I recently updated my Pinterest board called Travel Souvenir Obsession dedicated to all my cultural travel souvenirs at home!
And in doing this exercise I re-discovered how heartwarming travel souvenirs can be, they remind you of where you’ve been, of the unforgettable people you’ve met and the fantastic experiences you’ve had.
Many times you just look at this small object and can’t help but smile, because they really are more than just a $5 kitsch memento, they even lift your spirit.
That’s because travel changes us.
Travel souvenirs of the memories
You are never the same person when you come back and these little reminders are attached to uplifting, learning and extraordinary events you lived.
Well, ideally, of course.
What you don’t want to do is spend a mini-fortune in things you don’t have a place for, or that are too generic or meaningless.
So here’s my list of 15 killer tips to help you enrich your trips with the best travel souvenirs.
Make it meaningful
1. Does it speak to you about the place you visited?
Ideally you want to buy things that are reminiscent of where you went, that have a direct connection with the site you saw and the experience you had.
Maybe something in that place moved you or made you wonder. Maybe it reminded you of something else, or some other trip.
Or maybe something related to the history of this particular place.
2. Is it too obvious?
Well, of course you’re going to encounter that Eiffel Tower key chain. But why not go for something different?
Something more special? That same amount of money can be better spent in something less that you can’t find in every corner of the city.
Maybe something you don’t even know how to use! Find out what the item is used for and imagine if looking at it at home will make you want to come back to the place.
3. Is it generic merchandise?
Try to stay away from the mouse pads, coasters, mugs and baseball caps, you can find those anywhere you go on this planet.
Go for things that have unusual shapes or unusual uses, something perhaps that is only used at that location.
4. Can you find it at home?
Sometimes you find items that look beautiful and that in context speak to you of the place, but really, is this basically the same candle holder you can buy at home?
Does it look like the African collection at Wal-Mart?
If so, best to looks for pieces that you’re certain you won’t be able to find anywhere else.
5. Does it make your heart smile?
Indulge your passions! If you collect little thimbles from every museum you’ve ever visited, well, by all means, buy that thimble at the Prado Museum in Madrid!
Maybe it’s cliché, maybe you have hundreds of them, but in the end, if another ancient coin or one more postcard make you happy and your experience memorable, go for it!
Make it practical
6. Will you use it?
Look for things that are usable, that have an alternate purpose other than just being a souvenir and when you get home, use them!
It’ll bring you back to the place you visited and make you smile, once more. Objects are made to be used!
7. Do you have a place for it at home?
Why buy beautiful little mementos during your trips, if you’re going to put them in a box to be forgotten at home?
Buying souvenirs is not about hoarding, on the contrary, it’s about buying reminders of wonderful experiences you’ve had.
And in that sense, you need to be able to display them and give them a place of honor at home.
If you can’t, or don’t have enough space, don’t buy it.
8. Do you already have this item?
Look for pieces that will enrich your collection and give it variety and interest.
9. Are photos not allowed?
Buy the postcards at the gift shop!
Flashes of the cameras damage valuable paintings and antique pieces that are too delicate and sensitive to excess light, so don’t try to sneak a picture if you’ve been told it’s not allowed!
And anyway, unless you are a great photographer, with an excellent camera, the picture is not going to be nearly as good as the convenient postcards for sale.
Not only are they cheap, but they also make a great souvenir as a gift.
Make it portable
10. Does it fit in your bag?
If it doesn’t, don’t buy it.
You know how I like to travel light, so I don’t care if you’re crazy about the 4 feet wooden statue you saw in your trip to Kenya or the 50 pound stone seated Buddha in Thailand, if you can’t carry it in your hand luggage, don’t buy it.
11. Can it be transported easily?
If it’s a crystal vase or a ceramic piece, can you make sure it will survive the rest of the adventure and the trip back home intact?
If it’ll be too cumbersome to carry around or too fragile, don’t buy it.
Make it affordable
12. Is it too expensive?
Sometimes you fall in love with something that is just way out of your budget, but you just gotta have it, right?
First, resist the urge, settle yourself and ponder if you’ll regret it later if you don’t buy it.
Go back to all the previous questions and decide if this is a worthwhile purchase or not.
13. Can you find this item somewhere else for a better price?
Most of the time you can! Try to favor the crafts people over the big stores or look for smaller stores that have the exact same item or at least one very similar, for a fraction of the price.
Take into consideration that gift shops at museum will always be more expensive.
Make it legal
14. Is this item a scientific find?
Do not, under any circumstance, remove any archaeological, anthropological, paleontological materials from the site you’re visiting.
It doesn’t matter if you found it by chance or if you were the first to see it, you are not entitled to any material that was not legally extracted and government approved to be acquired.
If you do find any such item, you are supposed to hand it over to the authorities, so that they can preserve it for humanity.
By the same token, do not purchase any suspicious items on the streets.
If somebody comes up to you and offers you a small Egyptian artifact on the streets of Cairo, make sure the item is marked as a “replica”.
15. Is this item illegal?
Make sure that whatever you’re purchasing (or taking) is legal at your destination and at home.
And last but not least, bonus question number 16:
16. Does your gut tell you you should buy this?
When in doubt, ask your gut! It’ll know if this is the right purchase for you or not. Listen to it and follow your intuition!
Check out my Pinterest board with my favorite travel souvenirs, most from my own travels, and a few that friends have given me as gifts!
What kinds of travel souvenirs do you prefer?
Which specific items are your favorites!
Let me know in the comments field below, or share your pictures with me in Facebook!