The Things We Collect

More than collecting memories, many humans have a need to collect things. Either to remind themselves of the trips they have taken, to prove to others that they have seen the world, or maybe for some other instinctive and unexplainable reason. We bring things back. We are collectors. We gather. We assign meaning and memory to objects and they become part of our story. I really believe that what we collect says a lot about us. Every new place I go, I find myself wandering to the edges of the nearest city and buying a t-shirt. The trip continues and before it ends, I will find myself in a dingy touristy shop picking out magnets, and at least one shot glass. I try not to wait until the very last minute but odds are that I’m grabbing these things from the airport 5 minutes before boarding because of who I am as a person.


I started collecting shot glasses when I was younger. I thought it was unique, cool, and funny. I also vaguely remember a 90’s tv interview with Melissa Joan Hart and she also collected shot glasses. If it was good enough for Sabrina the Teenage Witch, it was good enough for me.

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It was some time and several countries later before I realized that I don’t actually want a shot glass from wherever I go. I now have around 8 shot glasses sitting in my Parisian apartment that I now have to figure out how to transport from place to place in an eventual move. They sit on my shelf, unused and looking sad that no one in my apartment is really ripping shots anymore but god help us, we are almost 30.

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As these shot glasses sit and gather dust, I can’t help but be reminded not only of college and Burnett’s in Fort Lauderdale but of my first trip to Paris when I was young and dumb. I have collected them since the beginning of my traveling life and so I feel like I have to keep going. Despite having no use for them, I am emotionally attached to this ritual of buying shot glasses and feel that I can’t go back and start collecting something else because then I will be missing 12 of whatever new thing I start collecting.

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Once, on television, I saw a story about this girl who would search out her favorite book in every new country’s native language and I thought that was amazing and wanted to steal that idea. The book was Le Petit Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery and I remember thinking how creative and cool it was and immediately wishing that my shot glass collection would morph into something equally intellectual. It hasn’t.

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On my trip to Greece, I decided that I would start to collect a nice piece of handmade jewelry from each new place I traveled. I congratulated myself and held onto this new and self-proclaimed brilliant idea up until I got to the airport at 5am. A sinking realization set in that I forgot to actually buy any jewelry despite having looked and so I grabbed a really cheap beaded bracelet from the airport kiosk that I didn’t particularly like and rarely wear. Another disappointing start to what I had hoped was my new collectible. It didn’t stick.

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The t-shirt is something that I don’t collect for myself, but I get it for my dad and bring back to him. He collects Harley Davidson shirts and has ever since I can remember. It’s funny for me to go into a Harley Davidson store in a country whose language I don’t speak and find that the vibe, the people, and the merchandise is more or less the same. This sounds like a strange thing to collect, but each Harley Davidson retailer designs their own artwork to put on the back of their shirts, so each shirt is different, unique and reflective of the individual culture of the city or country. My favorite HD purchase is the shirt I picked up in Dublin with a giant Celtic-knot skull on the back. The people in the store usually love the idea that I have come from America and am buying their shirt to take back to my dad and although it sometimes takes a half a day, I commit to getting one if it’s possible. I only have missed Italy, they don’t have streets in Venice so they don’t sell motorcycles (duh), and Belgium, which I have missed twice because it’s so far from the city center of Brussels, but other than that, my dad has one from every country I have ever been to.

My mom is harder- because, as she is a mother, she never wants anything. “What can I bring you?” “Nothing, just come home to visit.” I usually bring her a magnet and a really big hug, but sometimes I find something that reminds me of her and so I buy that; earrings in Venice, a scarf in Dublin, sometimes old books or whatever strikes my fancy.

I try to keep a little bit of foreign currency from wherever I go because that’s kind of fun, but it’s not something that is ‘make or break’ for me and I often buy overpriced snacks at the airport with it instead of saving it because: food. I also dream of sending myself a postcard from wherever I am, but I literally can’t seem to ever get around to it.

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Despite my desire to collect something better, more interesting, or nicer, the only things I have successfully brought home for myself from each country I have ever been to are shot glasses. I guess that’s okay.

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The shot glasses will forever serve as a reminder that once I was young and stupid and despite having ever barely traveled out of the country, booked an impulsive ticket to Paris and bought a shot glass when I got there. I look forward to being 100 and giggling as I buy shot glasses from a tacky souvenir shop in a brand new country. Maybe I can also start to collect nice art or something but that’s a problem for future Amanda.

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What things do you collect on your travels and why? Let me know in the comments!


Published by

Presque Perfection

Hi! I'm Amanda and I'm a 29-year-old American living abroad in Paris, France! When I was 24, I packed my bags and moved to Paris with $200 in my pocket and I immediately fell in love with the city of lights. I now work as an English teacher and a freelance translator and spend my spare time traveling, creating things, and perfecting the art of the "happy hour" with my besties.

7 thoughts on “The Things We Collect

  1. I have started collecting Christmas ornaments. It is so fun to look at my tree every year and remember all of the fun adventures. I also will pickup a knicknack if it’s something I can use like a wooden bowl from Belize. But I must admit I also collect spoons… yes, spoons. The ones your grandma has displayed in her kitchen. Why? Well because my grandma got me into it and now I feel like I can’t stop because I’m so committed. Anyways love the article!!


  2. I have a shot glass collection too! My sister in law collects copies of The Great Gatsby. I like your jewelry idea! When I did my study abroad I made it a goal to learn to say “cheers” in the language of every country I visited.


  3. Last year I started collecting magnets. I remember my grandma had an entire side of her fridge covered with magnets from her travels and also magnets we would all bring back to her over the years! It’s definitely kitschy, but I really enjoy looking at my little collection and remembering being in all those places 🙂 I also keep a few postcards from each trip. I’m convinced that SOME DAY I’ll do something with them all hahaha!


  4. I actually do try to find a book (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) in the native language of every country I visit. So far I have it in German, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, and, of course, English. I failed to grab it in Portuguese and Greek. It’s a fun thing to collect, but it can also get expensive and heavy to keep up with.
    I also collect one postcard from every new city I’ve visited. I don’t write anything on it, besides the date, nor do I attempt to send it to myself (I like the idea, but like you said – not as easy as it sounds!). It’s cheap, easy to carry, and such a good way to remember the trips I’ve taken (also easily found at the airport when you forget till you’re about to leave)! I think your shot glass collection is basically the same idea. Each of your shot glasses is a little memory preserver of your time spent in these places. Cherish that!


  5. I am a lover of travel now in my late middle age…but back in the day my family was a military family, and today, the little things my mom collected–the dishes and knick knacks especially, are rich with memories. Bless.


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