When I started visiting National Parks a few years ago I did the obvious tourist thing – stopped at every visitors center to find just the right souvenir. At some of them I found awesome postcards or artwork to hang on my walls. At some I chose a t-shirt or magnet. But pretty quickly I decided I wanted to buy something to not only remember my visit, but to show others these amazing places I had been. So I started collecting a patch from every park.

My idea was to sew them onto my pack and wear them as a badge of honor as I explore – to maybe start a conversation with a stranger about my favorite park or if I’ve hiked a certain trail or weren’t the mosquitos terrible in such-and-such park.

It took me a while – turns out I’m not great at sewing and pushing a needle through thick backpack material plus a patch is hard. Over the last couple of years I’ve finally gotten my collection sewn onto my favorite day pack and I love it. I love the questions I get. I love talking about the adventures I’ve had or the ones I hope to have soon. I love telling people about National Parks they haven’t heard of or haven’t been to.

There’s not a lot of space left on my pack and I’ve got a lot of parks still to visit, but every time I drop my pack on the ground I can’t help but smile a little at all the memories it reminds me of.

If you want to make your own keepsake backpack, here’s a few things I’ve learned.

1: Make sure it’s a sturdy fabric and something you’re not worried about putting a million tiny holes in. Some people attach the patches with glue but I’m pretty rough with my bag and I wanted to make sure they stay on tight.

2: Pockets – for the love of redoing your hard work – make sure you only sew patches on where you know you’re not going to sew through a pocket in your bag. Yes, I did this more than once and had to rip out the thread and start over.

3: Thimbles are your friend. Because of the design of my bag and where I wanted to place the patches, my only option was hand sewing each one on. It was tedious and tough, plus I’m a pretty mediocre seamstress. Thimbles saved my fingertips when trying to push a needle through layers of fabric and tough patch backing.