Cheap and Easy Souvenirs to Collect

by Brenna Holeman

Cheap Souvenirs 13

 My flat in London, England

I am a total packrat, and I shop too much. This is a terrible combination, especially as someone who travels a lot. If you have been following this blog long enough, you may remember a few posts I did on the house I own in Canada (here, here, and here) – I have never been one to hide the fact that I love buying things while I’m abroad. I’m always the one with the backpack that’s too heavy, but hey, I’m really good at haggling now. I’ve never met a market I didn’t love.

The thing is, I don’t really spend that much money on things I buy. I can only think of a handful of items that have ever cost me over $20 Canadian dollars (about £12). And while the little things can certainly add up, I always budget for souvenir shopping. I have also never lost a box or parcel (knock on wood) when I decide to ship a batch of souvenirs home if I’m on a longer trip (read here how easy and cheap it is to ship a box from La Paz, Bolivia). There are a few things that I consider to be really, really cheap souvenirs, though, and I find them incredibly easy to collect. Some of them cost nothing at all, in fact. And I absolutely love souvenirs – I really think they make a place feel like a home, and I love being surrounded by things that remind me of my travels. Some may call it materialistic, I call it sentimental. Without further adieu, here are my favourite cheap souvenirs to collect.

1. Wine corks

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I love wine. And with more and more companies switching to screw top bottles, corks are becoming rarer. I put a bunch of corks I’ve collected over the years into this glass vase, and I really like how it looks. A great thing to do (I don’t always remember to do it) is to write the date, the place, and the people you were with on the cork as a great memory. If you’re going to pay for a bottle of wine, you may as well get a free souvenir out of it, right? Plus, I think it looks pretty cool.

2. Vintage Photographs

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I’ve collected a ton of photographs from around the world, mainly Germany, Turkey, Russia, Peru, Lithuania, and Iceland. They are scarily easy to find (go to any antique market). I say scarily because part of me feels really sad that these photographs are for sale, that someone’s entire life and memories are sold out of a shoebox for a few cents a piece. I try to look at this collection as reviving those memories; better that they are in my possession than thrown away. Plus, you often get amazing pieces of history in your hands:

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So often the photos have names, places, and dates written on the back. I would love to try to track some of the people down one day if I a) knew how to do that and b) didn’t feel slightly creepy doing that. Click here and here to see a few other photographs I’ve collected over the years.

3. Coins

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Again, this is souvenir that really doesn’t cost that much. You can simply throw your remaining change into a bowl when you get home from your travels, or, if you’re like me, immediately start saving one coin of each domination as soon as you arrive so that you can get the whole set. I have tons of coins (this is only about a third of the collection) and I am just crazy enough to also save paper currency. I didn’t bring that with me to London because I still don’t know what to do with it, and I also thought customs might think something weird was up if I arrived clutching a massive wad of foreign cash that really didn’t amount to much. One day I plan to do something with this money, frame it or glue it to a table or something crafty, but for now I just like how it looks in a bowl. Bonus: coins change all the time (I have a lot of pre-Euro European stuff) so some of it may be worth something someday!

Cheap Souvenirs 15

4. Jewellery

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My arm in Siem Reap, Cambodia (yes I wore all of this every day)

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My arm in Granada, Nicaragua

I am obsessed with jewellery. I am almost never without some form of it on my body; at the moment I wear five brass bracelets on my right wrist that I never take off. Wherever I go, I usually buy something (or a lot of somethings) local. I find many benefits to these purchases. Firstly, they look nice… provided you’re not a minimalist and, like me, strive to be some strange hybrid of Mr. T and a fortune-teller from the 19th century. You know that rule of “proper ladies”: before you leave the house, remove one accessory? Well, I always add at least three more. Secondly, they make for great conversation starters with other travellers and with locals. And thirdly, they are so much fun to take home and wear! I often get dressed with one of the pieces I’ve bought abroad as a starting point. It makes me so happy to wear these little reminders of my travels. When you’re not wearing them, you can also hang them on a wall or display them somehow. Another bonus: jewellery is so much cheaper when you buy it locally. I have bought silver rings and earrings for $5, and bought more beads in Morocco than I care to admit. Don’t believe me that they’re cheaper? Check out this photo I took at a boutique in Melbourne, Australia:


While I appreciate that the beads are apparently antique and/or rare, they look exactly like the stuff I got in Northern Africa for 40 times cheaper.

