I Bought A Zoo While Traveling In Mexico

I Bought A Zoo While Traveling In Mexico

By |2016-07-21T23:46:41-04:00March 29th, 2013|Everything Else, Mexico|70 Comments

I Bought a Zoo
I don’t buy much while traveling.

After all, I don’t have a house or an apartment to call my own and so, where would I put things if I bought them? I’m certainly not going to lug everything around with me everywhere I go and at the same time, I usually don’t see the point of buying something only to put it in storage.

With that said, over the past 13 years, there have certainly been times when I simply couldn’t resist. I saw something and I wanted it and even though I knew that it was going to end up in that one box I have in a closet at my mom’s place in the US, there was no stopping me.

And that, my friends, is how I ended up buying a zoo while in Oaxaca, Mexico just a few days ago.


I bought a zoo, sort of.

While wandering around the Mercado de Artesanias (Artisan’s Market) in the center of Oaxaca, I stumbled upon a small shop that sold some extremely colorful handmade crafts. And I’m a sucker for bright colors. So as soon as I stepped foot inside, I knew right away that I wasn’t leaving without a bag full of stuff.

And that’s how I ended up with an…


I Bought a Zoo - Octopus


I Bought a Zoo - Elephant

Cactus and Bird

I Bought a Zoo - Hummingbird


I Bought a Zoo - Lizard


I Bought a Zoo - Porcupine

Basically, I bought a zoo’s worth of animals that day, and for a mere $50 USD too! Those were the only things I bought during the entire month I spent in Mexico, and even though these aren’t exactly traditional cultural items, I found them to be irresistible (just look at that octopus!) and had no choice but to buy them all.

Of course, when I leave the US in a couple of weeks again, into the box they shall all go until the time comes for me to unpack them and place them on a shelf in a house or apartment that I can finally call my own. I’m sure it will happen one day!

So, my question for you is…

What do you buy while traveling? Do you think you would buy a lot or not much at all if you were traveling long-term?

Photo credit: Zoo entrance by Jim Moore
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  1. Greame Smith May 7, 2013 at 7:34 am - Reply

    When I saw the title, I thought you’d actually bought a zoo. I’ve been following your blog and really enjoy reading your posts. Keep them coming

  2. Sofie April 4, 2013 at 5:49 am - Reply

    When I go to a place I know I’ll want to buy stuff, I usually leave with only half a suitcase/bag packed, so that there’s room to put new items. As I’m not a long term traveler, I luckily don’t have to deal with making sure I only have carry-on with me (although I always try to limit what I take with me).
    I usually don’t buy a lot when I’m abroad. The only time I really splurged was in LA last year. Shopping in the States is much cheaper than in Belgium thanks to the dollar/euro conversion and the fact that… well some brands are just cheaper in the US:)

  3. Forest Parks April 3, 2013 at 3:00 am - Reply

    I buy so little it’s ridiculous! My money all goes on consumables (yes that means beer and food!). I have a few boxes of stuff at my Mums but have not added new stuff for years.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Hey Forest – Consumables are important! At least you don’t spend your money on shoelaces or belts.

  4. Agnese April 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    After a short period of buying purely decorative items, I find myself more drawn to things with a practical application. Small bowls, beautiful plates, tablecloths and pillowcases, spoons and ladles. They are memories, but at the same time, seamlessly integrated in my life. Precisely how I like my travels!

  5. Julie Appleby April 1, 2013 at 11:46 am - Reply

    I’m not a shopper so unless I’m with someone who shops, I’m really not on the prowl for souvenirs. It just seems you can buy anything from anywhere in America these days, so why spend the time shopping?

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:42 pm - Reply

      Hey Julie – That’s quite valid. I guess we’ll see how it goes in Istanbul 🙂

  6. Iggy Pop Pbt April 1, 2013 at 11:06 am - Reply

    I don’t buy anything anymore, sometimes just a small souvenir. The octopus is really amazing!

  7. Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels March 31, 2013 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    When I travel I tend to keep an eye out for local art or jewelry I like to decorate my house (and myself) with memories of my trips. I also pick up postcards and fridge magents if I see them (and they aren’t crazy tacky).

  8. Andy March 31, 2013 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    As they say “Stuff that you own will end up owning you!”

    So my personal take is, it’s better to collect “experiences” rather than “things”.

    Although I too do buy the odd but meaningful souvenir here and there.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm - Reply

      Hey Andy – Well said.

  9. Kim March 31, 2013 at 5:43 am - Reply

    You tricked me! Of course I had to read how the hell you managed to pull off a zoo…

    I don’t have a home either but I keep buying stuff! Just shipped a big box home from India. I suppose I assume that some day, somewhere, at some time I will probably settle down again and how fun to decorate that someday-home with stuff I’ve picked up on my travels around the world…

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      Hey Kim – Sorry! Now shipping a box is something I’ve never done but that is always an option, especially from a place like India where there are plenty of things that catch one’s attention.

