connoisseurs of wine, beach samples, and tell you by the geology of the particular nuances of the grains of sand, where the samples are from! Yes, honestly, sea and sand are different and distinctive in different places around the world.

In case you hadn't guessed, countries in the world all have their different FLAGS, and the people of those countries often like to wave them in a rather patriotic style, especially if they are rather proud of the country. You can often get little flags, like they have at meetings of diplomats, in souvenir shops, and they are not expensive. I've even known embassies of countries to give away free flags as hopeful good publicity for the country in question!

Try to compare the place you are visiting on your travels with your home country and other countries you may have visited. What do you see that's different? Can you bag it? Obviously you can't always, but sometimes you can. (You can't chisel off a piece of Stonehenge or stalagmites from Cheddar Gorge Caves, but you might be able to get a piece of congeliturbation from the Grand Canyon, and you can certainly grab a piece of ice from Greenland while there's still some that hasn't melted yet because of Global Warming!).

If you visit any war-torn country, of which there are sadly many, and you'd like to bring back home a sample of the War, make sure it's SAFE, and also legal in your home country. If you visit a country that's a disaster, try to bring back a sample of the disaster, whatever that may be. Montserrat, (see tax havens), may be glad to have tourists and worldly travellers chipping away at the pieces of volcanic lava and taking them away. Vietnam may be glad to see visitors taking away spent ammunition, but please try to remember not to take away live landmines, because airlines can sometimes get a bit fussy about such things!

If you visit Nigeria (good luck!), the thing that Nigeria is famous for is the Nigeria Scam, so be sure to get some candid shots of folks in cyber cafes!

In the Dominican Republic (try to avoid straying into Haiti), the famous local industry is Tourism, and the famous local product is Brugal 151 Rum which is 151 proof (ie 75% pure ethanol). It's legal to import up to one litre even in some of the most draconican authoritarian countries (for example the UK), so worthwhile getting a bottle, even though it tastes like eco-gasoline. I can drink it. I'm flying right now, as it is basically like rocket fuel.

Wherever you go, make sure you take loads of pictures, I mean dozens per day, or even hundreds per day on a good day. These days with digital photography, you don't have to pay for film, so your photo-taking capacity is limited only by your imagination, your daring, and your laptop's hard disc drive capacity. As you may guess from that, I take thousands of pictures!

Good Luck on your travels, and I hope you have a great time and you get some decent souvenirs to show off! Here are some Travel options here!

Also see Travel Checklist to make sure you have packed everything you need!