The Worst Souvenirs

The Worst Souvenirs

Keep some souvenirs of your past, or how will you ever prove it wasn’t all a dream? ~Ashleigh Brilliant

Who doesn’t love looking at tacky souvenirs – especially in airports? What is it about us that makes us buy shot glasses, boxer shorts, tote bags, ashtrays and other inappropriate items to remind us where we have been? It always seems like a good idea at the time.

Snow globes. What is our fascination with snow globes? It isn’t even real snow –  it’s glitter. But there is something magical especially to kids about looking at a scene from the place you just visited in a snow globe. I love snow globes but remember you can’t carry them on the plane. I’ve seen airport security rip them out of a kid’s hand.

Tea towel.  Nothing says “couldn’t be bothered thinking of a proper present for you” like a souvenir tea towel. Every destination has them.  They are an easy to pack item for collectors of tea towels around the world, 

Refrigerator Magnets. They are like cats. You start with one. You end up with ten. Your refrigerator starts to look like a souvenir store. Then, you need to buy a bigger refrigerator.

Key Chains. All the other items usually come in a key chain as well. I did buy the Obama’s dog Beau key chain in Washington DC as a gift for my dog.. It was a great chewing toy.

T Shirts.  All I Got Was…. and I Heart ……. are still very popular in every souvenir store in every country.  I used to think an interesting local T-shirt was a good gift. They were cheap, light weight, easy to pack and a simple reminder of where I was in the world.  I soon realized that no one ever wore them.

National Clothes. It  seems like a great idea when you are there. I bought enough clothes from the different hill tribes in Thailand to actually join one.  It was the same with wool sweaters  and hats from Estonia and Peru. I  live in Southern California. It doesn’t get that cold.  I finally realized that I’m not really the ethnic, art teacher type dresser.  No one else I knew was either.

Baseball hats with logos. I do buy them from time to time as a gift but I usually end up keeping them. I have a lot of bad hair days.  At the moment I’m wearing the New Zealand All Blacks one. 

Miniature statues.  Every souvenir shop has tons of these. I always wonder who buys them. I’ve never seen anyone paying for one. Miniature Christ the Redeemer? Miniature Eiffel Tower? I guess it’s a good way of keeping track of the bucket list places that you have seen. Do you really want a plastic Leaning Tower of Pisa on your book shelf in ten years time?

Coffee Mugs are everywhere with everything you can possibly imagine on them. You can get them with Chairman Mao, Mickey Mouse,Vladimir Putin, Eva Peron  and everything in between. Since I collect Starbucks mugs from all over the world I don’t find this one as odd. I find it memorable.

Fly safe,


Ten Objects That I Have Gotten On My Trips That Are Meaningful To Me

Ten Objects That I Have Gotten On My Trips that Are Meaningful To Me

“Sometimes, when you get something new, you trick yourself into believing it has the power to change absolutely everything about you.” Siobhan Vivian,

There are exercises in spiritual classes where you are asked to bring in objects that represent the most meaningful aspects of your life. What are meaningful objects anyway? What ascribes meaning to a thing? I picked some items from my travels that are meaningful to me, objects that bring me joy and happy memories. They are things that I will always keep.

Gold Pearl Necklace From Kobe, Japan

It was my first time in Japan visiting one of my oldest friends. Her family was in the pearl business and I wanted to get some pearls. When we were in Kobe I met her sister and brother and their families. We spent a lot of time picking the right pearl and I learned a lot about what makes a pearl valuable. Afterward we all went to Starbucks for coffee so I could get my Kobe Starbucks mug. It reminds me of my first trip to Japan, learning chopsticks, meeting family, eating the  freshest, weirdest raw fish and liking it, onsens, temples and falling love with Japan.


Mate Cup From Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentinians are the largest drinkers of yerba maté in the world and the cups are beautiful. I bought my cups in Tigre a suburb of Buenos Aires and it reminds me of that perfect Sunday. The day started with navigating the rivers of the Delta Del Paraná in Tigre, empanadas at a local family restaurant, shopping at the flea market in San Telmo and tango dancing. Some days are like that.IMG_7008

Drawing From One Of My Friend’s Books Written In Sydney, Australia

This drawing on my kitchen wall reminds me of so many things – how fast strangers can become friends, the importance of good children’s books, joy, and how great Sydney Australia is. I jumped at the chance to go there again next year.


Green Bracelets From Yangon, Myanmar

They cost a dollar at Scott Market in Yangon Myanmar.  Myanmar was the strangest place  that I have ever been. Women painted thanaka on their faces, men wore longyis, and every other person is a monk or a soldier. It was my first time in Southeast Asia as well and a few years before Myanmar was really open. The whole culture felt very different. I look at the bracelets and think yes I was really there.