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A necklace from Cartagena, Colombia

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Bracelets in the Okavango Delta of Botswana (no I do not have two left hands)

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Actually quite a minimal effort for what I usually wore, in Jaisalmer, India

And don’t forget about El Camino Bracelets! They’re awesome to always have a reminder of your travels with you.

5. Clothing

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Wearing a sari at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India

Similarly, consider buying local clothing. It is often incredibly cheap (much, much cheaper than buying at hippie markets and boutiques in London, for example) and again, it is often a great conversation starter. Plus, you’ll often be more comfortable, as there’s a reason everyone is wearing a certain type of clothing in that particular place. One of my biggest regrets is going to Thailand with a full backpack – I spent so much money on clothing in Canada when I could have arrived in Bangkok with an empty bag and bought tons of cute, appropriate, and affordable clothing that has more sentimental value than some bland tank top from H&M. And while some of it is difficult to wear again (I’ve yet to wear any of my three saris again other than at Burning Man), if you buy cool pieces like scarves or saris, you can reuse the fabric or just fold them in a cool way for display. Shoes are also fun – here are a few I’ve worn around the world. I often recommend buying bags and scarves because those things are incredibly easy to incorporate into an existing wardrobe.

Cheap Souvenirs 18

See? Look at me, incorporating a bag and a scarf into my existing wardrobe! The reason I have this photo is because I tried to write a post a couple of years ago about doing exactly that – incorporating travel clothes into your existing wardrobe – and after about 50 shots I had about three that didn’t make me cringe. Needless to say, I gave up.

6. Little Stuff / Knick Knacks / Tchotchkes

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A box from India, little books (apparently older books write their text the other way on spines) from Wales, Slovenia, and Croatia, a Buddha from China, a letter B from London, a rooster from Portugal, and one of the first souvenirs I ever bought, an Eiffel Tower from my trip to Paris as a teenager

Well this is extremely vague, I know. Really, I just wanted to write the word “tchotchkes” on my blog. Honestly, though, there are SO many cute little things you can pick up from around the world… even from cheesy souvenir shops that sell those “I love CITY NAME” bags in them. While I almost always buy from antique or local markets, there can be some fun stuff to be found in just about any souvenir store.

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Matryoshka dolls from Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Czech Republic

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I collect a lot of religious icons (from every religion) and am especially in love with glow-in-the-dark ones. Here are some from Portugal, Spain, Colombia, and Poland

7. Found Playing Cards

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This is one of my absolute favourite collections. It is astounding how many orphaned playing cards there are in the world. Honestly, I see them on the ground all the time, though they were especially frequent in Asia. I’ve never tried to make a full deck, but I bet I am coming close. Whenever I find a new one, I write where and when I found it on the back of the card. Right now they’re just on display in this bowl I bought in South Africa, but one day I might put them up on a wall. I have never watched all of Sex and the City, but I saw the episode where Carrie’s boyfriend Berger does the same thing and for a split second thought that a fictional character was my soulmate.

8. Art

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Current art set-up in my flat in London (spot the insanely creepy clown painting that an artist in Chile gave me for free because he was wearing red shoes and I was wearing yellow shoes and he felt we bonded. Still haven’t found a spot for that terror yet)

When I tell people I collect art, they look at me like I’m out there bidding on rare Picassos or something. Not true – I have never paid more than $20 or $30 for any piece. Usually they cost more like $10, and are easy to find at markets. I buy a lot of prints (three of the four pieces above my desk are prints – the painting from Zambia is original, but the top one is a Matisse print and the others are prints of Portuguese artists I met at a gallery opening in Porto earlier this year). I don’t really care about the originality or the value of the painting or piece – if I like it, cool. I often try to buy from local artists so that I can meet them, and I always tell them that I will hang it in my flat in Canada or London or wherever (like when I spent some time with the artist Guillermo in Colombia). All it takes is a cheap IKEA frame to make it look really great. I now have more art than wall space!

