Forget fridge magnets, why art is the perfect travel souvenir

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My house has more substance than style. After years of picking up souvenirs and artwork on my travels, I’ve ended up with piles of items just waiting to be placed in an orderly fashion. It’s up for debate whether that’s down to sheer laziness or simply a lack of interior design skills. It’s probably a bit of both.

Nevertheless, I’m incredibly fond of my collection. I first started it back in 2008, when my partner and I went on our first international trip together. We headed to Morocco, where I picked up a couple of sketches in a Marrakech souq of a pale blue doorway and a hawker selling spices. They were nothing special – the kind you’d see everywhere around souqs in the Middle East – but I got them direct from the artist himself. It was at this moment that I realised my mission on my travels: forget fridge magnets, bottle openers and snow globes – I was in the market for random pieces of art that capture my imagination and tell a story.

Slowly but surely, my home has become a tribute to my travels. The thing is, there is no intention behind my pickings. It’s not something I can explain – when I see something, I just know it’s the piece for me. It’s a fun way to pick up souvenirs, but it’s not a method that’s particularly conducive to a cohesive home style.

We started a gallery wall recently, using a mishmash of items we’ve picked up. There are giant photographs of the Jazz Preservation Hall band and Bourbon Street from a market in New Orleans. You’ll also spot a tiny hand-drawn sketch of Bruges and a couple of vintage cameras I sourced from a flea market in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, which are sitting on a small shelf. There are plenty more waiting in the wings: a very colourful painting of a cow by an artist in Denver, Colorado, another painting of a man at the Bahrain farmer’s market, which I watched the artist create live, and a beautiful sketch of Hoi An, Vietnam that I found in a family-run art shop.

Most of the pieces aren’t very big, owing to the fact that I do eventually have to get them home within a 30-kilogram weight limit. But there has been the odd occasion when I’ve chosen a larger piece and had to figure out the logistics

Most of these aren’t very big, owing to the fact that I do eventually have to get them home within a 30-kilogram weight limit. But there has been the odd occasion when I’ve chosen a larger piece and had to figure out the logistics. In Morocco, you would have caught us running to catch a train carrying a couple of Bedouin rugs hung across our shoulders (that story could warrant a column of its own). I carried the two paintings I bought in Copenhagen with me by hand the whole trip – one in a frame and one in a large tube – as I travelled through Sweden, Iceland and back to Dubai.

There was another time I simply fell in love with a massive portrait of Louis Armstrong in America. I don’t have specific measurements to hand, but suffice it to say there was no way I could cart that one back. Sadly, the combined cost of the piece and shipping did not add up in our favour. I still haven’t quite gotten over that one.

At this point, I should probably tell you that while the selection I’ve chosen to mention above may make me sound cultured, there are a number of pieces in between that most certainly do not. There’s a picture of my fiance and me pulling faces while on a ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando (and the actual wands we spent good money on, on their own shelf, too).

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And there’s a hand-drawn film poster of Mars Attacks! that we found while on an American road trip, as well as a laminated flyer for Museum of the Weird, which we stopped off at in Austin, Texas.

Some might think this accumulation of stuff is unnecessary, but these are my prized possessions. I could (mostly) live without all those electronics and clothes we’ve stacked up over the years, but I would never part with my art – even if it is just lying around gathering dust.

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