Is there really anything better than a long, relaxing vacation? Think of the time away from the office, a break from home projects and responsibilities, and the opportunity to explore and enjoy another part of the world near or far from home. But vacations can be expensive, and as much as I often want to bring back a special souvenir or two, I don't want to break the bank. That's why I've adopted a strategy over the years to bring back beautiful and meaningful mementos that can adequately remind me of our wonderful vacations without limiting my ability to go on future vacations due to limited funds.

When we travel, Alex and I gravitate towards two types of souvenirs: artwork and Christmas ornaments. Early on in our travels together we made the mistake (like many tourists do), of wasting our money on mass produced, sometimes tacky, and often low quality souvenirs. After making this common misstep during one or two of our early getaways we decided to focus our efforts and budget on bringing back items that we could incorporate seamlessly into our home as decor.

While we've mentioned our collection of glass Christmas ornaments in several other posts, I've never talked about our artwork. Typically Alex and I will search the streets of our vacation destinations for reasonably priced pieces from talented artists selling their works. To me, there's just something about a one of a kind piece created in the city we were visiting, but sometimes that's just not possible to find. When an artist or piece that I really like proves to be somewhat elusive, I have taken to purchasing local  "art" in the form of postcards. Yep, you read that right, postcards.

When we recently shared the details on our Luckett's purchase of a vintage globe for our office, we received several questions about the national parks artwork hanging above the bookcase in that room. 

These little pieces of art are a joy for both of us, and they are by no means random and simply stuck on the wall to fill space.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that Alex and I love California, specifically San Francisco and the Napa Valley. Each year for the last seven years, we've made a trip to this part of the country to eat, drink, and be merry.

A few years back, when wandering through San Francisco, we stumbled into shop that was selling large framed versions of a series of National Park prints for the Bay Area. Created by Bay Area graphic artist Michael Schwab, the prints highlight the various iconic US Park scenes in and around the San Francisco Bay. Alex and I both really loved the look, the colors, and the subject matter, but sadly didn't love the price tag. At over $100 for each poster sized print, we just weren't willing to drop that kind of cash on posters that were cheaply framed and would ultimately have no real place to hang in our home. Besides, we didn't like just one, we liked many, and many would cost, well, much more!

Though we left that store empty handed, the thought of those posters stuck with us as we tried to figure out a way to make it work. As luck would have it we found a way. The next day we were in the a store at Pier 39 shopping away like normal tourists. Alex was probably listening to the barking of the sea lions from their floating platforms while I was perusing the postcard selection. My eyes lit up as I discovered the exact same national park series, albeit in a much smaller postcard size. To add some spoils to my victory the cards were just 99 cents each. Score! I excitedly showed Alex, and explained that for under four dollars we could achieve the same look that could have cost more than $400, and it would be far more functional in our home. He seemed a bit skeptical at first, but I figured that for less than a fancy coffee, we were coming home with these postcards. He and I selected the four postcards that meant the most to us and our trip. They represent the places we've enjoyed the most on our various travels to San Francisco.

Once home from our trip, I tucked them safely in our bookcase and my search for frames began. Here's the thing about custom framing -- it can be very, very expensive. So while you might save money buying inexpensive art (or postcards as the case may be), you can easily blow your budget on the framing. Therefore I try to look for art that is a standard frame size, like 4"x6" or 5"x7", so that I can buy a ready made, matted frame, and a fraction of the price of custom. Wouldn't you know it, these standard sized postcards happened to be just the right size for our needs. 

A couple months later, while shopping our neighborhood Crate & Barrel Outlet, I found exactly what I was looking for. For less than $10 each I picked up four pre-made frames. The simple lines and black frames worked perfectly with the design of the postcards, and were a perfect size to hang two over two in our office.

I brought them home, cleaned them with a bit of glass cleaner, and framed them up, using a bit of scotch tape to secure each postcard in the window of the matte. I then surprised Alex at Christmas and gave them to him as a gift. Wouldn't you know it, he forgot that we had even purchased them, but they were absolutely a huge hit with him.

I love the arrangement of these postcards and that they have the look of far more expensive artwork than the $11 per piece price tag we ended up paying. I love that the colors work well with the paint, rug, and our new globe. I love the slightly masculine feel they add to a room in which Alex spends a lot of time. Lastly, I love that every time I glance up at these four frames, I'm transported back to a wonderful, relaxing vacation, and I can smell the sour dough bread (and sea lions) and feel the cool Bay air whip through my hair. Ahhh, vacation.

Inexpensive artwork can go beyond postcards. Greeting cards also can be a fun alternative, like these letter press cards I bought last summer in London during our Olympic getaway. I haven't found the right frames or spot for them just yet, but like the National Park series, I'm sure the time will come.

