Unique Souvenirs: The Story Behind My Collection of Travel Pins

Unique Souvenirs: The Story Behind My Collection of Travel Pins

December 04, 2020

Story submitted by traveller Claire

When I tell people I collect souvenir travel pins, they usually ask how many I have. 

Over the years my collection has grown to over 700 pins from destinations all around the world. I keep them on a large canvas map of the world on the wall in my living room and for me, it represents 25 years of travel and a lifetime of memories. 

When I was younger, my parents made a conscious choice to spend most of our vacations in Canada. They thought it was important for us to learn about our own country and we often did camping road trips for several weeks in the summer. 

This is when I first started collecting souvenir pins from all the little towns and tourist attractions, during these road trips. Pins were an easy choice because they are small, easy to transport, not breakable and typically not very expensive.

This was also back in the late 1990s when there were no smartphones, so when we would stop in a new town or city it was a fun activity to go have a look around and try to find a pin, almost like a scavenger hunt. My collection consisted only of pins from Canadian and American destinations until I left for Europe for the first time in 2011 to do a field research project with the University of Toronto. 

Once I started travelling further abroad, I found it much harder to find pins especially in Asia, and now I sometimes buy jewellery, charms, small magnets or other items I find at markets and make them into pins when I get home from my trip. I’ve managed to get a pin from every major city I’ve ever been to, with the exception of Naples, Chester, Thessaloniki, and Derry.

To me, it’s never been about showing off how many places I’ve visited, collecting pins has instead been a way to preserve the memories and recall the experiences I’ve had during my travels. Many of the pictures from these trips have long since been lost, but I can go up to my pin board and find a particular pin and remember everything we did, the people we met, and all the adventures I’ve been on. 

It’s always fun to go looking around a new city to find a pin, and I particularly enjoy visiting antique markets and galleries to find unique options. I also try to find original work by local artists whenever possible. Every pin in my collection has a story, but I will share a few of the more memorable ones here. 

I was in Amsterdam for Queen’s Day one year, which is the annual national celebration in the Netherlands in late April. People are able to set up little markets all around the city and sell anything they want (usually used items, but also costumes, food, and drinks). I went to the biggest market in Vondelpark and got a little crocheted orange crown pin from a woman selling handmade embroidered decorations for Queen’s Day. I told her we were from Canada and she told us about her backpacking adventures in North America back when she was in university. I wore that pin on my jacket all weekend during the celebrations. We took a canal cruise on a decorated boat, watched parades, concerts and fireworks and walked around the entire city full of people wearing orange and celebrating. 

Another time, when I was in Bosnia, I had a hard time finding any pins at all. I was digging around in the back of an antique store in the Old Town of Sarajevo one day and finally found the tiniest little vintage stick pin and brought it up to the cash register and the shopkeeper laughed and asked why I wanted such a thing. I told him it was for my collection, that I had one from everywhere I had ever been and I was so excited to finally find a pin for Sarajevo. He laughed again when I asked the price and told me to take it as a gift and tell people to come visit Bosnia. 

Since I have started sharing my collection on Instagram, I always do research to try and identify the creator or artist of a pin and properly credit them. On Remembrance Day (November 11) I posted a pin made by a small Canadian design studio in Newfoundland to illustrate my visit to the Vimy Memorial in France, and they were so interested in my story that they shared my post and we had a lovely conversation about travelling. So even though I can’t actually travel right now, I am still connecting with people all across the world through my collection. 

What I enjoy most about having this souvenir collection is the adventures I went on to find the pins, and all the interesting, helpful, and kind people I met along the way. 

It’s hard to choose a favourite, I think one of the more unique ones is the pink one from Lake Louise you can see in the picture here. Most pins are some combination of blue, green, red, gold and silver. Colours like orange and pink are hard to find, let alone pink and purple! This was from a recent trip in February 2020, and it will always remind me of spending the afternoon skating on Lake Louise with my friends. 

The final one I want to share is this pin from Lake Superior Provincial Park, which is a large protected nature area located in Ontario, Canada where my family used to go camping years ago. This was one of the first pins in my collection, purchased back in 1999. Earlier in 2020, I was up in Northern Manitoba for work when the COVID lockdown was announced in Canada and we had to drive back home to Toronto immediately. We passed by the shores of Lake Superior on the way and I stopped by to visit the same place I had been twenty years ago. In this picture, I have one of my oldest pins along with one of the last places I was able to visit before the lockdown started in Canada. 

I am excited to start travelling once again when it's safe, to have new experiences, meet new friends, and add new travel memories to my collection. 

Instagram: @clairepinstravel

Website: www.clairepins.com

Pin Credits  

Koh Phangan: Purchased as a bracelet at a night market on Koh Phangan in 2019, no artist listed. 

Lake Louise: Purchased at the Chateau Lake Louise gift shop in 2020, manufactured by Crazy Canuck souvenirs. 

Lake Superior: Purchased at the Agawa Bay campground info centre in 1999, no artist listed. 

Maple Leaf: Purchased at the gift shop of The Rooms museum in Newfoundland in 2017. Designed and manufactured by Oberholtzer Design.

Orange Crown: Purchased at the Queen’s Day market in Vondelpark in 2013, handmade.


This post was submitted by a traveller as part of our Trade Your Time for Travel program. Click here to learn how you can earn travel credits towards a future trip with us, just by sharing a memorable travel experience.  #tradeyourtimefortravel

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