The Art and Adventure of Travel Tokens and Commemorative Coins

The Art and Adventure of Travel Tokens and Commemorative Coins

Custom travel tokens and challenge coins can be cherished mementos of trips and events. Here's how to get started collecting them.

Traveling has always been an adventure, a journey filled with experiences that leave lasting memories. But what if there were a tangible way to capture those moments? Enter the world of travel tokens and challenge coins. These small treasures carry a wealth of history and meaning. 

Travel tokens and challenge coins are more than just payment or commemorative items. They symbolize stories and connections. For collectors and travelers, these objects hold a special allure and meaning that transcends their physical form. 

Whether it's a vintage subway token from a bygone era or a custom challenge coin commemorating a special event, each carries a piece of history and a sense of nostalgia. 

Each coin or token has its own story, making them cherished mementos that hold a special place in the hearts of collectors and travelers. Let's explore the art and adventure of travel tokens.

The History of Travel Tokens 

Travel tokens and challenge coins have roots far back in history. The concept of tokens used for travel and commerce dates back centuries. 

The evolution of travel tokens and challenge coins can be seen through different eras and regions. From simple metal discs used as fare tokens in ancient times to intricately designed challenge coins exchanged among military units and organizations, they have evolved significantly over time. 

More recently, travel tokens have transformed from traditional transportation tokens used for buses, trains, subways, and ferries to modern-day souvenirs. The advent of mass transportation systems led to the use of tokens as fare payment. Each mode of transportation often issued its own distinct tokens. 

As transportation systems advanced and electronic fare payment systems became prevalent, physical tokens gradually fell out of use. Their legacy lives on in the form of souvenir tokens, sold as collectible items at tourist attractions, landmarks, and destinations worldwide. 

Notable examples of travel tokens and challenge coins have emerged throughout history. From the iconic New York City subway tokens to commemorative challenge coins honoring military units and veterans, these tokens have helped shape cultural and historical narratives. 

Challenge coins have long been used in military traditions, symbolizing camaraderie, achievement, and belonging within a unit or organization. Similarly, souvenir tokens from famous tourist attractions are tangible reminders of travels shared by sightseers worldwide. 

Types of Travel Tokens and Challenge Coins 

Travel tokens and challenge coins come in various types, each serving its unique purpose and representing distinct aspects of travel, commemoration, and affiliation. We can broadly categorize tokens and coins into transportation tokens, souvenir tokens, and custom challenge coins. 

Transportation Tokens

Multiple modes of transportation have used transportation tokens for fare payment. Historically, transport authorities and companies issued tokens for easy and efficient fare collection. Examples include subway, bus, train, and ferry tokens, each designed for use within specific transportation systems. 

Souvenir Tokens 

Souvenir tokens are often associated with tourist attractions, landmarks, and destinations worldwide. These serve as tangible reminders of experiences and adventures shared by travelers. Gift shops and visitor centers sell souvenir tokens in many forms, including keychains, medallions, and commemorative coins, as collectible items.

Custom Challenge Coins

Custom challenge coins commemorate achievements, milestones, and affiliations within organizations and groups. These coins are often used in military, law enforcement, corporate, and nonprofit settings to honor service, commemorate events, and promote camaraderie among members. Custom challenge coins come in a wide range of designs, shapes, and finishes, each tailored to reflect the identity and values of the issuing organization. 

By identifying and categorizing the different types of travel tokens and challenge coins, we gain a deeper understanding of their uses and meaning in the world of travel, commemoration, and collectibles.

Enhancing Businesses and Destinations 

Travel tokens are tools that can enhance the experiences of travelers and the success of businesses and destinations.

They are excellent promotional tools for destinations. Whether it's a city, a resort, or a tourist attraction, custom tokens showcase the unique features and attractions of the destination. They can be distributed as souvenirs or gifts to visitors, effectively promoting the destination and encouraging return visits.

Businesses in the travel and hospitality industry often use travel tokens to build brand loyalty among customers. By offering custom tokens as part of loyalty programs or as rewards for frequent visitors, businesses promote repeat visits and encourage customers to choose their services over that of competitors.

