Buy it, or just describe it?

Souvenir.  The impulse to buy something to remember an experience. Or the impulse to buy something because in the moment, that keychain, purse or rock, seems like an excellent idea. Or the impulse to buy what everyone else is buying. Or impulse triggered by abundance – a market filled with painted pottery, a store packed with Hawaiian shirts.  Because it’s there.  Because you cannot get that particular item in the States. Or because you’ve been pestered so consistently it’s worth the money to get rid of the vendor.

I love to shop. But I can’t carry everything I love home. And no, writing down wants and needs are not a substitute for shopping (let’s be clear on that)  However, journaling has most definitely helped me buy.     

Before a trip, of course, I research museums, hotels, things to see and do.  I also research souvenirs.  If baskets are the native product.  Are they already imported?  Can I shop at Cost Plus and get the basket avoiding either the shipping cost or the extra baggage fee at the end of the trip?

Friends of mine scoured Thailand for the perfect garden Buddha, shipped their find to their home in Marin at great expense only to find its twin in a garden shop around the corner.  Can you get an Italian painted vase in San Francisco? Can you find a prayer rug in Chicago?  Good questions to record before you are caught up in the moment or backed into a rug factory holding a glass of hot tea in one hand as you fish out your Visa with the other.   

Do you collect?   We used to collect masks until we ran out of wall space.  My mother has created a tiny universe filled with miniature houses and boats she had collected from all over the world – keyword – miniature.  After admiring our Indian rug, a friend commented that collecting spoons seemed like a good hobby.

A journal helps. I make a list of what kinds of souvenirs  I have in mind, what I can’t find in my hometown and what would be interesting to possess.   That said, I am always prepared to pay the price for falling in love. That said,  not all my love is requited.  We fell in love with a full set of Medieval Armor we spotted at the market in Kyoto on the morning we were leaving the country and didn’t even have enough yen to get back to the hotel let along pay cash for a priceless antique.  We had to leave it where we found it. Years later we discovered a full set of Medieval Japanese armor on display in Nevada City, which again, just goes to show.

Create a list of what you are interested in, like beautiful bangles from India.  Research the availability, and the cost.  It helps to know the price of what you want, more or less, so you have a place from which to bargain.

Create a general budget.

Just writing the ideas and prices down creates consciousness as well as creating the magic of intention.  Additionally, knowledge is power, if you know the price of silk scarves at home, then you’ll better recognize a bargain in Laos.  If you know, really, that you cannot access books by local authors and poets through Amazon, then there will be no guilt shopping the local book stall.

My husband consistency reminds me that any “bargain” purchased on a trip is really the price of the items plus the cost of the trip.  I just as consistency ignore his observation. What I haven’t ignored is the dire need for an internationally understood gesture that says –    I love what you are offering, small boy following us up from the Ganges and dogging us for the last two miles, but I have no more room in my suitcase and your cheap item at 300 rupees actually will cost $25.00 in increased baggage fees.

If you have enough stuff – what can you collect on your trip?

You collect impressions. Touch things, admire things. Write about them.  Write about how a Murano glass chandelier wedged over the four-person dining table will startle your friends.  If I can get away with it, I grab photos of excellent, impossible to get home, things and imagine the happiness of ownership.  Once that is done, I’m over it.

If you are very fortunate, and I have been fortunate a couple times, you will be traveling with a true shopper. This woman holds a black belt in bargains and carries an empty suitcase.  She shops for the holidays, she shops for friends and she is wonderful to watch.  Buy her a drink at the end of the day and ask to see her finds.   Take photos, touch, exclaim.  You will get a vicarious thrill and she will get to share with someone who is really interested.   

Describe both her and her stuff for a later story or poem.  Come home with exactly what you want, exactly what you need: small bargains, big memories.

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