The History of Traveling Stuffed Animals

On Instagram, there’s a niche for everyone. Some are funny or inspiring, others are odd and off-center. One of the most lovable, cuddly niches on Instagram is the plushie community. Much like the traveling gnome from 2001’s French film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, the accounts within the plushie community follow the quirky but wonderful trend of toys, trinkets and other objects to roam around the world, taking their owner’s place in every picture.

The ritual of Gnoming

Two of the first garden gnomes to have travelled were Harry and Charlie, who joined their human on a trip to the South Pole in 1977. In 1986, the Sydney Morning Herald documented what became known as the first incident of “gnoming”: stealing (or: borrowing) a garden gnome to take pictures of it around the world. The newspaper wrote about Bilbo, a garden gnome who has been traveling without its owner for several weeks.

Gnoming was further popularized in the 1990s, through the actions of le Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin (The Garden Gnome Liberation Front). The group “liberated” at least 150 garden gnomes, claiming that no human should ever own a gnome against his will.

Early birds Harry, Charlie and Bilbo were succeeded by Gnome Severson, who was stolen from a property in Redmond, Washington. Inspired by Amélie (in which the main character’s father stages a gnome’s globetrotting adventures), Severson was taken to travel California and Nevada. Severson became an instant celebrity when his abductors took a picture of him with Paris Hilton when running into the star at a gas station. The picture made it into People magazine and the gnomes story became news worldwide. It didn’t take long before other inanimate objects were granted a life on the road…

Gnoming - The Ritual of the Traveling Garden Gnome
Gnoming: the ritual of the taking a garden gnome to travel with (Credit: Pixabay | Capri23auto)

Travelling stuffed animals

While the hype of gnoming faded, the idea of traveling with an object remained popular. People came up with all sorts of variations, and it wasn’t long before the first touristic snapshots of stuffed animals appeared. As it is rather common to travel with a stuffed animal, the practice of taking pictures of one while on the road came natural. Travelers adapted the ritual for a variety of reasons. Some simply didn’t like taking pictures of themselves, others wanted to tell their stories through the perspective of a character of their own creation.

Plushies, and beyond!

Nowadays, there are traveling plushies in all shapes and sizes – from leopards and lions to monkeys and flamingoes, many stuffed animals lead a life of their own. Most of them are in some way connected to the plushie community, one of Instagram’s most lovable niches. Aside from plushies, there are many other traveling toys, stones and even carrots!

The Top Traveling Plushies to Follow

Check out some of the most famous plushies on Instagram, including the Llama With No Drama, Martin the Bear, Fluffy the Bite-Sized Backpacker, and Flinki and Flora.

Fox plushie Kapten Fox travels to Paris
Fox plushie Kapten Fox travels to Paris (Credit: Kapten Fox, @kaptenfox)

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