When I started traveling over 30 years ago, I would bring back something for everyone. Wanting to make sure no one was left off my souvenir gift list, I would spend hours searching the markets, gift shops, and tourists spots to find something for the people on my list. Always feeling excited to watch as family and friends unwrapped their items I cherished the ooohing and awwing of excitement. I loved that part of gift-giving and was happy to be the bearer of fun things from around the world.
I would jump at the opportunity to tell a story about the item and share more about my trip through the souvenir. It felt good to share my travels with people who were home while I was traveling the world. Somehow it seemed they shared in my adventures, at least a little bit.
While the glow of sharing last during the opening of the gift it usually is just for awhile. It was so exciting for me to be there at each reveal of adventure in a gift. However, I would visit later and not see my gift displayed anywhere around the house. Disappointed, I wondered “Did they like it?” or maybe it is tucked away for safe-keeping. But, to my disbelief, once I was re-gifted one of my items! Ouch – that hurt! What I learned was how important it is to put more thought into souvenirs and give gifts more strategically. It is important to gift something that has meaning and purpose to the person receiving. And, to stay within budget and consider the ease of getting it home.
1. Have a strategy or plan
If you’re purchasing for family & friends, buy what you know they like not what you like.
Keep in mind each destination may not be the place to bring something back for everyone on your list.
Select souvenir items around a hobby, pastime or interest.
2. Budget for your shopping
Plan ahead with a bit of research before leaving home; especially for high-end items like jewelry, art, and antiques.
Stay within your budget by avoiding the heavy tourists’ areas. Many stores and markets off the tourist path will have local items, and they will be less expensive too.
If you are bringing back food items, purchase them at the local grocery store. Look for usual local sweets, snacks or food items
Shop where the locals shop and you will save money, find unique items and things more likely to represent the true spirit of the area.
Check out farmers markets, local craft fairs, roadside stalls, flea markets, where you are more likely to eliminate the middleman and buy directly from the source.
Check out drugstores and pharmacies for things like stationary, books and postcards with a local flair.
If you are in the same city/area for a couple of days, don’t buy too early in the trip. You may find things less expensive throughout your visit.
3. Make a list
But, don’t keep adding to your list because you feel an obligation to take something back to each person in your circle of family and friends.
Some gifts can be packages for everyone to enjoy. I like to bring back a box of cookies or candies for everyone at work to share and have a chance to sample my recent travels. Choose items with a definite local flair and everyone will feel you thought of them on your trip.
Don’t buy things you “think they will like.” Instead, remember #1 and purchase items that will be used and not re-gifted or tossed.
4. Go for unique
Look for things that keep you within the spirit of the destination. Things like vintage postcards, old photos or prints or a map of the city; each captures the local scene and can be framed for a very special gift.
5. Avoid the tour shopping stops
We have all been on a tour where there is the “stop to shop” along the tour. We usually have ten mins. or less, and we are rushed to select something, purchase it, and we are back on the tour bus.
They are almost, always over priced and items can be mass-produced and mediocre quality.
Many times they have been picked over and handled excessively and may be worn.
These stops are designed to create a sense of urgency, “I better get it now!” feeling to encourage impulsive buying.
If you can’t think about your purchase and come back later, it is probably best to pass it up. Too often these type shopping experience result in disappointment and regrets.
6. Gift shops – yes or no
I like gift shops. Take your time and look around they can be filled with specialty items. The best part of shopping in a gift shop that is part of a museum, historical site or educational institution is your support of their programs by purchasing an item.
They tend to be priced pretty steep, but many gift shops will have one of a kind or gifts associated with the location or institution.
They are fun and create great conversations throughout the year as people visit your home.
Look for quirky and unusual things to collect. My niece collects shot glasses. They are easy to pack and get home. There are no worries about weight or breakage on the road home.
Socks, Christmas ornaments, magnets, T-shirts are all great collectible item and are also very easy to pack.
8. Finding free souvenirs
Who doesn’t like collecting sea shells, driftwood or other things from nature, and they are free!
I once collected beautiful rocks from along the shoreline in Ireland. They are beautiful and work as paperweights on the desk in my office.
Check with the visitors center for maps of the city. They are usually free and are great when framed.
9. Getting things home
Bring along a bit of tissue paper and bubble wrap. Fold it in your suitcase and have it ready for the return trip
Expensive, breakable items should be shipped home. This makes them more pricey, but you don’t risk breaking them with no way to replace them or cover the purchase costs.
Use clothing to wrap around fragile items in your suitcase.
If part of your trip requires you to travel from city to city, consider this in your plan. You’ll have heavier bags, and things could become broken or forgotten along the way. I usually keep purchased items in a separate bag, so I know where they are during my trip. When it is time to go home, I will do a final check and pack everything securely.
If you’re flying:
Pack liquids in your checked bag. Nothing is worse than having a prized souvenir taken during the security check.
Remember gels are considered liquids, is food in sauces.
You may always ask when checking in for your flight if an item is allowed in your carry-on
10. What’s your tip
We want to hear from you. What’s your tip for souvenir buying?
Listen to Annita’s conversation with Bill & Joel on the morning show.
Souvenir buying tips