Category Archives: Souvenirs

Suivez votre bonne étoile


“Suive votre bonne étoile” = “Follow your lucky star”

The tagline of my new favorite parfum, Étoile, from the Fragonard Parfumeur really resonates with me and describes how I have been living in Paris. While I generally have goals, a basic itinerary and places to visit each day, I am allowing spontaneity to direct me. In some ways, I feel that living spontaneously has been my lucky star.

Every day after French class, I leave in a new direction to explore the surrounding neighborhoods of Paris. My adventures started in L’Opera district, Notre Dame, and Montmarte last week. I also spent the weekend on a Seine River cruise, wine tasting at O’Chateau (I highly recommend this to you!), and trying tapas in the Montorgueil neighborhood. This week, I have had no official plans and have stumbled on some very intriguing areas and interesting experiences.

Starting on Sunday, I went on a run from Pont Mirabeau along the Seine River towards the Eiffel Tower. I stumbled upon dozens of tents selling antiques.  It was amazing to see antiques (furniture, paintings, jewelry, trinkets, and more) that were from as early as the 1500-1600s. I was most struck by letters written from the last two centuries, capturing brief moments in Parisians’ lives throughout history. I knew that antiquing was popular in the United States, but not in Paris! I told my host family about this and they said that antiquing is a trend in Paris, and you can actually find pretty affordable items at these markets. While at this point I am not ready to buy antiques, I will remember this when I am decorating my future home.

Yesterday, I planned to walk to Champs d’Elysses after class. En route, I found several cute boutiques and luxury stores and let myself get distracted. With the soldes happening until the beginning of February, it is the ideal time to shop and plan what you will need in the coming months, because soldes only happen twice a year in Paris. I shopped for clothes for my nieces at Chocolat et Tartin (couldn’t resist the most stylish toddler clothes I have ever seen) and had some luck at Zara.  I bought the cutest, most Parisian party shoes that I could find, along with a new black top and washed jeans. I then came across Chaise Longue, which has become one of my favorite places to buy cadeaus for family and friends. The best word I can think of to describe it is quirky, with interesting and unique gifts that are destined to make my loved ones chuckle. I bought an adorable Parisian umbrella and gifts for my parents, which I can’t reveal in case they are reading this :). One of my new expat friends, Chen, stopped by to show me Parisian highlights near L’Opera district. We walked along the Seine River to Pont des Artes, Place St. Michel and through Quartier Latin, which was so lively and welcoming. I was inspired to have a sunset picnic like the locals when mon copain visits me in March. It was interesting to learn from a Chinese-turned-French citizen about living in Paris and previously studying at the University of Lyon. Brag moment: we spoke almost the entire time in French! Imagine a native Mandarin-speaker and a native-English speaker communicating in French; I’m sure the locals were confused if they overheard us! With all the walking, I was starving, so I stopped for une tarte de framboise and un verre du vin rouge. It was the perfect way to end the day and people-watch in Quartier Latin.

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Today after class, I again planned to visit Champs d’Elysses. On my way there, I came across the Musee de Parfum, Fragonard. I learned that there were free museum tours and was intrigued.  I entered the museum, and without realizing it at first, joined a tour group of French senior citizens (mostly women) for a French tour of the museum. I am sure I was out of place, but no one said anything (despite a few glares), and it was interesting to learn about the museum in French to test my comprehension. The tour guide explained the history of the creation of perfume, and specifically Fragonard parfum starting shortly before the First World War. I learned about the olfactive triangle, which was fascinating to discover that a parfumeur is like an artist, combining different levels of scents that appeal to the nose. It was interesting to learn that the founder, Eugene Fuch’s intent was to encourage tourists to take home a “scent of France” from their travels. I was easily convinced to be one of those tourists. At the end of the tour, we were able to sample several fragrances, and I fell in love with the first one, Étoile. I purchased eau de parfum and body lotion. Upon leaving the store, I noticed a crowd of women near stems of what looked like yellow flowers or pines on the ground. One of the ladies informed me that the museum was throwing away extra sprigs of mimosa and we were free to take them. I left the museum with new parfum and a bouquet of mimosa. I’m sure I looked silly carrying freshly cut mimosa flowers as I continued walking throughout the streets of Paris towards Champs d’Elysses.

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My next discovery was a beautiful park near the Grand Palais (which is another site I hope to visit soon). I sat on a park bench and enjoyed the fresh air. I was reminded of the importance of pausing and reflecting – it is easy for me to forget to do this in my daily life in the U.S.

Alas, I reached my desired destination of Champs d’Elysses. At this point I was starting to feel exhausted and was carrying a bouquet of mimosas, which limited me from doing a lot of shopping. I did, however, walk by the Renault store, which sparked my curiosity, because I have studied international business strategy cases about Renault in my IMBA program. I decided to enter the store. Right away, I noticed that their front display included Michelin tires, which was exciting for me as they will become part of my daily language this summer. The next displays showed the latest electric cars and highlighted that Renault sells the most electric cars in Europe. I was impressed to see that the store had a restaurant for customers to relax and recharge while shopping for new vehicles.

Who knew that one afternoon in Paris could combine learning about the history of parfum and the future of mobility and electric cars? C’est la vie de la spontanéité! I truly believe that I have had such diverse and exciting experiences because I have enabled spontaneity in my new Parisian life. I am going to continue follow my lucky star, which is a spontaneous, cheerful, and grateful path to being inspirNational in my daily life.


Llamas: A Symbol of Perseverance


Over the weekend, one of my best friends from the University of Michigan visited me and we had insightful conversations, reminiscing about college, reflecting on our careers, and dreaming about the future. Both of us are facing unique challenges in our lives and we are craving an extra dose of inspiration.