Photo From Hoi An, Viet Nam

I loved Vietnam – the stories, history, food, scenery,  beaches, triangle hats, and the water buffalo. Hoi An is a photographer’s city and I bought many black and white photos there. My favorite is this photo of an old woman. Her whole story is in her face. Hoi An a place I will go back to.

Protective Hanging Ceramic Ball From Istanbul, Turkey

I love good luck charms. The Nazar Boncuzu (evil eye) is a talisman to ward off evil spirits in Turkey. Large ceramic balls hang in shops with evil eyes tied to them. I wanted to buy one but I thought the ceramic would break. A new friend gave me one as a gift and I got it home safely. It hangs prominently in my kitchen and reminds me of a new friend and of the day I spent in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul – best shopping ever. I can smell the coffee, taste the meze and hear the shopkeepers offering apple tea, compliments and marriage proposals.


Panama Hat From Panama City, Panama

I was completely unprepared for the sense of awe I felt as the third gate opened and we entered the canal. There were people from all over the world on the boat and for that moment we all felt the same way. Many were wearing their newly bought Panama hats which are made in Ecuador and shipped from Panama. I wore mine home on the plane and ‘Im surprised at how well they are made.  It still looks new. Though there are many copies, I know I have a real Panama Hat from Panama.


Photo That I Took And Framed From Martha’s Vineyard, USA

The Bite is a clam shack up the road from Menemsha Harbor in Martha’s Vineyard. It has been there forever and very popular with the seafood crowd as you can see from this photo I took behind the shack. My daughter went to summer camp on the east coast of the United States when she was much younger and this was from a trip we did after. Sometimes your own photos are the best meaningful objects.


Wood Carving From Havana, Cuba

I was in Cuba 17 years ago – a very different Cuba than it is now. My daughter danced in the Cuban Ballet Festival. They were the first American kids to perform in Cuba in twenty years. . Cuba produces some of the best ballet dancers in the world. The wood carvings that they sell in market at Plaza Del Armas are ballet dancers.  It was an incredible trip filled with amazing, talented people.


Shell From Eleuthera, Bahamas

This shell has been in my blog before. It has sat on my kitchen table for over  twenty years. I found it on the beach in the Bahamas when my kids were little. I carried it back on the plane with my very young, happy family. It is a treasured memory.


The simplest objects can be meaningful and bring back wonderful travel memories and that is what makes them valuable to me.

Fly safe,


What Do You Carry For Good Luck When You Travel?

“You know what luck is? Luck is believing you’re lucky…to hold front position in this rat-race you’ve got to believe you’re lucky.” –  Tennesse Williams said by Stanley Kowalski in Street Car Named Desire

I am a believer in good luck charms when you travel. I never get on a plane without one. There’s a fine line between a bit of harmless (and possibly helpful) superstitious behavior for luck, and developing an obsessive and crippling dependence on some elaborate routine.

My good luck charms vary. For years I had a lucky flannel shirt that I wore on the plane. I convinced myself, it kept me safe from plane crashes, hijackings, robberies and getting caught bringing too much in at customs. I’m sure anything could have happened without it. Now it is all about some talisman or amulet to keep me safe while I travel. It changes but I wear the same one for a whole trip.

A talisman basically brings you good luck, as opposed to an amulet, which is designed to protect you from evil. For me it is an object designed to attract positive things – such as good luck, interesting people, unexpected adventures – and to protect you from negative things while you travel.

When I was briefly into Kabbalah, I wore a red string around my left wrist. It is used to ward off bad luck caused by the evil eye. It was knotted seven times and blessed. I figured if it was good enough for Ashton Kutcher and Madonna, it would keep me protected as well.


After that I still liked red for luck. When it comes to red in China, you can never wear too much. Red symbolizes good fortune,happiness and joy. A circle always symbolizes wholeness or unity so I sometimes wear red bracelets when i travel.


In Japan. I learned about Omamori which are used in both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. They are rectangular pouches and gain their power from words written on paper or wood and sealed inside a cloth bag and can be purchased a temple. . Each omomori has a different purpose so make sure you get the right one. The words could be the name of the shrine, or a section from a sūtra, or some other powerful word. Never open the cloth to see what is inside! It is disrespectful and the omamori will lose its power. Omamori draw some of their power from the concept of the power of enclosed places. The covering of the omamori encloses the sacred words and so puts them in a separate realm where they can be effective, much as Shinto shrines are set within a separate space marked by torii gates. I usually attach one to a carry on bag  if I’m not wearing a bracelet.