  10. Maria March 30, 2013 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    After 13 years, it warms my heart to see you’re still so playful. That’s what travel (and life) are spiced with. Kudos to you!

    You’re mom is going to love the zoo and just in time for Mother’s Day. 🙂

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      Hey Maria – One thing I’ve learned is that being too serious is not a good thing at all. We need to have fun in this life! (And thanks for reminding me about Mother’s Day!)

  11. Turner March 30, 2013 at 11:45 am - Reply

    God. Mexico has the best decorative souvenirs ever.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:24 pm - Reply

      Hey Turner – Agreed.

  12. Alison Swaddling March 30, 2013 at 10:41 am - Reply

    I usually try to limit myself to rocks. They’re small, free and have amazing diversity around the world. But I too could not resist these little creatures and bought far to many, particularly as I am at the start of my long trip.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:23 pm - Reply

      Hey Alison – Too many rocks could weigh you down! But I like the idea of natural souvenirs.

  13. Ramona March 30, 2013 at 6:03 am - Reply

    I tend to be obsessive about stuff I like… so I would have had to buy those animals not only for myself but as Christmas & birthday presents too. My kids have enjoyed getting presents that come with a story. I love to shop, so to rein myself in I kinda follow a ‘formula’. Often I buy 1 cookbook of regional food, 1-2 CD’s, funky earrings, and something artsy/craftsy that’s unique to the area. I do find that since I’ve been living abroad for 2 1/2 yrs. with ‘stuff’ stored in 3 cities….it’s becoming easier to focus on taking photos & buying postcards.

  14. Kristin of Be My Travel Muse March 30, 2013 at 3:50 am - Reply

    I buy hippie pants…lots and lots of hippie pants.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      Hey Kristin – Do you wear them all at the same time??

  15. Gaelyn March 30, 2013 at 1:18 am - Reply

    While in South Africa I bought a warthog, small and ceramic.

  16. Marina Reede March 30, 2013 at 12:37 am - Reply

    funny enough, i still have some scented stones from a little store near Notre Dame in Paris from my weekend visit in 1996 when I spent the winter in Europe. And an Anais Nin book from Shakespear&Co. 🙂 Excited to hear more about the trip you led in Mexico!

  17. Jim March 29, 2013 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    Those are great! I buy WAY to many souvenirs when I’m on the road. I think I spend half of my time in each city in souvenir shops. Someone’s gotta keep those stores in business.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm - Reply

      Hey Jim – I’m sure those shop owners are very thankful you decided to travel!

  18. [email protected] March 29, 2013 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    That porcupine is to die for! I can easily see how you couldn’t resist the whole “zoo” (though it wouldn’t have surprised me at all, had you actually bought a real zoo).

    Me? As a perpetual nomad, about all I can rationalize is a scarf or two. Then again… I did buy a not-so-small (about 3’x5′) handmade felt rug from a Kazakh lass in a ger in western Mongolia – in pink and orange! And I must say, it’s quite a festive addition to my wee apartment here in Vietnam.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      Hey Dyanne – I’m sure that carpet looks quite nice in your apartment and was well worth it, assuming the colors don’t blind you.

  19. Steve C March 29, 2013 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    Most, not all as I can see above, travelers collect stuff when they take trips. The more you travel, the more stuff you accumulate. You get to the point when there’s no more shelves or walls to display all your stuff. I’m at that point now. I have enjoyed all my stuff as it reminds me of the places where it was all obtained. Now it’s almost time to travel again and put things into storage again.
    Earl, when you finally find your place, you’ll be glad you bought stuff along the way to decorate with. Worry about too much stuff later.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:19 pm - Reply

      Hey Steve – I’m sure I’ll be happy to finally display the few things I’ve picked up over the years. Just waking up every day and seeing them will help keep travel at the forefront of my mind, even when I’m not moving around so much.

  20. Owen Lipsett March 29, 2013 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    I rarely buy anything for myself while traveling – after 44 countries my grand total is 1 Buddha from Cambodia, 1 mate gourd from Argentina, 2 small Lithuanian drawings, and 3 arty photos from Laos. That said, I always enjoy buying little gifts for friends and receiving the same. Your post particularly touched me because my sister bought me two little Oaxaqueño animals – a green armadillo and a purple hedgehog exactly like yours, except with pink, green, and yellow spines instead! 🙂

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      Hey Owen – An armadillo and hedgehog…those must be cool. I would have bought one of every animal if I had a place to put them…luckily I don’t.