Do you like to bring home souvenirs from vacation? Is there something in particular that you collect? Perhaps you look back at the pair of Mickey Mouse ears tucked under your bed collecting dust, and have regrets? I'd love to hear all about your vacation mementos -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Comments 22


3/20/2013 at 12:59 PM
Those London cards are adorable! I collect snow globes from my travels, which is a nasty habit that I am trying to give up. There is nothing cool about snow globes, but the husband tells me I'm not allowed to get rid of them. I guess they are part of me now.
Thanks Abby. I loved those London cards too.

I actually think there's something very romantic about snow globes! It's probably a good thing we have such a small house, or I'd be starting several new collections. :-)
3/20/2013 at 1:34 PM
We love collecting art and Christmas ornaments too! I love that it doesn't have to be expensive art to look great AND remind you of a special trip. I love your California postcards & how lucky to find frames with matting that fit perfectly!
Thanks Sarah! I was so happy to have stumbled upon those frames. They were a great find!
3/20/2013 at 2:43 PM
Mike and I are shot glass collectors. We're planning on building a bar in one of the outbuildings at the new house, so they'll have a home there!
That's so cool! Alex used to collect shot glasses in college. It would be so nice to have a place to properly display them.
3/20/2013 at 2:50 PM
I too have begun purchasing postcards to frame later as art. I love when I can find a series of postcards that I can frame to create a gallery. It creates such a nice effect instead of one lonely item.
I agree Heather. I love the look of a series, rather than a one off, especially when they're a small size like a postcard. :-)
3/20/2013 at 3:25 PM
I love the postcard art. When I was redoing my bedroom I wanted to do something fun on one of the larger walls. I found some vintage French postcards online and bought frames of all different sizes to hang them as a gallery wall. My favorite one is a trio of postcards, two of them were cancelled by the post office and have brief notes on them. The postcards, frames and hardware cost less than $60 total!
Wow, what a great idea! I love too that two of your postcards were sent/cancelled. One of a kind!
Debra Cripps
3/20/2013 at 3:30 PM
We do the same thing!
3/20/2013 at 3:50 PM
We do the same thing! Love those type of cards. I blogged about it a couple of years ago, we have most of them above our headboard.
That's great Ainhoa! What a special place to put them, so you can start and end your day thinking of happy memories. :-)
Jo Ann
3/20/2013 at 7:00 PM
I buy Christmas ornaments on our vacations. I just love decorating my tree every year and thinking about the places where I bought them! I love the post card idea, too. My daughter collects those when she goes to art museums! Much less expensive than the real prints.
We do the same thing with our ornaments too. Decorating the tree is so much fun when you can reminisce about trips from years past. :-)
3/21/2013 at 7:59 AM
Yes to the Christmas ornaments and postcards. I also have a few posters from museums; the two Monets are in our master bedroom, along with smaller Monets that are actually notecards ;-) One of the framed pieces of art in our dining room is actually a paper placemat featuring a watercolor of a restaurant ( that we visited on vacation when I was 10 years old. I saved the placemat (I'm a geek, what can I say), and was tickled just now to see the same watercolor on their website, 40+ years later.
The placemat idea is genious! And how cool that they have the same watercolor on their site 40 years later! :-)
3/21/2013 at 11:35 AM
I actually got and framed those same National Parks cards for my mom! I picked up ones from all the parks we had been to together, and got a larger sized version of the park we used to go to every year. It made a wonderful gift.
What a neat coincidence. I hope your mom loved them as much as we do, and what a special gift! :-)
3/21/2013 at 3:34 PM
I collect postcards everywhere I visit now. As a kid I used to collect keychains but later on decided they were bulky and took up too much space. I love postcards because they're cheap and they pack flat. I have such a collection now and I'm not sure how I want to display all my post cards.
I totally agree in that I love how they pack flat as well. I love that you pick them up on all your trips, and I bet you could find a really cool way to display them all. Maybe Pinterest could provide some inspiration?
3/29/2013 at 10:35 AM
I buy postcards and pencils of museums/tourist attractions or countries when I travel, because they are cheap and small/light (I travel with just one backpack so space is important). My favourite is to buy postcards of art pieces but they are really piling up!

Other than purchasing postcards and bringing them home, I also buy a postcard representative of each city (or country) and send them home with a note so it has the stamps and postal chops (of each country/city) on them as well.

I don't know what to do with them yet (decluttering my other stuff right now so no time for decorating yet), but I look through them every now and then. I love how they have dings and marks and folds in them, and the notes always bring me back to the time I was there. The only country I'm missing so far is Japan even though I have been there twice in a year, because I have no idea how to buy a stamp! Language issues...

For pencils, one day I'll sharpen all of them and put them in a container where I'll use and appreciate them daily.
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