It’s a travel necklace

The necklace that I wear at all times is a conversation starter.

People from clerks to CEOs, and bicycle messengers to busy librarians have remarked “What a great necklace. Where did you get it?”

I smile, and share this story with them: It’s a travel necklace. I collect the stones and beads as I visit other countries and states—mostly via teleprompting work. I gather a pair from each country, then add the stones to the other beads on my neck.

It started with a necklace that my best friend made for me at university. He “blessed” it by wearing it for a week before giving it to me in a simple ceremony of friendship. I never took it off for six years.

Eventually, the natural fibers showed their age. While I was working in Brazil in 2001, it broke as I was lifting a jacket over my head to put in the airport xray machine.

Later, I was walking around the craft stalls of Såo Paulo and found an indescribable stone. Just like those “pound puppy” stories where the one perfect dog stands out for you, so did this stone.

It’s actually still a bit of a mystery. People from all over the world have told me with authority it was green jade, or maybe agatized jasper, or even petrified moss. Whatever it is, it attracts comments like no other.

And so, my idea of a travel necklace was born. Every stone has a memory attached, whether it’s to the person who sold it, the friend who gifted it, or the journey behind it.

Having that quest is something I look forward to in each country. I’ll usually read a guidebook or ask at the hotel desk to find craft fairs and night markets. Getting to the destination is always fun. I often ask a concierge, a barman, or policewoman what route they recommend. And it’s great—I’ll find myself navigating streets or canals that aren’t typically on the tourist path.

Once I find the shop or market booth, I’ll look at my options. Then I’ll catch the eye of the shop worker, and depending on the country, speak in English, my basic Spanish or fractured French to explain my quest. If that fails, pantomime and smiles work just as well and make for a fun challenge. I’ve even been lucky to befriend locals who come with me and assist with the navigation and negotiation too.

There’s often some stone or material that is representative of that country, like Chile’s lapis azul, or New Zealand’s cowrie shells. Mercifully, no merchant tried to convince me their national stone was gold.

The selection can be a process. Sometimes it’s just a simple choice, like in Brazil or Australia where the stone calls to me. Other times, like in Malaysia, I end up emptying a jar of tiger eyes on the table and scouring though them for 30 minutes to find the pair that belongs with the others.

The pieces are always common grade and never flashy, even though they may share the name of more expensive brethren.

It’s rare to find stones that are loose and pre-drilled for threading onto a necklace. So, I often buy earrings, and disassemble them to get the individual stones. Specialized bead shops are becoming common and make the process simpler. After working in Sydney, I drove up to Airlie Beach and was able to find two black opals for a good price. Then in a nearby beadshop, elbow to elbow with some local mothers and children, I strung them onto the necklace.

I normally restring the necklace when I return home. There’s often some maintenance involved as well. Some stones need to be repositioned based on the color of the new arrival or if a softer stone rubs against a harder stone.

And not all representatives stay on the necklace. Venezuela’s “stone” turned out to be plastic and wore too easily. Sweden’s was too rocky and flaked apart. Argentina’s rose quartz was too close to the color of chewed bubblegum. And while the jade pieces from Taipei and Beijing have weathered well, softer stones from Peru and Chile have worn out too fast. Of course, rather than being sad, I see that as my excuse to return to that country and find a hardier replacement.

As the list of countries I’ve visited has grown to 46, I’ve had to stop the practice of stringing two stones per country. I still buy a pair, but only one makes it on the necklace, taking the space vacated by the twin of another country. This twin then joins the others in my collection of spares. And just like in my teleprompter business, it’s good to have a spare.

I highly recommend you take my idea and run with it. Finding stones for your own necklace pushes you to taking quests in foreign lands, talking to locals, and navigating unfamiliar streets. You create something of your own that looks great, attracts positive comments, and is a physical reminder of your travels. And perhaps most importantly, this is a great way to start conversations and in turn learn something about that other person.

—Neil Tanner