The Ultimate Souvenir Survival Guide

by Royal City Travel Guelph -

Ah, the souvenir. Ah, the souvenir. Nothing brings you back to those life-affirming moments abroad like some good old-fashioned kitsch.

Even if photos are enough memento for you, it’s nice to bring home trinkets as gifts for family and friends. Here’s everything you need to know about finding, buying, and bringing back the best souvenirs during your travels. 

The Hunt
First off, don’t wait until last minute. I repeat - don’t put this off. You’ll wake up in the airport when you’re rushing through duty-free, wondering if Mom would want a carton of Marlboros. (Hint: She doesn’t.) Make a list of the people you’d like to bring stuff back for, and keep an eye out throughout your trip. If something just screams your sister, grab it right then.

Also, make sure you include gifts for yourself and others into your budget. You don’t want to end up skipping meals for snow-globes.

Think outside the box when you shop. Variations on basic items with unique or bizarre packaging make for fun (and inexpensive) gifts. Try to buy locally-made, artisan goods. It’s a simple way to support the local industry and take home an authentic cultural keepsake.

Shop in markets or other places that locals do. Museum gift shops - though on the more expensive side - usually offer a wide variety of art, books, jewelry, and other items that make for beautiful presents.

If you’re traveling with a friend, make a game out of hunting for the best souvenir. Go to a market and split up. Set a price limit and give yourselves 30 minutes. It’s a fun way to find some gems, and you can trade at the end.

Trade Souvenirs
Whether it’s a t-shirt from your alma mater or baseball cap of your favorite team, stuff with American slogans or brands are unique abroad and make for excellent trading materials.

Try to make a trade at a vendor’s stall or somewhere else you can haggle. Offer to switch your shirt out with that of someone you meet. This is a fun way to interact with locals, and either way, you’ll go home with a good story. I’ve also swapped (inexpensive) jewelry.

On The Cheap
For yourself, think maps, brochures, visitor guides and other promotional materials. You can often find these for free at tourism offices or museums, and many are beautifully printed on quality paper. I’ve cut pages out of museum guides and framed them for elegant wall decorations. You can also do this with postcards.

Other super cheap souvenirs include stamps, coins, and newspapers - even if you don’t speak the language it’s a cool way to wrap your gifts. And if you want to learn the language, newspapers are a terrific place to start.

Gifts from nature work too. I once gave someone polished stones I found along a beach that I had brought home and put in a glass jar. Dried flowers, seashells, and plants seeds are other good examples.

Pass the Food
Remember - everyones like food. And food is everywhere.

Bring back your girlfriend chocolates from Belgium, or your mom dried pasta from Italy. When I went to Colombia I made sure I brought back my highly caffeinated Dad some good Colombian coffee beans. Teas and spices work too, and they’re cheap and easy to pack.

Bringing It Back
Leave some empty room in your suitcase while you’re initially packing; remember, bags are weighed coming back too, so if you’re over the limit you could be looking at some hefty fees. Another idea is to pack an empty suitcase or duffel bag inside your luggage to later remove and fill with souvenirs.

However, if you want to stick to your backpack and plan to travel on for a while, ship your souvenirs back. It might even be cheaper than checking another bag.

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