Having spent a lot of time in Mediterranean countries, I’m a fan of the evil eye charm. You will see them all over Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. It is based on quotes from all the ancient religious texts that” the gaze of someone who harbors feelings of envy or jealousy can bring misfortune upon the one who is seen — the one who “gets the evil eye.”Iit is used  as a safeguard against misfortune –  worn or hanging in their house, businesses or on their babies. I’ve had them on necklaces, bracelets earrings, ankle bracelets and sometimes just on a string.


There are many others you can use. Ancient Egypt is a good place to go for charms. The Ankh and the Scarab are protection from Evil.

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Religion is another great source for superstitions. St Christopher is the patron saint to all people who travel. A St Christopher medal was once compulsory for any Catholic traveler. The Star of David, Hamsa (hand), the Holy Cross, Celtic Cross, Guardian Angels, beads blessed from a Buddhist Temple, written words, from the Quran, Bible or Torah can also be used.

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Folk tales and Myths have many as well. Four Leaf Clovers, Phoenix, Horns, Fish and Dragons are a few. I always buy the local good luck when I travel.

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Good luck charms feed the human need to look beyond ourselves for solutions to our difficulties, while still encouraging us to do our best. They are more like a boosters than a total solution. When things are tough, it feels good to hold a charm in your hand and hope for things to get better. They seem to be working for me. So go ahead, carry that lucky coin, wear those lucky socks or underwear because you can never have too much good luck.


Fly safe,


Around The World With Beaded Bracelets

Around The World With Beaded Bracelets

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten, – happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” Brenda Ueland

That should really be the name of my blog. I don’t know when it started but I buy cheap ethnic bracelets in different countries around the world for myself and gifts. People like them. (temple cedar bracelets – Viet Nam)


I try to spend under five dollars a bracelet and buy them in markets or from street vendors. A dollar or two is even better. (ceramic – Mexico)


It is an easy to pack gift and a nice memory for me of a country I have been to. I mix them all up and wear them almost every day. Today I am wearing Argentina, Mexico, Myanmar and Thailand. (Myanmar, Thailand)


It’s good to buy indigenous jewelry because it helps the local communities. Many countries have stores or markets that feature local artisans. The bracelets are made from wood from local trees, nuts, seeds, glass, silver, tin, brass, bamboo, woven, pottery and even plastic. Sometimes they have religious significance and sometimes only decorative.(Peru)


My favorite one comes from Panama and is made from a tagua nut which is known as vegetable ivory. Due to tagua’s properties in color, appearance, hardness and feel like those of natural ivory, it is being substituted for the latter one. This helps in the depredation of elephants while at the same time keeps rain forests from being deforested which in turn favors the ecosystems and the environment.


I also buy ethnic designed bracelets for myself. When I wear them, they remind of the special day in the country where I bought them. (Myanmar, Cambodia, Murano glass – Italy, Argentina, real coral-Croatia)






Another important factor to consider is that making things by hand provides work to thousands of people in these poor countries giving them and their families a better life and the opportunity of offering their children a better education. (shells-Panama)


Shopping for bracelets is perfect street consumerism for me.(Coca nut -Argentina)


There is the thrill of finding the bracelet among the crafts and tourist crap. I know these look touristy but there was a beach in Panama that was covered in these pinkish orange shells so they remind me of that beautiful beach. Yes I brought home a bag of the shells also.  (Panama)



Then there is the delicate negotiation of getting the right price without insulting anyone.There is the danger of going too low and the stupidity of paying too much. (plastic- Turkey or anywhere that has real Turquoise)


Finally we have the adrenalin rush of the purchase. (Aborigine – Australia)


It makes my world better and their world better. It’s a win – win situation.

Fly safe,


Things I Have Carried

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful we must carry it with us or we find it not “             Ralph Waldo Emerson

Things  I   Have Carried

1. I have this GIANT CONCH SHELL on my kitchen table. It is from a pink sand beach in Eleuthera,Bahamas.  It is one of those giant shells you see in stores and think it isn’t real. There it was on the beach one morning when I was walking. I carried it back to my room and then proceeded to carry it back on the plane with a three-year old and a six-year-old. I see that shell every morning and it reminds me of a pink sand beach and a happy  very young family.

2. My friends told me about the perfect gift to bring  from Munich – DAS MURMELTIER DER ALPEN  ( singing  animal in the chipmunk family) They told me to buy them at the airport –more carry on bags. I  put them in the overhead compartment and went to sleep. Weisswurst breakfast is very heavy in the morning (white sausages and a pretzel) Suddenly everyone on the plane is in a panic. There is a  clicking noise and no one can figure out what it is.  Our first thought is that it must be a bomb. As they are about to call security, the yodeling and drinking songs in German  begin. The chipmunks had started singing in the overhead compartment.  Travelers are way too stressed out these days.

