For many, travel has the tendency to unleash our inner shopper, that part of us that loves to roam wild in search of amazing bargains and souvenirs of all shapes and sizes. Far from home, nothing is too cheap, tawdry or tight. (Hey, do these leather pants make me look too Bret Michaels?)

The worst schlock can take on totemic significance during a traveller’s shopping trance. And every trinket we end up buying tells a tale. The gift shop keychain that talks (it tells me the time, on the hour, in Spanish) recalls a memorable desert tour in Los Cabos when the friendly guide patiently endured my Spanglish. And my shot glass from Manzanillo, if it could speak, would demand another round for its new friends and then later beg for Tylenol. 

Indeed, our personalities find expression in foraged treasures. And there are as many kinds of shoppers as there are things to buy. Obsessive fan, culture vulture, foodie, coffee nut—I’ve been all of them, at one time or another. 

As an obsessive fan, I learned that what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas after carting home bags stuffed full of souvenirs from The Beatles Shop, a licensed Beatles retail store, in The Mirage Hotel and Casino

As I had stood in line to pay—the band’s first American tour T-shirt draped over one arm, a Beatles Abbey Road guitar strap over the other, my hands juggling a Beatles Love mug, a poster of the Fab Four, an aquamarine Beatles dress shirt, a card set and a Yellow Submarine art piece by on-site local artist Jon Blosdale—I overheard a guy from Manchester, England, lamenting that he could not find a Sgt. Pepper throw rug. 

Well, the heart wants what the heart wants, I thought. For better or for worse, this guy was part of my tribe, another obsessive fan.

As a culture vulture, it’s local art that I seek out. Before the nightly cultural festivities at Mazatlan’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), held at the beginning of November, I got my face painted white and bought a Dia de los Muertos mask near downtown’s Plaza Machado to help hide my next day’s pallor. 

The foodie in me loves to stock up at the local farmers’ markets. At the outdoor market in Zihuatanejo, I paid less than a dollar for a little pouch containing pieces of Nopal cactus, then took it to the chef at my hotel and he prepared it in a salad. I couldn’t bring the cactus home to Calgary, but I kept the pouch, and the memory of my time in that bustling market remains fresh. 

During my travels, I’ve learned that what we buy and when we purchase it pins a memory to place, fixing it with a glow. When my wife and I took a coffee estate tour in Maui, our java nut personas shone through and we spent more than $150 on MauiGrown beans. Now every morning at home, when we sip our Maui Estate Blend Dark Roast, we return to warm breezes with our toes in the sand.