Updated: October 18, 2012 6:10AM
I still steal the hotel soap.
I have bars from around the world and just down the street. The Intercontinental Singapore, the Delano in Miami, the Park Hyatt Chicago — seeing these names imprinted on the little white bars takes me back to the places I’ve been, summoning memories of the things I’ve seen. It’s been said that we are the sum of our experiences. Souvenirs are those experiences in material form; little trinkets that tie us to a certain special time and place long after we’ve taken the long flight (or short walk) back home.
It’s been decades since my second-grade field trip to a colonial settlement, but I still have the little metal spoon that I saved up my allowance to buy there. As children, was there anything more coveted than a pair of Mickey Mouse ears from the Magic Kingdom with your name embroidered in yellow thread? A child’s souvenirs become an adult’s cherished treasures, a glimpse into who you were then, when “miles” meant how far away you’d ventured, not how many frequent flier points you’d earned.
My living room is appointed with artifacts from my travels that make for great conversation. A mortar shell from the Siege of Sarajevo sits on my coffee table. Etched by Bosnian artists with flowers and mountain landscapes, it’s a reminder of the proud and hopeful people I met there during my travels with President Clinton. Soon to be framed on my wall is the medal I got after climbing the highest point of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. This cheap knick-knack, sold to me for roughly $4 by a local village woman waiting at the summit, felt like an Olympic gold.
Some of my favorite souvenirs have been given to me, like the military challenge coin I received from a commander during my visits to an overseas military base. Others, like my Air Force One candy dish...well, let’s just say they’re not exactly giving those away. After my first appearance on Larry King Live, the producer gave me my mug from the set, but I learned as a frequent guest that you only get to keep your first one. Every time I pull that mug from the cupboard, I think about who may have used it before me.
Perhaps my most prized souvenir is a djembe, or drum, from Accra, Ghana. The drum is carved with a Sankofa, a West African symbol that means “return to your roots.” It reminds me that wherever I go and however long I’m gone, I can always go home.
The next time you visit someplace new, even if it’s just a business trip to Milwaukee or a weekend getaway to the Indiana Dunes, try to bring a little piece of it back with you. It’ll keep the memory of those experiences fresh in your mind.
You might not always be able to steal away to a foreign country, but you can always steal the soap.
Laura Schwartz donated her fee for writing this column to Clean the World (www.CleantheWorld.org), a charitable organization working with hotels to recycle partially used soap to reach the 9,000 children worldwide that die each day from preventable hygiene-related illnesses.