My cup runneth over with travel memories! When I first started travelling in my twenties, I'd somehow manage to come home with the most kitschy souvenirs imaginable. I was the guy who bought the T-shirt emblazoned with "My Cheap Uncle Went to....and came home with this lousy T-shirt." (How is it that my nephew didn't treasure this present forever? Did it warrant a sad ending in Labour Day yard sale?) But then my junk cupboard got crowded – and airlines started charging ridiculous baggage fees. Plus, to be honest, the lure of Elvis salt 'n' pepper shakers and Tower of London night lights wore off. So I stopped buying tchotchkes during my travels. My bank balance was happier, and my suitcase got lighter. Then something happened on the way back from a recent trip to the U.S. I spotted this little wooden box at the check-out in an airport card shop and it lured me right in. Credit card down, transaction complete. Talk about impulse buying.
•••So why did I cave this time? Did this little item somehow remind me of the restorative cup of coffee I had while – in a grumpy mood, I admit – I was forced to wait out a rainstorm in a dock-side cafe in Helsinki years ago, a two-hour break that dispelled my grumpiness and turned my day around? Did the quirky expression "I drink coffee for your protection" take me back to a Paris cafe where I spent endless afternoons in the 1990s? I clearly remembered skipping French class week after week because I had given up on conquering the French subjunctive, and I was at times homesick. So instead of going to Madame Lefleur's class I spent hour after hour improving my French the proper way – by speaking to strangers in a cafe. By sharing my world with complete strangers. And I clearly recall the epiphany when I realized that spending my time this way was good for me. It made me really, really happy. Who could be in an off mood while drinking coffee in a Left Bank cafe and making new friends. there's no doubt about it. I love my coffee, especially when I'm travelling. It's my best conduit to meeting people. It's my guaranteed feel-good indulgence. In case you're interested, I've since spotted this box on e-Bay. And if it doesn't tickle your fancy, there are always Elvis salt and pepper shakers. What's the best souvenir you've ever purchased while travelling? Why do you hang onto it?