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Moving down in columns from the top left: Music sheet from Paris, marker design from Tel Aviv, bowl from Botswana, postcard from India, print from London, painting from Russia, print from Berlin, painting from London, marker design from Tel Aviv, print from Berlin, copy of a Degas from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, print from Berlin (it was a good haul), mask from Zambia, photo from Peru, violin from Broadway Market here in London, painting from Mexico

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Painting from Chile on top of the shelves, and picture made from butterfly wings (don’t hate me) from Spain

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Night-view of my flat; the pieces above the shelves are old telegrams from India with paintings on top

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Another view of the desk, with my cork board map from National Geographic visible

Those are just a few of my idea for cheap souvenirs from around the world. There are many others, of course: postcards, beach glass, thimbles, spoons, stamps, magnets, key rings, pens, matchbooks (definitely a dying one), old books / art books (my heaviest collection), Christmas/holiday ornaments, and even old cameras. Just as my house in Canada was, my flat in London is quickly filling up with cool yet affordable things. I mean, these photos are only of the main room… you haven’t even seen the kitchen, bathroom, hallway, or bathroom (yes I have souvenirs in my bathroom). I have to admit that my favourite souvenirs are the photographs I’ve taken and the journals I’ve kept… but the silver-embossed yak skull I bought in Nepal runs a close second.

Cheap and Easy

What are your favourite souvenirs to collect? What are a few other cheap souvenir options?

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Emily September 20, 2014 - 3:49 pm

First off, your apartment looks so lovely! I aspire to have that much art on my walls one day. Second, these are some great pieces of advice. Personally I collect postcards, which I love doing. It’s gotten to the point that when my friends travel, they bring me back postcards from their favorite places, plus I’m always sending them to people and receiving them in return. Basically I love that it’s something I can share with people I love. At the moment I’m looking into getting some of my favorite postcards framed, but we’ll see.

I also collect random tchotchkes (shells and coral from Cape Cod, a dala horse from Sweden…) and coins, inspired by my grandfather who collected coins on his travels and gave his collection to me a few years ago. I currently keep them in a stein from Germany along with a few bottle caps, but I should probably get a nice bowl for them. 🙂

Brenna Holeman September 20, 2014 - 8:06 pm

It sounds like you have some amazing collections! I used to collect postcards a lot more than I do now, maybe I should start it up again. And bottle caps are also great to collect, good idea… thanks for your comment, Emily!

Jo September 20, 2014 - 5:03 pm

I have the same necklace from Cartagena! (actually I bought two…oops). It drives me crazy because it never hangs quite right on me, so it’s currently acting as art on my dresser drawer-knobs!

I love the photos of your flat, it looks brilliant. I collect so much stuff when travelling that my mum is sick of storing it, but one day I’m dreaming of having a place of mine own to style like yours!

Brenna Holeman September 20, 2014 - 8:05 pm

Aw, thank you so much! I quite like my necklace, but you’re right, hanging them up as art also works.

And don’t worry, I still have a lot of stuff stored at my dad’s place – I guess we should both thank our parents!

Katie @ The World on my Necklace September 21, 2014 - 4:31 am

I wish I had collected more stuff in my past travels but I didn’t have a lot of room in my bag on longer trips and sending it home always seemed so expensive. I have a few bits and pieces but you are right, the most precious things I have from my travels are my travel journals and photos

Brenna Holeman September 21, 2014 - 9:30 pm

As I said, I always budgeted for that… and I had a huge bag! The memories are definitely the best souvenirs, though. 🙂

Glamourous Traveller September 21, 2014 - 5:54 am

That’s really cool! I too have a love of buying too many local things and now try to discipline myself to bringing only one souvenir from places I’ve been to (though clothes don’t count since they go into a closet).

