Picking out souvenirs is part of the fun of traveling. Aside from the memories it’s nice to come home with a tangible symbol of your latest adventure. But I bet there have been times, maybe more often than you’d like to admit, that you got home, looked at your loot and thought, why did I buy this stuff? What am I even going to do with this? Did I really need another t-shirt, mug, knick knack?
It’s a terrible feeling. Because right away you know you wasted money and you could have done better. You also tend to feel obligated to keep the thing around too, since you spent money on it.
Turns out though, if you’ve got a plan (and not just an envelope full of spending cash) going into vacation, you’ll come out the other side in souvenir…ah hem…keepsake, bliss. Here are my four tips for buying souvenirs you won’t regret later.
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Every country, region or town will have some things they’re known for. Here in Texas we’re known for football, bbq, cowboy boots and TexMex. Feel free to stock up on leather goods when you’re rolling through the Lone Star State. Paris (France not Texas, LOL) is known for its love of books, art, and fashion and you can find that stuff around every corner. Before I visited the City of Light, I knew a silk scarf was on my must buy list. It took five days to find “the one” and it’s one of my favorite mementos from my trip.
If you’re not coveting the obvious local specialties, look for highly rated markets and workshops with items for sale. A great example of this is Pewabic Pottery in Detroit. You wouldn’t likely pair Detroit with pottery, but Pewabic is nationally famous and a Michigan institution. Their store sells everything from tiles, vases, jewelry, platters and mugs and they offer custom design for large scale projects, like fireplaces. Some of their items that make my favorites list are the framed tiles of Detroit landmarks like Eastern Market and Belle Isle.
You don’t want to get caught in a moment during your travels and end up buying something you won’t use or enjoy in some way once you get home. Posing with a sombrero on your head is a fun photo op. But unless you collect cultural headwear, or you’ve got a latin inspired room in your home that needs a beautiful sombrero as wall decor, don’t spend your money on one.
Think about your personal style, home decorating style, and overall lifestyle. If you’re a foodie and love to cook, a local cookbook might be a great souvenir. If you love creating wall collages, consider a unique print or map from your destination.
I have no problem spending a sizable portion or even ALL of my souvenir budget on a single item. I wasn’t always like this though, and used to think I needed something from every day trip, museum visit, side show pit stop along the way. But you know what more stuff does? It fills up your house! And a lot of it ends up in the pile for Goodwill because it’s not useful, pretty, or memorable.
I’m not saying you have to skip the cheap, fun stuff. If you love them, then buy the postcards, press the pennies and definitely feel free to get the $5 “I heart New York t-shirt” (did you even go to NY if you don’t buy one?). But don’t spend your whole envelope of cash that way. If you’ve got $300 dollars pegged as souvenir money for a week’s vacation, that could buy one really epic keepsake!
Which brings me to my last point…
Okay so you’d never spend $300 on a vase at home. Like…NEVER EVER. But you’re in Italy and the little shop around the corner from your AirBnb has the most gorgeous colored glass vase you’ve ever seen. You saw it the first day and you can’t stop thinking about it. Nothing else is catching your eye. You stopped in one afternoon and talked to the shop owner about it. Turns out he made it himself…he’s a 7th generation glass blower and has been doing it since he was a teenager. You know it’s probably more than you’d ever spend on a vase at Macy’s, but you’re curious. He says it’s priced at $250. It’s 10 inches tall and 90% of your souvenir budget.
Seriously, it’s okay to buy it AND NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT IT!!! Let me be clear that I’m NOT saying to just obliterate your designated spending limit in order to get something you love. Budgets are important while traveling because we tend to have a more carefree attitude about spending while on vacation. What I am saying is, it’s okay to enjoy blowing your wallet on those single purchases that fit your budget. That one item will most certainly be a cherished keepsake in your home and a perfect reminder of your trip. Isn’t that why we buy souvenirs, after all? In short…Marie Kondo the $#!t out of your souvenirs and buy what sparks true joy!
~Skip the souvenir shops and buy local. That shop across the street from the museum has all kinds of local looking items for sale, but a quick glance will show the items were manufactured in China or some other place very NOT local. That metal figurine of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was not made in Italy.
~You aren’t required to purchase any. If nothing is jumping out at you, don’t throw money at something random.
~Pictures are, in fact, souvenirs. You can opt to pass on buying anything while you’re out of town and create an awesome photo book of your trip when you get back. Boom! Souvenir!
I use Blurb to make vacation books* for my family. I specifically love the 7×7 hardcovers with the Premium Lustre #100 paper. They look great on a coffee table and are easy to store on a shelf. Keep an out, they have sales all the time! (*this is an affiliate link and I may receive a small commission if you use it to make a purchase)