Though we don’t travel with the goal of shopping—in fact, we travel in part to escape our consumer society—we’re not completely immune from wanting to buy a few things on the road. By using common sense, once in a while we can do a little shopping without taking up needed storage space or spending much.
Food, being consumable, is a great on-the-road purchase. Stocking up on frozen entrees at Wal-Mart may be cheap and convenient, but it’s not as healthy or tasty as buying fresh produce and other groceries along the way. Even at home we tend to buy most of our produce at a year-round market featuring locally grown items; when we travel, we try to find farmer’s markets and other local food sources. We have bought maple sugar, elderberry jam, blueberry syrup, and much more as souvenirs. Harvest Hosts allow RVer members to stay on their property free or in combination with buying wine or other products they produce. We have yet to try that option, but it sounds like a great idea.
We had only one bad experience with buying farmer’s market foods, and it was all too instructive. Returning to the States from Canada, we saw a market just a few miles from the border. We bought delicious corn, fruit, and other things, and stuffed the refrigerator. And then we crossed the border and went through inspections. The Canadian inspectors gave us no trouble, but those in the U.S. treated us almost like ecoterrorists, lecturing us about not bringing possibly infected food into the country. Worse, they confiscated all the food. We should have known better—we live in California, where even crossing the state line involves being inspected for plant pests! For some reason we had not expected the political barrier between Canada and the U.S. to be vulnerable to infections. The dollar loss was not great, but we really missed eating the delicious food, felt stupid, and suspected that we had provided the inspectors with a picnic.
Another trip to Canada turned out better. The weather was colder than I’d expected, so I bought a lovely, fleecy sweatshirt. It’s bulky, but often bulky is good. I wear it often. Clothing in general can be a good thing to buy on the road if it’s actually needed. If it’s not, then extra clothes can take up too much space.
Souvenirs don’t usually tempt us much, but there are exceptions, and seeing those we have are pleasant reminders of our travels. The little corn-husk fiddler doll from the Blue Ridge, the posters from the Navajo National Monument and other sites, a few small geodes, and other small souvenirs bring back good memories. If we ever find something irresistible to buy and don’t have space for it, there is a last-ditch method: we can have stuff mailed to our home post office box. So far we have managed to squeeze everything in and avoid shipping charges.
Window-shopping can be enjoyable and costs nothing. When we went to Monument Valley I looked at some interesting pottery at Goulding’s gift shop, but paid nothing.
|So much more than a gift shop! Goulding's at Monument Valley|
During many years as an environmentalist, I have been enthusiastically shopping at second-hand shops, even furnishing a series of homes with used furniture. So, on the road I also look around any thrift shops for second-hand items I can use. Luckily, these can often be found near Laundromats, which we need every week or so. While the laundry spins, I can indulge in that shopping. No furniture, of course—at least, not yet!—but sometimes I can find something small.
I have a huge collection of book marks, mostly from art museums. These take up virtually no space, cost very little, and make great souvenirs. I use them at home for the obvious use, and enjoy remembering various art exhibits and museums. Sometimes I have arranged some under a sheet of glass on a table. Post cards, too, are a tiny and cheap purchase. We post some of them on the walls of the Winnebago View, send a few to friends, bring some home to add to photo albums along with our own photos of travel.
National and state parks visitor centers are our favorite source of must-have souvenirs. There is a little dreck, mainly aimed at children or their grandparents, but in general these centers are well stocked with books for all ages about the local park, posters, and other items that may not be available elsewhere. Not only do these help us recall the area, but the money benefits the parks. In this time of budget-cutting and opposition to the parks, that trumps everything. (We also are members of the National Parks Conservation Association. We scarcely notice our small monthly contribution, and like to think we are doing a little to help maintain these wonderful places. (It also assuages any guilt we feel for saving lots of money with our Golden Age passes.)
Text copyright © 2017 by Carol Stone; photos copyright © 2017 by Thane Puissegur