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News >  Travel

Travelers gather collections, memories

Ellen Creager Detroit Free Press

What do you collect when you travel?

I recently started collecting hotel key cards.

Grosse Pointe, Mich., frequent traveler John Carroll collects postcards – and has nearly 1,000.

“They are easy to pack, and cheap,” he says.

But travel souvenirs are just a little bit heavier for the members of the International Sand Collectors Society.

They bring back sand of the world. To hold vials of sand from the banks of the Nile River, the battlefield of Gettysburg or the Great Wall of China gives Psammophiles (sand lovers) hours of rapturous pleasure when they get back home.

They collect cinder sand, volcanic sand, polished sand, green sand, red sand, oolitic sand, star sand and other kinds of sand you never even knew existed.

The North Haven, Conn.-based organization has its own newsletter, the Sand Paper. Its Web site,, even has explanations of “What is Sand?”

I have one question: Isn’t sand kind of heavy in your luggage?

Of course, the compulsion to collect something to remember your travels has got to be universal.

That’s why so many hotel towels vanish. Ditto silverware. And mugs. And bathrobes.

But I’m not talking about illegal pilfering. I’m talking about collecting one or two classes of things wherever you go, like shells or matchbooks.

I used to collect magnets. But I got so many that our refrigerator developed a magnetic field around it that sucked all the forks right out of the silverware drawer.

I never thought of sand, but collector Nick D’Errico says his Web site has sand collectors “coming out of the woodwork.”

He personally has 18,000 sand samples from his travels. Some of them are rare.

“These days, places like the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica are getting more strict; they don’t want you to take anything back, not even sand,” he says.

There’s sand in Antarctica?

“There’s sand everywhere.”

D’Errico has experience with collecting lots of other things besides sand.

“My wife was a travel agent, and they’re forever looking for souvenirs when they travel, things like matchbooks and swizzle sticks, silly things that are not really worth anything because they are cheap and light,” he says.

A film canister full of sand is even better, he says.

D’Errico can’t remember his cousin’s birthday, but he remembers vividly where he got 18,000 sand samples.

“Sand collectors may not know one grain of sand from another, but they remember what beach they picked it up on,” he says. “They can almost remember the time of day or who they were with. The stories just linger.”

Sand. Swizzle sticks. Maybe it doesn’t matter what you collect.

It just matters that what you collect sets off a happy memory.

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