So I end up with loads of local designers, which I feel good about buying since they support the local economy, and a few random things around the house. Like canubic jars from Egypt, and a mini shisha from Dubai.

My dream is to one day be able to furnish my entire house with things collected through travel, so I’m trying to diversify into furniture as well. Moroccan coffee tables here I come!

Brenna Holeman September 21, 2014 - 9:29 pm

That’s a good rule to have, but I would find it so difficult to follow! And I agree about supporting local vendors, I really like doing that. So far most of my house / flat is comprised of stuff I’ve bought abroad, save the furniture. Although, IKEA’s from Sweden… right?! One day I’ll try to do the same as you… Moroccan stuff is so gorgeous.

Rebekah September 21, 2014 - 12:11 pm

haha, people always talk about travelling light and not collecting “things” and while I love the idea of that… I really really love scarves and earrings. So much. I like the idea of collecting vintage photographs and collecting the playing cards. Its such a good idea

Brenna Holeman September 21, 2014 - 9:27 pm

I am THE WORST at travelling light. I just can’t do it, unless I’m travelling for less than a week. Glad to know I’m not the only one!

Amy September 21, 2014 - 10:08 pm

I’ve always collected cloth patches – I used to sew them onto a messenger bag until the strap broke. I still collect them. Just trying to figure out where to put them now.

I’ve started collecting coins – and then I make them into magnets! Cheap and unique. I like jewelry too. It’s always a good conversation starter.


Brenna Holeman September 21, 2014 - 11:43 pm

Wow, those are great ideas! Really cool to make the coins into magnets… I usually don’t like how magnets look, but I imagine that looks amazing. Thanks for your comment, Amy!

Laura September 22, 2014 - 12:55 pm

I love collecting art pieces along my travels – paintings, carvings, absurdly large instruments (who needs a didjeridoo?) and I love them all. I’m looking forward to having a place to spread them all out in like you have – until then they’ll sit in my parent’s house collecting dust. This post also makes me feel so much better about all of the collecting I do along the way!

Brenna Holeman September 22, 2014 - 9:52 pm

Ha ha – I always go for the absurdly large souvenirs, I just can’t help it. I am glad to know that I’m not alone in my collecting… that I’m not the only one lugging a heavy backpack full of souvenirs!

Linda September 22, 2014 - 3:36 pm

What an wonderful glimpse into your amazing flat (and mind), Brenna! As a fellow collector – and traveller – we share so many of the same choices for our displays. Fun to think where all this collecting first started…Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, maybe??? Never stop collecting – or travelling. It’s the good/great life.

Brenna Holeman September 22, 2014 - 9:53 pm

Thank you so much; I can’t wait for you to see it in person! I always had amazing examples of collections growing up, of course… I think that you were the one who really showed me how wonderful it can be to build collections. I think it started way before PEI!

Tom @ Waegook Tom September 22, 2014 - 4:45 pm


OK, now that that’s out of the way. I love the ideas here! I’m trying to pick up more souvenirs whenever I go travelling. I do get postcards now, so easy to pop them in a little frame and hang them on the wall. I need to get more little nick knacks too, as I fear that as and when I move into a bigger place, my apartment will look woefully empty – I like clutter! I love your art collection, too – I’ve seen prints before that I’ve loved, but always find myself not buying them. I shall buy next time. I shall…

Brenna Holeman September 22, 2014 - 9:51 pm

Come stay with me! You are always welcome.

I love clutter, too… obviously. I like the idea of hanging postcards on the wall – I did that in another flat of mine, but this time I went for bigger pieces. You should definitely buy some art / prints, it’s so much fun!