3 The Maneki-neko (beckoning cat) is a sign of good luck in Japan. They are made of ceramic  ( most common) and usually come in pairs.  You can find them everywhere in Japan. The beckoning right hand means money and the left hand means happiness. BECKONING CATS are found often in Japanese businesses and homes. Since I felt that everyone in my family needed Japanese luck, I bought several pairs of the cats. Between the Starbucks mugs from every city in Japan and the several pairs of cats, they overflowed into my carry on luggage.  I’m  pretty sure airport security in Osaka would have laughed at me while looking at  the x-ray machine, if it wasn’t Japan and they weren’t so polite.

4. The following year I had to carry  the protective and breakable lions from Okinawa.  They are called SHISAS and are half lion half dog from Okinawan mythology. They come in pairs. The shisa on the left traditionally has a closed mouth, and the one on the right has an open mouth. The open mouth is to ward off evil spirits and the closed mouth is to keep the good spirits in. They are usually guarding the entrances to homes and businesses.  They are sold everywhere in Okinawa. I feel that anything to ward off evil spirits makes an excellent gift.

5 Betel nut is a mild stimulant that is chewed throughout Asia.  It involves, betel nut, fresh pepper leaves (or other spices), powdered lime and damp tobacco leaves. It is wrapped in a betel vine leaf forming a wad or quid. The last ingredient is saliva . ,Your gums , teeth and tongue turn bright red when chewing it.  Eventually, you spit it out.  It is one of the most used addictive substances in the world. It creates a buzz and curbs hunger. The streets and stairwells of Burma are stained with red betel nut. It is customary to use special compartmentalized boxes to hold the ingredients for the betel nut quids. When guests visit, they are presented with a fully stocked box. Some of them are quite beautiful. I brought BETEL NUT BOXES back from Burma.(but no betel nut)

6  There is a Shang Hai Tang store in the Hong Kong airport and it was having a sale.  Shang Hai Tang is DESIGNER CHINESE CLOTHES. Their flagshop store is in Hong Kong but was always one of my shopping stops in NY.   Changing planes in Hong Kong, I managed to add to my already bulging hand luggage , two sweaters, a shawl and some Chinese shirts in beautiful fabrics.  You can’t go to Hong Kong without shopping – even if it is just in the airport.

7.  My goal when skiing in  Cervina, Italy was to find a pair of those FLUFFY WHITE AFTER SKI BOOTS It was many years ago and I had never seen them  when I was  skiing in Vermont.  I finally found the perfect pair in a shop next to my favorite cappuccino bar. The best thing was to wear them on the plane since they took up so much space.  It was April and we had been spring skiing. Changing planes in Brussels,  we were walking slowly and my friends and I got bumped from the plane.  I remember thinking it was odd that the teacher left us there.  The four of us were sixteen and seventeen.   I felt really embarrassed walking around the city in those after ski boots, ( the weather was quite warm) but having an unexpected   free day and night in Brussels was very cool.

8.  There is a craft  market  in the Plaza del Armas in Old Havana not far from El Floridita.   (Hemingway’s hangout where he used to drink his daiquiris not mojitos) They sold  WOOD CARVINGS OF DANCERS   The woman who was helping me spoke English with no accent. She told me her father was the linguistics professor at the university and she spoke twenty languages . She was selling wood carvings for a dollar.   They were quite nice but very delicate . .   I had to put them in my carry on bag and hold it very carefully. Still,many of them  arrived with missing limbs. It  looked a bit like a war when I unpacked them. Arms and Legs all over. –luckily there is no shortage of crazy glue here.  They were great gifts for all our dancer friends.

9. Hvar,Croatia is where some of the highest quality of lavender is grown in Europe. I bought a lot of small glass bottles of LAVENDER OIL I figured if something broke, it would be better  in my carry on bag. . Lavender would have a calming effect on the nervous  post 9/11 fliers.

10 Coca leaves have been part of the Andean Culture for 5000 years. COCA TEA   is made from the coca plant.  It is not cocaine  like grapes are not wine.  Neither drinking  or chewing turns it into cocaine. It is a mild stimulant without the speedy effect of caffeine.  However when airport security sees a word like coca, they are paranoid.  I thought the best thing to do was put some  in my luggage and carry a few in my hand luggage as well.  If I got stopped, this would show that I was innocent. (I watch a lot of Locked Up Abroad episodes)   The guide in Peru was trying to find out once if it was ok to bring back coca tea to the states. She asked airport security in Miami and was questioned for four hours.   I didn’t want to bring it up.I walked through customs in Miami right  passed the sniffing dogs with no problem.

Some things are good to carry with us and others should be put down or left where they were. We choose the things we carry.

Fly Safe,