Ironically, my friend pointed out a plaque on my wall of a llama, which I purchased in Chile while I was studying abroad. A llama? Most of you may ask. Why would I have a plaque of a llama? While studying in Chile, I learned that llamas are a significant symbol in South America. Since pre-Hispanic times, llamas were widely used meat and pack animals by Andean cultures in South America. Llamas represent perseverance. As a senior in college at the time, I had to put forth great effort in order to succeed personally and professionally. I purchased the plaque as a reminder that I can persevere, as long as I work hard, stay balanced, and keep an optimistic attitude.


Looking at the plaque two years later, I am reminded that I can and will persevere. According to Spirit Animal Totems, if a llama crosses your path:

“She is here to remind you that only through hard work and perseverance will your dreams be realized. Know that you have the ability to adapt to any situation you find yourself in. Know that whatever loads you are carrying right now you will be able to manage and see them through. Alternatively Llama could also be reminding you that your biggest focus should be yourself and that personal growth and your connection to spirit should be your highest priority at all times. Insisting on following your heart rather than your ego will bring you all the rewards you are seeking.”

This message resonates with me at this point in life. I am sure that others can relate, so if you are facing any life challenges, remember llamas as a symbol of perseverance. You can do it!

Rethinking Holiday Gifts on #GivingTuesday


In the spirit of #GivingTuesday, I am sharing one of my favorite holiday gift guides I have seen this year.

Source: Thunderclap

Source: Thunderclap

Melibee Global, a resource for international education and study abroad news, information, resources, and advising, wrote The Alternative Holiday Gift Guide 2014, with creative ways to give sustainably this holiday season. The guide suggests the following:

“1. Give experiences, not things. Consider how you can support your local community, through gifts such as memberships to museums or parks.

2. Share what you’ve got. Examples might include volunteering, donating to charities, or fundraising.

3. International innovation. Melibee offers a variety of tools that encourage international and cultural knowledge and growth. [Note: Given my interest in international education and my inspirNational blog, I love this idea!]

4. Red and green. Think ecological and environmental. Check out your local library for a used book sale. Support local charities and organizations by finding vintage, kitschy, and sometimes antique pieces at charity shops and thrift stores such as Oxfam, Barnardos, Salvation Army, and more. Buy from local artists and craftspersons and shop for handmade gifts at art and craft shows, galleries, or stores that showcase local artists’ work.”

Read the full Alternative Holiday Gift Guide 2014 here.

I now feel inspired to think twice about my holiday purchases and am reminded that the spirit of giving does not have to be tangible. I look forward to refocusing my energy this holiday season to share experiences with loved ones.

If you are traveling throughout the holidays, my Guilt-Free Souvenir Shopping post may also provide good ideas for how you can purchase souvenirs or gifts while traveling without feeling remorse.

I hope this provides food for thought for you this #GivingTuesday and as you are shopping throughout the holiday season!

Guilt-Free Souvenir Shopping


Over the weekend, I shopped at the Cleveland Flea Market where I found vintage clothing and house ware, artisan jewelry and gifts, local food trucks, and great toys made from recycled materials for my nieces (can’t spoil the birthday gifts just yet :)! I also strolled through the local shops in Tremont (a neighborhood of Cleveland) and came across the sign below, which reminded me of the importance of shopping locally.

Sign outside of April Snow, one of my favorite boutiques in Tremont

By going to local stores, we are supporting the local economy and sustainable business by reducing distribution and transportation costs. Shopping locally and supporting the local economy is one of the many ways I justify my purchases and leave stores feeling “guilt-free.” Mirroring habits of my generation (Millennials), I also aim to support causes with my purchases, such as shoes from TOMS, an inspiring company that donates a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes you purchase.

Thinking more about it, as I have traveled over the past several years, I have found ways to purchase souvenirs without feeling guilty. I have to admit that growing up, I wanted to purchase every trinket in sight. Now that I have moved every year for the past six years, I am realizing the hassle of collecting trinkets everywhere I go. I’m only in my 20s, and as a travel enthusiast, it’s scary to think how much I could collect in a lifetime if I purchase trinkets every new place I visit. Recently, I have gotten into the habit of buying souvenirs that are in the following “guilt-free” categories:

  • Artwork: Paintings, drawings, etc. are a great way to decorate your home while remembering your adventures. Over the past couple years, I’ve purchased several small paintings/plaques/drawings that I have now turned into collages in my new apartment. Art is a good souvenir, as long as you are selective (i.e., only purchase items that will fit will in your home) and there is a general theme (i.e., I’ve noticed that many of my pieces have a red tone, which has been convenient for decorating).
  • Jewelry: Unlike souvenir t-shirts or even most clothing items, jewelry can be timeless. It is wearable, and therefore useful, so that it doesn’t just collect dust on your shelf. I’ve now purchased jewelry (casual jewelry…it doesn’t have to be diamonds!) in almost every place I’ve visited, especially if it is native to the location. For example, I purchased butterfly wing earrings and a necklace from the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica as a memory of my cloud forest hikes and to support butterfly conversation efforts.
  • Photos: What better way to capture all of your experiences? More than saying a thousand words, pictures tell a story and trigger thoughts, emotions, and memories of your best and worst experiences while traveling. Now with smart phones, social media, and the cloud, you can share, organize, and store photos instantly!

I came across the following quote that perfectly summarizes guilt-free souvenir shopping (if only I came up with a quote for my categories before William Morris :))!

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

And better yet, I came across The Top 5 Most Valuable Souvenirs and I absolutely agree with each one. If you want to purchase something tangible during your travels, my guilt-free recommendations are above. But, as Sarah Vedomske highlights, the most valuable souvenirs are intangible and will inspire you to live with an inspirNational mindset.