  21. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures March 29, 2013 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    I am OBSESSED with these! I have a couple of different colored elephants. I want more!!! I’m so jealous. 🙂

  22. Alyson March 29, 2013 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    This time I will buy nothing. Last time we bought a few thankas from Nepal, various Buddhas and Ganeshs, Peruvian wall hangings and Tomis, they’ve been on display in our home for the last few years, but they don’t bring us happiness, travelling does, they’re all going back in storage very, very soon. But that octopus is CUTE!!!

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      Hey Alyson – One of the few things that I have bought during my travels is also a thanka painting. I bought it about 9 years ago and it has been in a box ever since.

  23. Charli l Wanderlusters March 29, 2013 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    Oooo I’m secretly disappointed that you haven’t bought a full size zoo. I can just see the advert for the Wandering Earl Zoo – it’s very loud and involves Mexican’s feeding animals wearing sombreros! – however i do love your miniature purchase.

    Traveling full time means we often don’t have the space for sentimental purchases however I have amassed a rather large collection of postcards!

    Kudos on your impulse purchase!!

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      Hey Charli – I’ll keep those ideas in mind in case I do end up with an actual zoo at some point. After writing this post, I have started thinking more about an actual zoo 🙂

  24. Anna March 29, 2013 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    I want the Elefante!

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      Hey Anna – That one’s all mine!! Actually, I gave it to my mom since she loves elephants.

  25. Blair March 29, 2013 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    I like to try to buy a silver or gold ring from each place I go. That way I can put my money into a beautiful piece of wearable art that I can always remember!

  26. Tyrhone March 29, 2013 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    I buy underpants, not really a souvenir, unless they have like the Mexican flag on or something, but more useful than souvenirs for long term traveling I think. 🙂

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      Hey Tyrhone – I won’t argue with that. Necessity and souvenirs combined. Well done.

  27. Nicole @ Suitcase Stories March 29, 2013 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Love these! We’ve seen so many amazingly colorful bits n pieces in Mexico, it been hard to resist! We have been very strong willed on our 1st year of travel and have bought NO souvenirs!

    However before we became nomads and went on our yearly vacations, I bought up big time! We’d always come home with shot glasses, golf balls and other nicknacks labeled with the place we had been too. But those days are sadly gone. 🙂

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm - Reply

      Hey Nicole – I didn’t buy anything the first time I was in Oaxaca and I only bought these animals this time because I was flying straight back to the US. So I can understand nowt wanting to load up while still traveling.

  28. Chris Little March 29, 2013 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Usually stickers, they go on the roof top box, water bottle or computer. And the occasional christmas ornament. From our US travels we have a mean smashed penny collection going.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:13 pm - Reply

      Hey Chris – You certainly don’t hear many people say that they brought home a smashed penny collection from the US but I love it!

  29. lynn March 29, 2013 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Love the zoo! So colorful! Once traveled 6 months out of a Corvette. If I bought anything I had to get rid of something. I learned to buy small and tiny! I like to buy something to wear: earrings, bracelets, rings. But I do have a weakness for tiny baskets and boxes.

  30. Sarah Somewhere March 29, 2013 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Oh Earl you trickster, you know I wouldn’t have been surprised if you actually did buy a zoo, since you’re like totally taking over the world and all 😉

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      Hey Sarah – Haha…I’m not quite at zoo ownership level!

  31. Sergio Sala March 29, 2013 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    One doesn’t simply can resist buying Alebrijes!

    I loved them and is something us mexicans are pride of! There are lots of creative Alebrijes!

    And yet it’s true, I’m the same way, I don’t buy anything that will be kept hidden in my house, there are better ways to use your money 🙂

    Nice post!

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      Hola Sergio – Alebrijes! I didn’t even know what they were called…thank you for the lesson! You should be proud…they are not only unique but they instantly put a smile on people’s faces.

  32. Janet Wehrer March 29, 2013 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    We are not wanderers but when we do travel I look for very small things. I like to
    by things that you can use like coasters, scarves, jewelry and small watercolors.

    Your zoo is fantastic!

  33. Rashelle March 29, 2013 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    I love that octopus, I’m guessing out of all your mementos from abroad, this one is going to stand out the most.

    I buy jewellery, accessories, tapestries/ornaments (waiting to be put on display in future dream home) and clothes. What can I say, I love shopping and I don’t think traveling long term would stop me from doing one of my most favourite things.


    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:10 pm - Reply

      Hey Rashelle – Considering how much that octopus literally stands out when placed on a shelf, I have no doubt it will become a special memento. Glad I didn’t see how many bags you ended up leaving Mexico with 🙂

  34. Spinster March 29, 2013 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Usually, mugs. If I was rich, I’d also buy art (paintings, sculptures, carvings, etc.) and more clothing.

