It’s tough to find a souvenir that encompasses the life-changing experiences, memorable people, and indescribable sights that only travel provides. A few Google searches before your trip will help you avoid on-the-spot thoughts like, Maybe I’ll just buy a snow globe or an “I love Moscow” T-shirt—even though both gifts were probably made 14 time zones away. Here are some tips for taking home a piece of the places you visit and eliminating the stress of souvenir shopping.
The more you know, the more you can appreciate. Researching tourism boards, travel blogs, and travel sites like www.tripadvisor.com can give you an idea of what kinds of things are produced locally where you are traveling. These are the souvenirs you will want to take home because they are authentic. Researching your destination’s culture, history, and customs can also be helpful so you are aware of what types of products to keep an eye out for, where to find them, and what to avoid while traveling.
You might be surprised that in a city like Paris, home to great artists like Claude Monet, you can find beautiful original canvas oil paintings done by Parisian art students at street markets for less than $20. Meaningful souvenirs like paintings can make fantastic gifts, and an inexpensive poster tube can provide an easy way to carry them home. This kind of souvenir can also give you the satisfaction of knowing that, in a small way, you’ve helped sustain the local economy. Ask the locals what a fair price to pay is so you don’t get ripped off or insult any of the vendors.
Ask yourself, Is this going to be useful when I get home? Could I buy it at home? Will it be significant to me beyond this moment? Something like a brass saucepan from Italy will be useful when you get home and will often remind you of the place where you bought it, the food you ate, and the people you met there. But a miniature statue of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is probably going to end up in the junk pile. Practical souvenirs are rewarding and will remind you of your travels long after the trip ends.
Keep an eye out for the perfect memento as you travel; don’t restrict yourself to half a day of shopping before your flight home. Even worse, don’t expect the 10 minutes in the airport’s overpriced, duty-free shops to provide satisfactory solutions. Ask locals or hotel staff and consult websites like www.lonelyplanet.com and www.fodors.com to find museum shops, open markets with street vendors, and secondhand stores. Then incorporate souvenir shopping into your trip—it could end up being your favorite part.
Photo by Neil Howard