My Favorite Travel Souvenir Is Technically Trash

published Sep 7, 2018
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(Image credit: Caitlin Huson)

They say it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but sometimes the packaging is just too beautiful to throw away. That’s what I was thinking when I was washing dishes in an Airbnb in Provence, France, a few years ago. A collection of glass yogurt pots sat by the sink, waiting to be rinsed and recycled, but I had already decided they’d be flying home with me instead.

The yogurts came from the local mini-mart in the town of Saint-Remy, where a group of us were staying for a friend’s wedding. The small, refrigerated section of the supermarket was filled with individual jars of dairy delights and fancy desserts. The pot-set yogurt, so thick and creamy, would be a treat in and of itself, but it was the packaging that sold me. I bought four.

At our last breakfast in the cottage, when we had scraped out every last bit of yogurt, I instructed my friends to save the jars. My friend’s boyfriend made a face and asked, “Why? What are you going to do with them?”

“Tea lights!” I replied, enthusiastically, and dunked the jars in sudsy water. He guffawed, shaking his head in bemusement.

I wrapped the clean yogurt jars in layers of wedding attire, and shoved them in my suitcase. At home in England, I did use them as tea light holders, after I painted them in various shades of gold. The jars adorned the mantel, and occasionally the windowsill. They went on to be a part of Thanksgiving and Christmas tablescapes. A year later, when I moved back to the U.S., I packed them up once again.

(Image credit: Caitlin Huson)

Why the Best Travel Souvenirs Are (Mostly) Free

I’m a firm believer in passing up traditional souvenirs in exchange for more meaningful ones, and my favorite way to do that is by repurposing grocery items found on my travels.

Containers of loose tea make cute planters long after the tea has been drunk. Milk bottles work well as vases or pitchers, and wine bottles can be turned into a range of home wares from table centerpieces to soap dispensers. Ceramic mustard crocks are the perfect size for pens and pencils. Decorative cookie canisters are a useful storage solution for jewelry or knickknacks, or — not surprisingly —homemade cookies. Interesting labels — from craft beers to sardine tins — can be framed and hung as unique art.

(Image credit: Caitlin Huson)

Repurposing product packaging is not only environmentally friendly, but also easier on the wallet. Sometimes, the best keepsakes are (practically) free!

My French yogurt pots live on in Washington, where sometimes they house a candle, and other times a fresh flower or two. The gold paint is chipping, and to someone else, they may seem like just pieces of junk. But every time I look at the jars, I’m reminded of that idyllic Provençal weekend spent with wonderful friends who I miss very much. (Even the boyfriend who ridiculed my tea light idea.)

Isn’t that the point of a souvenir?

So, I keep holding on to the jars for all the reasons I did back then — to recycle, to repurpose, and to remember.