Sounvenirs for family are the universal panacea for travel guilt. But what do you do when any memento from anywhere can be bought everywhere?
What's the point of travel without unique souvenirs?
Mr T and I are lucky enough to travel frequently. We enjoy it, and although many trips are back home to Jordan to be with my family, my parents are understanding enough to urge us to take as many trips out in the wide, wonderful world as we can manage. They have to say that, because otherwise every plane ride will be to Amman and we'll never have any global adventures - a curse of the married woman who lives in a different country from her parents.
And yet one recurring theme that we have to contend with is the presents we feel we have to buy for our families.
It started with our first trip as a married couple: our honeymoon. The Maldives make it quite easy to forget family and anything to do with the outside world. Mr T had to remind himself exactly how many siblings he had, and we were giddy with the beauty and seclusion of the islands. This was the most selfish type of vacation we would ever get to take, we said to ourselves, and there was no need to hunt for gifts for those waiting for us back home.
The guilt struck in Male airport, where we found ourselves with three hours to kill before boarding our return flight. Maybe we should take a look at the gift shops, we convinced each other. After all, with plenty of space in our luggage, maybe we should consider a key chain per sibling?
We went all-out, even buying wooden vases that proudly proclaim "Maldives" on them for Mr T's uncles. We found notebooks made of recycled paper, with wooden turtles on the front, and pencils fashioned from tree bark. We grabbed T-shirts printed with sharks for my brothers, and bracelets of coral for Mr T's sisters.
Almost 17 months later, we still run into these items in the shops of Dubai. That exact wooden vase, minus the carving of the word "Maldives", is especially annoying, seeing as we've found it in every country we've ever visited. The coral bracelet? Every accessories shop in the mall sells it. The tree bark pencils? They are apparently a Jordanian craft.
In Venice, we spent a morning on Murano island, watching the glass blowers as they created the glass for which the island is famous. We spent hours choosing the perfect bowl to bring back home. Imagine our surprise when we found a shop in Dubai last month selling exclusively Murano glass, and our glass bowl in the centre of the biggest display case in the place.
The purses I bought my sisters-in-law in Paris, emblazoned with the Eiffel Tower, can be found in the Hamdan Centre, right here in Abu Dhabi. Imagine my surprise, or more accurately, my rage.
This has been the case wherever we go. Every trip, we vow not to concern ourselves with silly gifts and meaningless souvenirs. Every end of trip, we are struck by guilt and off to the shops we go.
I wonder if we'll ever learn our lesson. Considering the joy we encounter every time we hand over a gift, I really doubt it.
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