When you travel, it’s nice to buy something small as a memento, or as a gift to show people you were thinking of them while they were stuck at home. But what to get? If you’re travelling long-term, it needs to be something small you can post back, or tuck into a side corner of your luggage. On the other side of the equation, how can people get mail and packages to YOU if you’re busy gallivanting from place to place?
First, let’s look at souvenirs. Size is the key. The bigger and heavier a souvenir is, the less likely it will make it home. Either the cost of postage will be prohibitive, or you’ll decide it isn’t actually worth lugging around 16 countries (oh how glad I am that we didn’t buy that marble chess set).
Look for items that are light, small and inexpensive. Remember a souvenir is a memory, it doesn’t have to break the budget. Some ideas:
- Jewellery, especially earrings for girls. We also found some nice tooled leather bracelets for guys in the Baltics.
- T-shirts and other clothing items. Buy yourself a tacky tourist t-shirt and wear it for the next few months of your trip. It might not make it home, but will appear in all your photos and you’ll remember it well.
- A CD. Find some music from the place you’re in and grab a CD of it. Or pick it up on iTunes; it might not be a physical item but you’ll be taken back every time those songs come up on your iPod.
- Playing cards. Practical and fun.
- A shawl. Another practical clothing item that is also a great gift to stuff down the bottom of your pack to give to your mum when you get home.
- Money. Keep a few coins and low-denomination notes and make a collage with photos and other bits and pieces when you get home.
- Postcards. Send them out indiscriminately, including to yourself.
- Other stuff. Find something you want to collect and get one in each place. We collected patches, but maybe you like magnets, or spoons, or pins.
Getting your mail
An obvious first step is to cut down on the amount of mail you receive in the first place. Cancel magazine subscriptions and ask loyalty programmes not to send you any information. For essential information, try to get it by email rather than in the post.
However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to cut off snail mail entirely. A good plan is to ask a friend or family member to keep your mail for you and send it to you (wherever you are) every month or two. If you particularly trust them, get them to open the mail and only send the important stuff.
Earth Class Mail
If you don’t have someone to do this for you, try Earth Class Mail, a company that exists to perform just this service. You direct all your mail to them, and when something arrives, they’ll take a photo of the envelope and send it to you. You can then decide to have it sent,shredded or opened. If they open it, you can again decide to have it shredded or sent on. You’ll have to have a bit of spare cash to afford this though (which is why getting your dad to do it for free is better).
But both of these ideas require having somewhere to send it! If you’re based somewhere for a while, have it sent to your new place. Or to relatives or friends that you’ll be visiting soon. Or to your work. Hostels and hotels will hold mail for you, but there’s more chance that it will go missing.
If none of these options are for you, use Poste Restante. Basically you have your mail sent to the main post office of the city or town you’re going to be in, and then you go in and pick it up. You usually need to take your passport, and you may be charged a small fee.
Different countries require you to address your mail in different ways, but make sure you include your name, the words “Poste Restante” (or “general delivery” in the US) and the name of the town or country. It will usually go to the main post office. If you’re expecting something and it doesn’t seem to be there, make sure they check under both your first and last names.
Over to you…
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Thanks to @guyngirltravels on Twitter for asking the question that prompted this episode.