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The Stories Behind Our Favorite Travel Gear and Souvenirs

We asked the GP staff to share their favorite travel items — things that are dear to them, and that stir nostalgia.

Henry Phillips

Things we travel with tend to fall into two categories: what we leave home with, like watches, backpacks and jackets, which build up patina and memories like scar tissue; and the extras we bring back, the little trinkets, knick-knacks and meaningful gifts we pick up that serve as bookmarks for specific moments. Though different, both are important: they tell the who, what, when, where and why of our travel experiences.

In this spirit, we asked the GP staff to share their favorite travel items — things that are dear to them, that stir nostalgia. What people brought in was a mix of travel essentials and souvenirs. Each tells a silent story, reflecting our experiences from the road, sea and air.

The Souvenirs

What We Pick Up Along the Way

Saddle Blanket, Picked Up in Moab, UT


I got this saddle blanket in Moab, Utah a few years ago. It was the first time that I had ridden my mountain bike in the Southwest. After school was out for the summer, my dad and I took a trip out there to ride the famed slickrock. Even though it’s probably made overseas somewhere, it will always remind me of desert sunsets and time spent riding with my dad. – AJ Powell

A Keychain from Amsterdam


It was my first time in Amsterdam. I was bumming around the city for a few days in the summer of 2011, a short weekend trip while I was living in London with my then-girlfriend. Bikes everywhere. Viewing Amsterdam as a mini-vacation, we immediately went to the nearest coffee shop and bought weed. Too much of it. We only had two or three days to smoke through it before getting back on a plane to London, those RyanAir deals with dirty tray tables, everyone jockeying for a seat close to the exit. So most memories of my trip are in a haze of smoke, punctuated by some nice views of Vondelpark, where everyone seems to be up to something, and one or two of the many bridges, taken in from the seat of a rented bike. But there is one sustained flash of thought, clinically clean, at the Van Gogh Museum. Paintings from my favorite artist, a man who died unknown and in pain, on every wall, on every floor, everywhere. In the gift shop I found the silicon ear-shaped key ring, which gave me a good laugh and turned out to be the perfect shape, size and texture to keep my keys handy at all times. I’ve used it ever since.
J. Travis Smith

A Key Fob from the Old West


Whenever I’m in the Inland Northwest, I make a point to stop by Cisco’s Gallery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Specializing in rare and one-of-a-kind pieces of American History, specifically the Old West, Cisco’s is truly extraordinary. Though most of the prices are prohibitively expensive, there are some hitched horsehair key fobs for sale on the front desk. Hitched horsehair pieces were originally produced by prisoners in the territorial prisons of the Western United States, and this modern piece was made at the Deer Lodge prison in Montana. Though I can’t walk out of Cisco’s with a squash blossom necklace or Tlingit mask, I consider this key fob an excellent consolation prize.
John Zientek

Kung Fú Sandals


I travel to Madrid about every other year, and I always make a point to visit Calzados Lobo, a small shoe shop founded in the 1800s, near Plaza Mayor. I’m looking for the same thing each time: what the Spanish call “Kung Fú” sandals, a more practical version of the classic espadrille (which are better found at the nearby Casa Hernaz), with elastic sides and a rubber sole. These are more narrow than similar versions found in Chinatowns around the world. I buy about 10 pairs per trip, always in black, and always a size too small. They stretch, and wear out quickly, especially in a place like New York — but nothing is better suited for quick runs to the corner bodega. They’re also perfectly suited for slipping on and off through airport security.
Jack Seemer

Bedside Racing Patches


Like most kids who grew up reading dogeared copies of Road & Track on the can, I had aspirations of writing about cars for a career but always assumed it wouldn’t pan out. Yet just a year ago I was in Savannah on my first press trip, writing a review on a BMW I was driving around Savannah. Part of that trip included a day at Savannah Speedway for the Savannah Speed Classic.

