Last week I went to Tokyo. I got myself a windbreaker and I got my baby a pop-up book and a mobile. I got origami paper and tea and a Wi-Fi-enabled zoom-lens earwax picker. I bought trinkets for my friends — stickers, pins, a pop-up book, a bracelet, a squishy peach that looks like a butt. Of course I got a lot of snacks.
But I made sure I got socks. If you get socks everywhere you go, you’ll have a souvenir that sticks around for months or years.
Every time you pass through a gift shop, if you just want something to remember a specific experience, take a glance at the socks. Art prints might not make it back in one piece; stationery won’t get used. But you could always use some new socks.
And everyone is ready to sell you a sock that reminds you of this particular leg of your trip. Art socks at the art museum, skyline socks at the famous tall building, mascot socks at Disney World.
Socks say a little about where they’re from, beyond the print. You’ll get woolly socks in Finland, tall rain-boot socks in London, no-show socks in Miami, hiking socks in Appalachia, big scratchy Pendleton socks in Portland, indoor sandal socks (with the separated toe!) in Japan, flag socks in every country.
If you pack a pair or two of almost-dead socks, you can throw them out on your trip. Now your new socks take literally zero new space in your luggage. You can even stop packing socks, and buy all the socks for your trip as you go. For every day of your visit, a pair of socks to remind you of that day, every time you wear it.
You can hand them out as travel gifts. They’re cheap but non-ephemeral. Practical but whimsical. You can pick up a half-dozen to pass out to friends.
I’m not saying you get socks for your loved one (though they were among the many things I bought my wife in Japan), but it is hard to insult someone with a very good sock, and it’s hard to overspend on a very silly sock.
Socks are small, they pack flat and light, you don’t need to carve out much space in your suitcase even for a dozen pairs. One pair of socks isn’t as interesting as one hat or one scarf, but 10 of them stack better. Shirts need sizing, belt buckles are heavy, and you aren’t handing out a 12-pack of underwear.
Socks aren’t the most fun gift, but they can be plenty quirky. So quirky that they even appeal to kids, the people who famously hate socks as a gift. Kids don’t hate socks — they hate boring socks. But you’ve found weird ones, “the crazy socks Uncle Nick brought back from Mexico”.
Besides, you’ve brought lollies for the kids, kids are easy, kids will accept your loose change in another currency, it’s treasure to them. So they’ll accept the socks.
Socks are not necessarily your best souvenir. Maybe you’re the person who always gets tasteful art. Maybe you always hunt down cool international comic books. Lifehacker food editor Claire Lower likes to buy wooden spoons. I like to find a local gadget.
But if you don’t have a lot of time or taste, or you need some ballast under your more interesting, expensive or time-intensive souvenirs, you can always rely on a good pair of socks.