Round challenge coin representing Bode Hotels, both obverse and reverse

This round coin features impressive attention to detail, timeless charm, and sophistication. The front design has a minimalist layout, with the word "BODE" positioned at the center, representing Bode Hotels. 

A smooth background includes the text, creating a balance that effortlessly draws in the eye. Encircling the central text, a larger border displays the phrase "Welcome to Bode Hotel. Travel Better Together." Completing the front design, the company's website,, is prominently displayed at the bottom, providing easy access to further information.    

The reverse side includes an intricate aesthetic. At the center is the number one, outlined with a thin edge for added emphasis. Adjacent to it, "Good for one (1) free drink" is displayed with two lines that add texture to the composition. 

The reverse also incorporates the familiar horizontal-lined space, which breaks up the elements and adds texture. A border encircles the central elements with the inscription, "Take this coin to our on-property cafe or bar." The company's website, is featured at the bottom, ensuring easy access to further information.   

This challenge coin features a sleek and straightforward appeal. The antique silver plating and textured details are carefully composed to stand out.

Travel tokens can also create unique experiences for travelers. For example, hotels and resorts can offer custom tokens as part of special packages or amenities, providing guests with a memorable keepsake of their stay. Similarly, tour operators can incorporate tokens into their tours, offering travelers a memento of their experiences.

Beyond promotional purposes, travel tokens also can be a source of revenue for businesses and destinations. Limited edition or collectible tokens can be sold to travelers, providing an additional income stream. Additionally, companies can partner with local artists or designers to create custom tokens, further supporting the local economy.

Travel tokens have the power to promote community engagement and collaboration. By involving local artists, businesses, and organizations in the design and distribution of tokens, destinations can create a sense of pride and ownership among residents. This collaborative approach strengthens the connection between travelers and the local community, enhancing the overall travel experience.

During a recent trip to Alaska, my friend experienced a zip line adventure through the rugged wilderness. As they soared through the treetops, taking in breathtaking views of the Alaskan landscape, they never expected to receive a special surprise at the end of their journey. 

Upon completing the zip line experience, they received a unique medallion commemorating their thrilling adventure. The medallion, adorned with intricate designs and symbols reflecting the beauty of Alaska, served as a lasting symbol of the unforgettable experience they had just enjoyed. It was a thoughtful gesture that added meaning to their adventure in the Last Frontier.

Gold medallion with laurel wreath edge for Alaska Climbing Adventures

These small and meaningful items benefit businesses, destinations, and travelers. They are versatile items that can enhance the overall travel experience.

Collecting Travel Tokens 

Collecting travel tokens and challenge coins is a rewarding hobby that allows enthusiasts to embrace history, culture, and artistry. For many collectors, the tokens and coins are a link to the past, offering glimpses into other regions and eras. 

The appeal of collecting travel tokens lies in their designs and the stories they tell. Each token or coin represents a piece of history. They may be a vintage subway token from a bustling metropolis or a custom coin commemorating a significant event. The thrill of uncovering rare tokens, discovering extraordinary designs, and building relationships with fellow collectors draws people in. 

One of the joys of collecting travel tokens and coins is the opportunity to explore different regions and eras. Tokens and coins from other countries, cities, and time periods offer collectors a glimpse into the world's landscapes, cultures, and histories. 

For those interested in starting a travel token and challenge coin collection, here are some helpful tips:

  • Research: Take the time to learn about various types of tokens and coins, their histories, and their significance. This will help you make informed decisions when building your collection.
  • Start Small: Begin your collection with a focus on specific themes, regions, or eras that interest you. Starting small allows you to build a foundation and gradually expand your collection.
  •  Network: Connect with other collectors through online forums, collector groups, and local meetups. Networking with fellow collectors can provide valuable insights, resources, and opportunities for trading or acquiring new tokens and coins.
  • Quality over Quantity: Focus on acquiring tokens and coins of high quality rather than simply amassing a large quantity. Quality pieces will hold their value better and provide greater enjoyment for years.
  • Document and Organize: Keep detailed records of your collection, including information about each token or coin, its provenance, and any notable features. Organize your collection to make it easy to access and appreciate each piece.

