“A lizard hitchhiked in my bag!” »: 10 readers on their most memorable vacation memories | Life and style


“I took the huge alpaca toy home with me”

On our way out of the salt marshes of Uyuni in Bolivia, we came across a shop selling goods such as bags of salt, candy and sweaters with pretty patterns. I was browsing through the little fluffy alpaca toys, which are sold all over the Andes, when I turned a corner and laid eyes on the biggest one I’ve ever seen. I burst out laughing at how round and adorable it was. I was obsessed but thought it would be too expensive to bring it back with me When it turned out to cost around £ 20 I couldn’t say no. I carried him home, cuddled him on a night bus and strapped him to the seat next to me for the 5pm flight. It brought joy to everyone who saw it and even the flight attendants cooed like it was a baby. It now takes pride of place in my living room and is the best souvenir I have ever bought. Molly Williams, journalist, Sheffield

“A neighbor asked me why I had a multicolored urinal in the garden”

While in Morocco, I came across a factory that made beautiful mosaic knickknacks. Feeling low to the ground, I decided to order a mosaic fountain for the garden. Several months later I was called from Heathrow and told my fountain had arrived – and that it was so heavy it required specialized transport, costing a fortune. It turned out to be a meter high concrete slab with a few broken colored tiles stuck to the front, and it needed electricity to run (which I didn’t have in the garden). My Moroccan fantasy did not translate into the Surrey countryside; the fountain never worked and I decided to get rid of it after a neighbor asked me why I had a multi-colored urinal in the garden. David Hicks, Forensic Accountant, Surrey

“I have a Californian turtle on a glittering sled”

I’m very lucky to have done quite a bit of traveling, and for every new country I visit, I buy some kind of hanging keepsake that I can use as a Christmas tree decoration. I’ve got all kinds now, from a California turtle riding a glittering sleigh to a Japanese Hello Kitty in a kimono. Each year, our Christmas tree is a nostalgic visual memory of our adventures. Niamh Downey, Senior Director of Digital Marketing, Hong Kong

“My husband’s crutches are the strangest memory I have ever had”

A pair of crutches. Photograph: Alan Powdrill / Getty Images

On the last day of a family vacation in Austria, about 20 years ago, my husband took our kids to a water park and had an accident on one of the slides which caused his knee to dislocate. He had to go to the hospital for treatment and missed our flight back to the UK. Finally, we got home, with my husband on crutches and wearing a “cricket brace” on his leg. My daughter has since ‘inherited’ the crutches and I still have the cricket brace in the attic. It’s the strangest memory I have ever had but it always reminds me of that vacation – until the last day we had a wonderful time! Anonymous, Wales

“My garage is full of various soft drinks”

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Lotta bottle… soft drinks always taste better on vacation. Photograph: René van den Berg / Alamy

I don’t tend to drink soft drinks at home, but I always try them if I see something that I don’t recognize abroad. This means that I often fall in love with random soda bottles that we don’t have in the UK, and end up trying to bring bags home from the airport. Currently I have bottles of Spezi (Germany), Rivella (Switzerland) and Appelsín (Iceland) all hidden in my garage. Heather, charity worker, Edinburgh

“A bright green lizard hitchhiked in my bag!”

A male green sand lizard. Photograph: Buiten-Beeld / Alamy

After a school trip to Swanage, where we visited the sand dunes of Studland National Nature Reserve, I undid my clothes and put my bag away in a closet. When I walked into the closet a few hours later I was confronted with a bright green lizard! Unbeknownst to me, the male sand lizard had hitchhiked, probably when I put down my lunch bag, and walked the 50 miles to our home in Wiltshire. I was fascinated but my parents weren’t willing to go the distance to make the reptile protected and rare, so I let it roam free in our garden. He probably didn’t survive, but it added to my fascination with the natural world. Ellis Selway, environmentalist, Cambridgeshire

“I bought a souvenir that started a family business”

Shear class… the Greek tool that has become a family business. Photography: Emma Tinker

In 2003, I bought a souvenir that started a family business. My partner and I were on vacation on the Greek island of Ikaria and our guide mentioned that a local hardware store sold sheep shears which made a great gift for gardeners. I bought a pair for my mom’s birthday. Three years later my brother Jack was looking for business ideas and mom mentioned scissors. “They are fantastic,” she said. “Why can’t you see if you can import them? Jack went to Ikaria’s hardware store, then met George, whose family make the scissors. Jack started selling them in the UK and after a few years handed the business over to our sister, Claire. She still runs it, 15 years later. When my partner and I got married, George and his family came to our wedding. Emma Tinker, teacher, Oxford

‘My stupa replica has a special place on my bedside table’

Stupa by Alexandra Lavizzari, made of clay and ashes of deceased nuns. Photography: Alexandra Lavizzari

Over 20 years ago I went to a Swiss friend’s house who was living and studying in Bhutan and together we visited Karma Drubdey Convent. Afterwards, we each received a small gift: a replica of a stupa, made by a nun from a mixture of clay and ashes from deceased nuns. It’s a reminder of the fleetingness of life and as such it has a special place on my nightstand. (Barbara, my Swiss friend, is now a fully ordained Buddhist nun.) Alexandra Lavizzari, writer and artist, Somerset

“This strange papier-mâché creature has become our holiday mascot”

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Tanner Trangmar’s tiger lamb, or tamb. Photography: Tanner Trangmar

In 2018 my partner and I went on vacation to Amsterdam and visited the IJ-Hallen flea market. We split up to see who could buy the strangest item for less than $ 5. I won with this weird papier mache creature that only costs 40. I thought it was a lamb, but other members of our group thought it was supposed to be a tiger because of its coloring, so it became known as the tamb (tiger-lamb) and became our mascot for the rest of the holidays. We took the ferry back to the UK and went through a very strong storm. The tamb was seated at our table at the bar, and since neither of us suffered from seasickness, it was considered a good luck charm. Tanner Trangmar, civil servant, Edinburgh

“I don’t know what happened to me keeping Big Mac packaging”

In 2019, my parents were downsizing and I went to sort the boxes of my things that were still in their loft. My four kids watched and I was sure to stumble upon something that would impress them on my travels around the world. I did not disappoint. In one box were matryoshka dolls from Russia and decorated chopsticks from China – however, it was two crisp, neatly folded white papers that impressed them the most. Even though one was written in Cyrillic (Russian) and the other in Hanzi (Chinese characters), it was unmistakably Big Mac packaging from Moscow and Beijing. The Golden Arches first lit up in Moscow in 1990 and there were still lines around the block when we visited three years later. What happened to me keeping this wrapper, I’ll never know, especially since then I had to listen to my kids complaining that I had never let them set foot in a McDonald’s. Jo Carroll, social worker, Australia

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