If you ever have a chance to go to a vintage race, skulk around the infield. What you’ll usually find are a few stands ripe with memorabilia. This can range from poorly screen-printed tee shirts to expensive and detailed diecast models, but what caught my eye were two patches: one for Fiat Racing, the other an Italian flag. I bought them to sew onto a canvas or denim jacket in a fit of brand loyalty, but I’ve never quite found the time. Instead they remain unaltered in a box by my bedside, as a constant reminder of where I’ve come in my career. – Andrew Connor

Feathers from a South Dakota Pheasant


The plains of South Dakota is a place entirely opposite New York City. Out in Pierre, the grasslands and farmlands are understood only in 10s of miles, and roads run in dead-straight lines directly into the horizon. The only thing to do in the early winter is hunt birds (or deer), and for the past six years, the hunt’s been an annual tradition among my friends. To keep these feathers in a Manhattan high-rise, sitting on a desk next to a monitor, is to remember that there are the great expanses in America. It reminds me that there are, and will be, simple times spent out in a windswept, empty place, with only a few friends, an open vista, and a few brave birds about to fly. – Matt Ankeny

The Essentials

What We Take with Us

Romance with a Leatherbound Pocket Journal


Jotting down notes with a pen and paper seems so antiquated. Pens run out of ink, paper runs out of space, and if the ink runs or graphite smudges, good luck reciting that key quote or remembering that brilliant idea. The dozens of note-taking apps with infinite space and autocorrect makes transcribing a thought into a smartphone so much more efficient than the analog ways of old. But on every trip, either business or personal, I still write more notes in my leather-bound travel journal than I type in my iPhone. There’s a certain romance to soaking ideas into paper with ink, even if it looks like my personal shorthand chicken scratch that I call handwriting. – Bryan Campbell

Victorinox, Classic SD Pocket Knife


My grandpa Bob didn’t give many gifts. He was a warm, though slightly stiff and exceedingly frugal man. When I was young, and we shared the same state, he would sit me down and read Dr Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go to me. When he moved across the country we lost touch, but connected primarily through my involvement in the Boy Scouts. After I earned the rank of Eagle Scout, he sent me this knife in the mail. It’s small enough that I carry it nearly everywhere, city or backcountry. It’s also small enough that I’ve lost or misplaced it more than I’d like to admit. Somehow it always finds its way back. – Ted Jamison

Portable DVD Player, Circa 2002


I was 12 years old when I unwrapped this bad boy. The year was 2002. I already owned the first Lord of the Rings film on DVD, The Two Towers had just hit theaters and I was spending my nights jumping from couch to couch pretending to shoot imaginary creatures with arrows.

Over the next several years this little piece of machinery helped me watch all those LOTR films, dozens of times over, when I traveled. In the winters we’d drive five to seven hours to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to go skiing. In the summers, we’d drive eight south the OBX (nine hours) or north to Lake Winnipesaukee (five hours). On all those road trips I’d watch movies, mostly LOTR (the Special Edition versions, of course), on this Panasonic DVD-LA95 portable DVD player. Remember, this was before the time where everybody had laptops, or had TVs in their cars, so watching films on the road was a luxury. Plus this thing had a nine-inch screen — which was huge! If you look at it, you can still see its original stickers. I kept this thing in pristine condition. I loved it. Hell, it shaped the way I viewed family road trips.
Tucker Bowe

An Unlikely Travel Wallet


My travel usually involves carrying a lot of gear, so every little thing that I can do to save time in transit is invaluable. That’s where my Essentials Case from Rapha comes in. Although it’s not designed to be a travel wallet — it can carry a spare inner tube, tire levers, CO2 cartridges, multi-tools, and a phone during a bike ride — that’s exactly what it turned out to be. It’s big enough to fit all my cards, plus my cash, passport, phone (up to iPhone 6, not 6 Plus) and a notebook (Field Notes), but small enough to fit in my pocket. Holding all that gets me through airport security checkpoints faster, and eliminates the need to check every pocket looking for my stuff. Everything I need is in one spot. – Sung Han

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