If you take a vacation trip this summer, even a short one, chances are you'll return with a few souvenirs. Maybe a T-shirt, a key ring, a poster, or perhaps some seashells.
It's nice to have something to remind us of where we went and what we did. But have you ever thought about what a wonderful opportunity trips are to start a new collection or add to an old one?
If you like rocks, you might enjoy looking for them each place you stop. Or when it's time to eat, you could ask for an extra paper place mat with the restaurant's name and address.
By themselves, these objects may not seem very interesting. They become far more meaningful, though, if they connect to experiences we've had.
"Some people collect in order to collect the stories that go along with the objects," says Tamara Grybko. She's the collections manager of the Children's Museum of Boston.
For example: A rather ordinary straw hat was given to the museum by a man of Hispanic descent. "What is remarkable about this hat," Ms. Grybko explains, "is that it's the one this man's father wore when he walked into the United States to start a new life here."
You can imagine the wealth of memories this hat represents. But what if you decide to collect bars of soap, provided to guests in motel and hotel rooms? What could possibly be special about that?
For the answer, ask yourself what happened while staying at this motel or hotel. What was it like? Did you eat in the hotel restaurant and try anything new? Which places did you visit?
When you ask these sorts of questions, Grybko says, an otherwise insignificant object can spark memories.
"You might want to keep a trip journal," she suggests. "That way, when you get home, you can remember why what you collected is important. It doesn't need to be done in complete sentences. Just carry a notebook and jot down a few words."
If you're not interested in writing, take a tape recorder and simply talk into it, describing your "finds" from the trip. Even if you keep nothing but the tape, imagine the fun it might be to play it back years from now, perhaps for your own children.
A camera, which many people take on a trip anyhow, also can be handy when collecting. Take a picture of where you found or acquired a particular object - whether at a baseball stadium, a museum, or simply alongside the road somewhere.
Anything can be a collection
Wildflowers, for example, can make beautiful and lasting collectibles when properly pressed and dried. And they're free. You just need to pick them only on public property.
TC Morsch (that's right - her name is "TC") is the director of clubs for Enesco Corp., a giftware and collectibles company in Itasca, Ill. She says focusing on things like state birds and flowers can be good ways to define a collection.
Find an object that bears an image of the state bird, for instance. This will have more meaning if you collect it on location. But even if you never travel to all 50 states, getting objects that signify each one is a realistic goal.
Doing a little research ahead of time really helps, Ms. Morsch says. Use the Internet and your local library. They are excellent sources of detailed background information on many topics.
"It's all about exploring and the curiosity in every person," she says. "Truly, anything can become a collection - from bugs to bubblegum. Try to find out all you can about what you want to collect. If you've got friends interested in the same things, you can be learning from each other."
Get your family involved
You can also trade items, just as you would trading cards, to fill gaps in your collection. Or ask a friend who's traveling to be on the lookout for a missing piece.
One of the neat things about collecting on vacation is that you can get your whole family involved. "It can be a good way to get people connecting," Grybko says.
Before you begin a collection, think about availability. Will you be able to find -without too much trouble - the items you're collecting? Most people want to be able to add to their collections on a regular basis. If the items you seek are too hard to find, you might get discouraged and quit.
If your collection consists of purchased items, you need to think about cost. Can you afford it?
Gift shops are popular places to look for inexpensive collectibles. You may find lapel pins, refrigerator magnets, cloth patches, maps, bumper stickers, postcards, pens, and pencils that bear the name or image of the city, state, or local attraction. Specially designed souvenir spoons are still popular and widely available.
So, too, are Christmas ornaments, which are sold year-round in many touristy stores. If you can't find an ornament, Ms. Morsch says, you can easily make your own by just tying a string to something that will hang from the tree.
Little or no money may be needed to start a cool collection. Besides motel soap and restaurant place mats, consider other "freebie" possibilities, such as travel brochures, transit schedules, or business cards.
Stores and restaurants often place a stack of their business cards near the cash register. These cards have several attractions: One side carries information (and often a colorful image) about where you've been. The other side is blank. That's where you can jot down the date you visited and what occurred. The cards are small, portable, and easily stored and displayed in business-card "files" (photo-albumlike books available in office-supply stores).
Tips on displaying your finds
A compact collection is a plus, not only because you can take it places, but also because it takes up less room. When you travel, space and weight are factors. Your parents might not want to haul bushels of rocks around in the trunk.
Most people want to share their collections. Scrapbooks and albums may be ideal for this. For small objects, egg cartons make handy display cases. Hardware stores sell clear-plastic boxes with small compartments. Empty film canisters are good for collecting beach sand. For larger objects, try hanging shoe storage bags with clear pockets.
Shells, seeds, or other small items can be made into attractive collages, using heavy cardboard or foamcore and a hot-glue gun. (You'll need a grown-up's help, too.)
Some collections can be put to daily use. Bookmarks, for example. And what about turning parts of maps and travel brochures into place-mat collages, protected on each side with clear contact paper? They can also be laminated at a copy center or office-supply store.
When you start a collection, Grybko says, you might accumulate more than you need at first. That's OK. It can help you get a better idea of what you like. "You begin to see which things you like more than others," she says, "and which ones you don't necessarily want to keep."
This sifting process also helps in organizing a collection.
There are lots of strategies for this. Similar items can be grouped together, or you can organize them chronologically or geographically.
"The rule of thumb in organizing," Grybko says, "is to come up with a system that works for you."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society