Travel-Inspired Tokens and Coins

From intricately detailed engravings to vibrant colors and finishes, travel tokens and coins come in a wide range of visually striking designs. Here are some examples of visually stunning tokens and coins from around the world:

Useppa Island Travel Coin

Round challenge coin for Useppa Island, Florida, front and back

Inspired by Useppa Island, off the coast of Florida, this coin captures its essence. Crafted with meticulous attention to detail, this coin features a traditional round design with antique gold plating that adds a touch of timeless elegance. 

The front of the coin showcases an ibis, a symbolic representation of the island's wildlife and natural beauty. The ibis silhouette stands prominently against a dark background, capturing the essence of Useppa Island's serene atmosphere. Above the bird's silhouette, the inscription "Useppa Island" is displayed, while below it, the word "Ibis" further accentuates the coin's unique design.   

The reverse side features a nautical compass in the center. The design's intricate details reflect the island's maritime heritage. Above the compass are the latitude and longitude coordinates of Useppa Island. Below the compass, the year "2021" is inscribed, marking a timeless reminder of the coin's creation.

This coin is a perfect example of a travel token, honoring Useppa Island with its exquisite details and craftsmanship. Each design element pays homage to the island's charm, making it a cherished keepsake for collectors and travelers.

Tokai Maru and SMS Cormoran II Coin

This commemorative challenge coin pays tribute to the brave divers exploring the sunken wrecks of the Tokai Maru and the SMS Cormoran II in Guam's waters. This coin is crafted in a traditional round shape with an antique silver base and celebrates adventurous spirit. 

The front of the coin features two distinct pieces, each representing one of the historic vessels. On the left side, a representation of the Japanese battle flag symbolizes the Tokai Maru, while on the right side, the old nautical German war ensign represents the SMS Cormoran II. The colorful attention to detail brings the flags to life. 

A thick black border surrounds the two flags, framing the design. "Tokai/Cormoran Diver" is inscribed at the top of the border, " honoring the divers exploring these historic wrecks. The bottom of the border features the sinking dates of each vessel:  August 27, 1943 for the Tokai Maru and April 7, 1917 for the SMS Cormoran II. A small dive flag at the bottom, centered within the border, completes the design. 

The reverse side of the coin features a textured silver background at the center, providing a striking backdrop for the outlines of both vessels to stand out. Along the bottom, the inscription "Guam, USA" serves as a reminder of the wreck's location. 

Encircling the design is a thick black border, adding depth and contrast to the overall composition. At the top of the border, the name "Tokai Maru" is inscribed in silver, while "SMS Cormoran" is featured across the bottom, symbolizing both vessels' presence. 

The left and right sides of the border are adorned with the coordinates for each location, adding a touch of geographical significance to the design. The coordinates serve as a subtle yet meaningful detail, further enhancing the connection between the coin and the historic wrecks it commemorates. 

This coin is a testament to the courage and dedication of the divers who observe the legacy of the Tokai Maru and the SMS Cormoran II. Its unique attributes, meaningful elements, and contrasting colors make each aspect stand out, capturing the spirit of exploration.

Slane Irish Whiskey Tour Coin

Round coin commemorating the Miami Slane Irish Whiskey Tour, March 17, 2022

This coin pays homage to the Miami Slane Irish Whiskey Tour with its sleek and subtle aesthetic. Crafted in a traditional round shape from antique silver, this coin exudes elegance and sophistication. 

The front of the coin features an image of a bottle of Slane Irish Whiskey at its center, set against a flat silver background. The deep blue color of the bottle and its intricate details capture the eye, creating a visually appealing focal point. A silver border and black text provide a tasteful contrast. The inscription "Miami Slane Irish Whiskey Tour" adorns the top of the border, while the bottom showcases the date "March 17, 2022." A thin red border encircles the design, adding a pop of color and enhancing the overall contrast. 

The reverse boasts a simple yet exceptional design. A vibrant red background is the backdrop for the white text inscription "Slane '81," creating a striking contrast. A silver border elegantly frames the central design elements, while a matching thin red border adds depth and detail to the overall composition. 