Michelle September 22, 2014 - 9:49 pm

So, I’m pretty sure you have my dream apartment. I have always loved the idea of having a home filled with little bits of meaningful things I have collected from my travels over the years.With all the bloggers out there advicing against buying things abroad, its really nice to someone out there advocating it. I hope i’ll have a home like this someday

Brenna Holeman September 22, 2014 - 11:27 pm

Aw, thank you so much Michelle! That’s really nice of you to say; I do love being surrounded by all of these memories of my travels. I hope that you get your dream place soon!

Jen September 23, 2014 - 7:17 am

1) Your flat. Sweet Zeus. Yes. 2) I have started purchasing old Hungarian photographs. There is nothing better than seeing a sweet, well-oiled 100-year-old moustache. 3) Glow-in-the-dark religious icons = what dreams are made of.

Brenna Holeman September 23, 2014 - 10:25 am

1) Thank you so much – and excellent use of “sweet Zeus”. 2) That sounds incredible, and no, there is nothing better. 3) Totally agreed. 4) Thank you for your comment!

Aryn September 24, 2014 - 12:08 am

Your apartment is so lovely! For your coins, I saw a great diy where a girl drilled a hole into each coin then attached it to a chain bracelet. It was so adorably boho!

Brenna Holeman September 24, 2014 - 3:37 am

Thank you so much! And I actually did the same thing – I got my friend Rikki to help me make a bracelet of coins from around the world. Here’s a photo:

Zalie Holeman September 24, 2014 - 3:18 am

We basically collect the same stuff( although as of yet I haven’t gotten into the photographs thing) and I can’t imagine going to a county and not buying something. Your flat looks amazing xoxo

Brenna Holeman September 24, 2014 - 3:33 am

Yes – I always think of your cork collection when I add to mine! I can’t wait for you to come stay with me at my flat. xoxo

Sukirti September 25, 2014 - 10:47 am

Love, love and love…..absolutely loved this article…. Each n every piece you own is pretty unique and I would love to see even more…..

Brenna Holeman September 25, 2014 - 12:29 pm

Aw, thank you so much Sukirti! I love interior design so perhaps I’ll put up more photos one day.

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rebecca September 29, 2014 - 5:09 am

maps is the big one I tend to collect

Brenna Holeman September 29, 2014 - 6:33 pm

Good choice!

tiffany October 4, 2014 - 4:22 am

So happy I stumbled across your blog! And, this is a great post idea. I go back and forth on whether to collect souvenirs or not (depends on how much I’m into my minimalist mode, lol). But, I always get a shot glass for my mom. She has a huge collection and if I find one I particularly like I’ll get one for myself. This year, I started to collect the I Love {Enter City here} t shirts but gave up on that after a few trips. I’ve also collected post cards, tchotchkes like mini golden gate bridges and prison cups from Alcatraz.

Some of my favorites are a sangria pitcher from one of the oldest restaurants in Florida, wine I brought back from Germany (but, I really like the idea of keeping the corks and noting who, what , when and where on it to remember) and hand-painted Mexican tiles that sit on my dresser. Which gives me an idea – I wonder if I can find knobs to put on my dressers? That would be a fun decorating idea!

And, agree with other readers – love your flat! It’s extremely cozy but doesn’t look cluttered. It’s like your own mini museum.

Look forward to reading more posts on the blog.

Brenna Holeman October 7, 2014 - 2:28 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Tiffany! I’m glad that you found my blog, too, it’s always really nice to have a new reader. My brother collects shot glasses and he has quite a cool collection now.

I bought a bunch of knobs when I was in India but never got around to using them… I’m sure you can find them in other places! I love how that looks.

Thanks again for your awesome comment, it really put a smile on my face.

Melissa October 7, 2014 - 7:33 am

“Firstly, they look nice… provided you’re not a minimalist and, like me, strive to be some strange hybrid of Mr. T and a fortune-teller from the 19th century. You know that rule of “proper ladies”: before you leave the house, remove one accessory? Well, I always add at least three more.”