  35. Queenie March 29, 2013 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    All your zoo collection is beautiful! My favorite is the porcupine 🙂

    I would say mine would be jewelry and scarves!

    • Ron March 29, 2013 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      My girlfriend and I bought tattoos in India while on world travels. Very light weight and funny thing is, 20 years later, I still have that symbolic road tattoo wrapped around my ankle:)

      • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:08 pm - Reply

        Hey Ron – That’s always an option 🙂

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:08 pm - Reply

      Hey Queenie – Yes, the porcupine is very cool indeed.

  36. Rachael March 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    That octopus looks like Spiderman!

    I just moved into my first “real” apartment that is all mine and that I will be living in for a while. I had to have my parents send me all my souvenirs (and a few are still left hiding in boxes in random places that I’ll have to find eventually), and it felt so nice to decorate with the few things I’ve gathered through my travels. There’s not a ton of stuff, but I did tend to buy the things I did (pretty much only in Asia and South America where it’s affordable!) having in mind one day filling a lovely place of my own with my memories.

    I’ve got cushions on my kitchen chairs and pillow on my couch from Thailand, art and masks from Indonesia adorning my walls, a sari-turned-curtain, tables draped in pashmimas from Italy and Peru, and shelves filled with small, beautiful/meaningful knickknacks from all the places I’ve lived. Every time I look around I smile at the experiences and memories they bring to mind 🙂

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:08 pm - Reply

      Hey Rachael – Well, if you want to borrow my spiderman octopus now that you have a home, just let me know!

  37. Earl from iPadNomads March 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    For the 3.5 years we’ve been married so far, we’ve moved around a lot and our stuff has been in storage for almost 2.5 of those years. As a result, we never bought many things while traveling as we didn’t want to end up with something that we liked in the moment but then discovered it didn’t fit with the rest of our things or something when we returned home.

    One thing we have done since our honeymoon, was collect a Christmas tree ornament (or something we could turn into an ornament) from places we visited that would symbolize our trip. We don’t need one from every city or country but something that would represent the area. As our family grows, we look forward to sharing stories with a our future children about where our ornaments all came from.

    • Janet Wehrer March 29, 2013 at 4:07 pm - Reply

      Christmas ornaments are really a great thing to collect. Small and as you unpack them each year to hang on your tree you will have a lovely memory.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:07 pm - Reply

      Hey Earl – That’s a good way of doing it. Having a common theme for what you buy will surely lead to good tales later on and most likely be a lot more memorable.

  38. Laurie March 29, 2013 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    They are cute!! I am a sucker for hand crafted coasters, napkin rings (and I entertain about six times a year….makes sense right?) & oh yes, I collect mice – not real ones of course but small handcrafted wooden and ceramic ones. Only small things to drag home you understand but they are kind of taking over my apartment. Help!! I used to bring home prints but no more room on the walls. Seriously, I think it’s a lovely way to remember a trip and have a unique space to call home. All of my “home decorating” is stuff I brought back from my travels or gifts. Your zoo will be waiting for you when you finally get that home…but for now enjoy your wonderful nomadic lifestyle!!!

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:05 pm - Reply

      Thanks Laurie! Seems like you could fill a few homes with all the stuff you’ve purchased over the years 🙂

  39. Kendal March 29, 2013 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    Hehe. How colourful.

    I find myself buying less, now that I know the hassles of storage… For the long-term travel I end up buying kitchen appliances and some furniture, and now I’ve got to deal with that. For short term, sometimes I’ll purposely go without something like shampoo or something I know I can buy there. I really don’t buy souvenirs, because my first thought is – where am I going to put it? Will it just end up in a landfill soon? I must admit… if I find a vintage dress I love… that will probably come home with me.

    • Wandering Earl April 3, 2013 at 5:05 pm - Reply

      Hey Kendal – Everyone has that one thing they will always buy! And a vintage dress takes up far less space than an appliance.

  40. Arielle March 29, 2013 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    HAHA! Love this- totally grabbed me but I love those figurines! I always buy fun stuff like that for a “future abode”. So far I’ll be living with a couple Balinese beanbags, some buddhist, hindu, and Jewish religious trinkets and a bunch of other random things I’ve found irresistible (and pretty). Who needs a dining table and chairs?!

    My must-have souvenir however is a bracelet from each place I’ve visited. Usually just a cheap little one to add to the expanding collection on my wrist. I love how all of the styles and cultural influences combine when I wear them all together (or just some of them at the same time since they’d probably go all the way up to my elbow at this point).

    • Janet Wehrer March 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm - Reply

      I love that you buy bracelets. I think that is very practical. I love to wear bracelets also and they are not going to collect dust on a shelf.

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