Aside from pictures, one of the popular ways that people commemorate their travels is by buying souvenirs. But not all souvenirs are created equal. And when you’re staring at a box of mismatched shot glasses and key chains that you never use or look at, you’ll realize that. Here’s a guide to buying awesome and meaningful travel souvenirs.
Skip the generic crap everyone sells
All souvenir shops are going to have at least a rack-full of items that are all manufactured in the same sweat shop in China. It’s gonna be some version of the city name on a generic view of the skyline or the city’s most popular attraction. And they’re all going to have that plastered on fridge magnets, keychains, hats, and t-shirts. These are usually tacky, overpriced, and terrible quality.
Instead: Buy handmade
If you look past all the people are trying to hock those tacky trinkets, you’ll find artists and artisans that are trying to make a living by selling their paintings, photos, and their crafts. You know how you buy local produce so you can feel more worldly and supportive of the local economy? You can do that abroad, too! You might get more mileage out of a pair of handmade earrings you got at a craft fair than you will out of a shitty figurine that doesn’t fit with your living room décor.
Avoid buying something just to have something
Even when all the souvenirs look crappy, we all kinda feel compelled to take something home or to take something for friends and family. Don’t. If you didn’t love it that much to begin with, you’re gonna love it even less when you see it in your house. It’s gonna go into a box in the storage closet and you won’t even remember it in two weeks.
Instead: Buy something you already enjoy
Every reader remembers where and when they got each of their books. Every music lover remembers where and when they got each of their records. So instead of buying something you’re not crazy about, seek out things you already love and find something to add to your collection. Buy yourself a good book to read on the flight home. Play music? Buy yourself a new instrument. Your travel souvenir doesn’t have to say LONDON in big block letters for you to remember it came from there.
Avoid getting souvenirs that will be cumbersome to transport
Sure, that beer stein will look amazing when you’re watching the game on Sunday nights, but you have to carry that thing around for the rest of your trip. What if breaks on the way home? Be practical about your souvenirs. Consider how much longer your trip is and whether it’s worth the hassle of finding room for it in your luggage. No matter how much you loved it in the store, things tend to lose their luster when you’re dragging around through security and sitting with in your lap so it doesn’t bounce around in the overhead compartment.
Instead: shop light
If you’re on a particularly long trip or you still have a lot of cities left to visit, avoid weighing yourself down with random stuff. So get postcards! They take up no space and your loved ones will appreciate the sentiment a lot more. They’re not just good as gifts. Send one to yourself, like a message from the past. When you’re back at work and you’re frustrated, getting a postcard from yourself will be a fun surprise. And you can use them to decorate at home.
Been there. Done that. Left the t-shirt on the rack.
Is there anything worse than souvenir t-shirts? I’m not sure why souvenir shops are part Hot Topic, but they’re full of low quality shirts with “clever” slogans on them. It is the lowest common denominator of travel souvenir. You are never going wear a shirt that says “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Besides, it doesn’t. We saw it on Instagram.
Instead: Shop for clothes you’ll use that you can’t get back home
Even if shopping isn’t high on your list of travel activities, you might be looking for a souvenir you can wear. Skip the heap of crap that they sell at souvenir shops and go to a local store. Buy yourself those shoes or that fur coat, because you’re in Paris so fuck it. That’s a hell of a travel souvenir. Just make sure it’s something you love and will actually wear. That alpaca sweater might look great when you’re surrounded by other people wearing the same thing in Peru. But that thing is going in the closet when you get home and will never see the light of day.
Consider starting a collection
One way to make your travel souvenir more special is by collecting the same thing from every place you visit. For instance, I have a friend that collects Christmas ornaments. It’s a good way to display your travel souvenirs only once a year and still appreciate them. You can collect anything from mugs to stamps. Adding a new item to your collection is a lot better than adding another random thing to your pile of random shit.
Not all souvenirs have to be permanent
Sometimes the best souvenirs are consumable. Because one of the things you’ll miss most when you’re back home is the food. So take home a frozen deep dish pizza so you can have a taste of Chicago long after your vacation is over. Fill up an entire bag full of Japanese candy because you won’t see matcha Kit Kats at your local grocery store. And if you found a Merlot you liked on your winery tour in Italy, take home a bottle. Because you can’t go wrong with wine.