Love it. 🙂 I like the jewelry/scarves/clothes too, but love your unique wine corks and postcards. Your apartment(s?) look amazing!

I also really liked the shot where you show travel things incorporated into a workable everyday wardrobe – would be fun to see more outfit shots like that! Sometimes I am really bad with knowing how to work in funky scarves or jewelry into an outfit I can also wear to an office.

Brenna Holeman October 7, 2014 - 2:29 pm

Ha ha – thank you! I think I look a bit fortune-teller-esque today, actually. May just add a few more bangles to complete the look.

I have actually thought about doing a travel fashion section on this blog as I love it so much, so stay tuned! Hopefully I can get a few posts together soon. Thanks again for your comment!

Jessi (Two Feet, One World) October 10, 2014 - 6:02 pm

Great post – I love your souvenirs, especially the jewellery and art! And the corks look so great in the glass vase. When I moved over to London I started buying a postcard in every town I visit – black and white if I can find it, or sunset / night shots if I can’t. They are currently decorating my room and I love them. I’ve also started buying more jewellery, although I’m a bit more minimalist in my approach 😉 I do love being able to look down at my hands and have a colourful reminder of my travels.

Brenna Holeman October 12, 2014 - 7:09 pm

Yeah, I really should start buying postcards again! I’m sure you have an amazing collection. Black and white ones especially would be so great together… thanks for your comment, Jessi!

Sheena October 14, 2014 - 2:38 pm

I love this so much! I pretty much only shop on travels so if I’m spending an extended period of time living somewhere I usually have nothing to show for it. (I live in India so I’d be a total hoarder if I did)

We have a lot of similar tastes – I adore handcrafted and tribal jewelry!

Brenna Holeman October 14, 2014 - 6:04 pm

Ahhhh I would be a hoarder if I lived in India, too. Thanks for your comment, that’s awesome that we have similar tastes!

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Pamela October 15, 2014 - 3:51 pm

I love how you collect the art pieces and hang them on your wall! It’s like everywhere you turn in your apartment, there is always something to remind you of a certain travel memories. That’s really inspiring! 🙂

The only thing I collect now are postcards because they are inexpensive, almost weightless and so much easier for safe keepsake without collecting dust.

Thanks for this inspiring post, perhaps I can start finding new things to collect as I travel. 🙂

Brenna Holeman October 16, 2014 - 11:35 pm

Thank you, Pamela! I love filling my home with art from around the world, it’s usually so cheap and fairly easy to bring home.

Postcards are so much fun to collect! I need to start doing it again…

Thanks again for your comment and good luck souvenir hunting!

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Jessica November 29, 2014 - 8:57 pm

Sooooo….if you ever decide you want to move out of that flat…call me? 🙂 It’s beautiful and I love how you’ve made it your own by displaying collections from your travels! Seeing memories from my trips always helps me get through the times that are a little less exciting (i.e. no trip on the horizon).

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Brenna Holeman December 1, 2014 - 3:36 pm

Ha ha, I’ll let you know! I love collecting Christmas stuff, too… my mum always gave us a Christmas ornament every year and I love putting them up on the tree. Not cheesy at all!

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Ceri October 12, 2015 - 10:42 am

Love all of these ideas! I definitely need to get a bit of an art wall going.

Brenna Holeman October 12, 2015 - 12:02 pm

Thanks Ceri! Yeah, I love the gallery walls I have in my space, they make me so happy.

Laura (xoxo xenophile) April 19, 2016 - 11:20 pm

Great post! I love all of these ideas, and I’ve used some of them myself.

I’ve started a cocktail ring collection that I expand every time I travel (usually getting a new interesting stone, such as ametrine from Bolivia!), and I’m also a big fan of scarves, coins, and the little knick knacks that you find (like a vejigante mask from Puerto Rico or mini knight figurines from England). I agree with you on the art as well! When I go to art museums, I always try to get a print of my favorite art from the place to add to my collection on the wall. 🙂

Anyway, thanks for this post! I enjoyed reading it 🙂

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