This travel-inspired coin exemplifies exquisite craftsmanship and demonstrates how a subtle design can still make a powerful statement. Its sleek aesthetic and thoughtful details make it a remarkable keepsake for participants of the Miami Slane Irish Whiskey Tour, capturing the essence of the event.

The Art of Design

Travel tokens and challenge coins are works of art that showcase intricate design and craftsmanship. From their shape and material to their engravings and finishes, each token and coin is a testament to the creativity and skill of the designers and artisans who created them. 

There are several common design elements found in travel tokens and challenge coins, each serving to convey meaning and evoke emotion:

  • Symbols and Icons: Many travel tokens and challenge coins feature symbols and icons that represent the culture, history, and identity of the region or organization they commemorate.
  • Landmarks and Landscapes: Tokens and coins often depict famous landmarks, scenic landscapes, and iconic structures associated with the destination or event they represent.
  • Emblems and Crests: Military challenge coins frequently feature emblems, crests, and insignia representing the unit, branch, or organization they belong to.
  • Text and Typography: Inscriptions, mottos, and commemorative text are commonly featured on travel tokens and challenge coins, adding context to the design.

Preserving and Displaying Tokens and Coins 

Preserving travel tokens and challenge coins is essential for maintaining their condition and value. Proper preservation starts with handling collectibles with care. 

Protective sleeves or holders prevent scratches and abrasions. Protective sleeves can include acid-free plastic flips for individual coins and archival-quality sleeves for more extensive collections. 

Coin albums and binders with clear plastic pages are ideal for organized display and easy viewing without removing coins from their holders. Frames and shadow boxes offer a visually appealing way to showcase individual coins or small collections. In contrast, cases with glass or acrylic covers protect larger or more valuable collections.   

In addition to proper handling, storage, and display, regular inspection of the collection is essential to identify signs of damage such as corrosion, discoloration, or wear. Avoid cleaning coins unless absolutely necessary, as improper cleaning methods can cause damage. 

Keeping detailed records of the collection, including information about each token or coin and any special preservation considerations, is also essential for tracking and ensuring its long-term preservation. 

Following the techniques above, collectors can protect and showcase their travel tokens and challenge coins, preserving their beauty and historical significance for years.

Where to Find Tokens and Coins 

Acquiring travel tokens and challenge coins can be an exciting adventure. Start by researching reputable sources and networking with other collectors. Online forums, collector groups, and social media platforms are excellent resources for connecting with enthusiasts and learning about upcoming events and opportunities. 

Attend collectors' fairs, coin shows, and specialized events. The events offer an opportunity to browse a wide selection of tokens and coins, meet dealers and fellow collectors, and discover rare and unique pieces for your collection. 

Online marketplaces such as eBay, Etsy, and specialized numismatic websites are convenient platforms for purchasing travel tokens and challenge coins. Research sellers and read reviews to ensure authenticity and quality before purchasing. 

Antique shops, coin stores, and numismatic shops often carry a selection of tokens and coins in their inventory. Visiting physical locations allows collectors to inspect items in person and interact with knowledgeable staff. 

Trade and exchange play a significant role in acquiring travel tokens and coins. Collectors often trade or participate in coin clubs and organizations to exchange duplicates or acquire pieces not readily available through other channels.  

By exploring different avenues for purchasing and participating in trade and exchange among collectors, enthusiasts can expand their collections and discover new treasures.

From exploring their origins and evolution to delving into the artistic aspects of design and preservation, we've uncovered the appeal and meaning of travel tokens. 

Throughout history, these tokens and challenge coins have been tangible connections to the past, representing moments of adventure, achievement, and camaraderie.

We invite you to explore our gallery of challenge coins for inspiration and to start your collection. Our custom challenge coins are crafted with precision and care, capturing the essence of your experiences and achievements in beautifully designed tokens you'll be proud to display and cherish for years.


Jesse Daugherty

Jesse Daugherty


Hello, I'm Jesse Daugherty, a music enthusiast, sports aficionado, and an avid supporter of the arts. I'm a writer and content creator. For the past 5 years, I've shared my knowledge of custom challenge coins and other promotional products, exploring their designs, meaning, and purpose.