Our Favourite Travel Souvenirs
Buying travel souvenirs can be a somewhat divisive topic. For many, the idea of buying souvenirs brings up horrible memories of those cheap and tacky items that they grew up with as kids. Things like dried alligator heads, snow globes, spoons, or a Mexican Sombrero, or the like, can really make your eyes roll. For others, they are a rite of passage when on vacation, and you can’t help yourself; you need to buy a little memento to remember your trip.
Whether you purchase travel souvenirs for yourself or as gifts for friends and family, finding the right token can be a part of the adventure. For us, buying travel souvenirs is a necessity. We love discovering unique and exciting things to conjure up memories of our trip years later. However, we have to find the right souvenirs. They have to serve a purpose, they have to mean something to the people we buy them for, or they have to be interesting conversation starters that help bring up a good story, and some times – they need to be fun and bring us joy.
Tchotchkes are those cheesy little travel souvenirs with which we all have a love-hate relationship. Some people love their little knick-knacks and bric-a-brac to decorate their homes. Others think these things are tacky, cheap, and ugly and do not want them in their homes. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, I think many of us grew up knowing a ‘collector’. Collectors of a specific type of knick-knack will look forward to receiving these items from their friends when they return from a trip. Think of things like spoons, thimbles, snow globes, and salt and pepper shakers. These are the kinds of things that give people the willies when they think of travel souvenirs. However, there are some good travel souvenirs you will want to bring home.
One of our favourite gifts to receive when friends and family travel is liquor. We love getting different alcohols, beer, and spirits from places we have never been. We also endeavour to bring our boozy friends great craft spirits from local distilleries, to which they look forward. Think Curacao from the island, Rum from the Caribbean, moonshine from the southern US, bourbon from Kentucky, and Tequila from Mexico – all very delicious souvenirs. We always try to get something unique to the area that you can’t just buy at the local liquor store.
Spices and Seasonings
The cooks and bakers in your life will appreciate getting locally sourced spices and seasons like vanilla from many tropical locales like Central America, Mexico, and such.
In many exotic locations like Dubai, Morocco, and India, one of the most popular attractions are the Souks. Souk is just another name for the marketplace, and you will want to check out the spice souks to buy some of their local seasonings. You can try to recreate the delicious food of the regions when you are back home.
In many locations around the world, you will find many regions producing their own unique, delicious hand-crafted cheeses. Not all cheese will travel well, so you will have to be selective on which ones you bring home. On a trip to Norway, we had the pleasure of trying their unique ‘brown cheese”. It is a firm goat’s milk-based cheese with a very caramel-like flavour. They use it in sweet and savoury dishes, and it is delightful. We picked some up to take home so that we could relive the memory of the traditional Norwegian waffles.
Sweets and Local Treats
Who doesn’t love a sweet treat? Unique and locally made chocolates and sweets may seem like a great souvenir from your trip especially when you travel to places that are known for their sweets – like Belgium – chocolate, Germany – candy, Britain – liquorice, Japan – kit-kats (yes Kit-Kat), Australia – TimTams. When visitors come to Canada or Vermont, maple syrup is one of the most often purchased travel souvenirs.
Travel Tip: When it comes to purchasing consumables as a souvenir gift, be careful of expiration dates, freshness, safety, and heat. We once received a box of chocolates as a gift, and the chocolates melted through the packaging and ended up being mouldy inside the box. Not all food and beverage souvenirs travel well. Pack your glass containers well to avoid damage in your luggage.
Coasters make a great travel souvenir. In addition to being small and lightweight, thus fitting nicely in your suitcase, they are also very practical. They are a subtle item that can spark a conversation about where you got them whenever you have guests over for cocktails.
Pint glasses, shot glasses, wine goblets, etc. These are common everyday items in our home. It brings us great joy to mix drinks with a shot glass from one of our travel adventures or drink beer in a pint glass from a craft brewery we visited on a road trip—simple reminders of the good times we had.
Coffee mugs are a very common souvenirs people bring back from their trips for their friends and family as a gift. While Coffee mugs are not our thing (see below), we had 2 Dollywood mugs from our first trip back in 2005. They are good quality, have lasted over 15 years, and are my favourite mug for my morning joe.
Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen, Pour myself a cup of ambition.
We have a few collections of souvenirs which includes many different things. Part of collecting is the thrill of the hunt. To see if we can find a new addition to that collection. How collections begin can also be a story unto itself. Nick has a collection of coffee mugs that started the way all significant collections start. His grandmother gave him a mug from one of her trips. It is a particular design – with a collage of city sites, and the name of the city printed on the handle. She thought it was a nice souvenir that he would enjoy, and years later – that one mug has snowballed into a collection – all the while honouring and remembering his grandmother who is no longer with us. We do not use these mugs, but we do seek them out wherever we go.
Home Décor Travel Souvenirs
Everybody has a refrigerator magnet from some destination they have been or received as a gift. These are cute little travel souvenirs that are an easy thing to pack in your suitcase. For the most part, they are usually pretty cheesy and tacky, and easily forgettable. We have some of those, for sure, but our favourite magnets are the ones that have some connection to the local attractions, or some at least are more artistic in their execution.
Home décor is our favourite type of travel souvenirs. We fill our home with beautiful pieces of hand-made artwork from the local artists and craftspeople. We have a collection of wall hangings, watercolour prints, sculptures, and other artwork and decorative items that truly represent the local culture, and arts scene. This way, we can support the local artisans, and come home with something rather unique and beautiful that is a great conversation starter. Thus bringing back wonderful memories of our travel adventures.
Packing garden statuary into your suitcase may not seem like practical travel souvenirs. It won’t be possible when you fly, but if you are on a road trip, you can fill your car with many beautiful things. On a road trip to the Southern USA, we brought back many lovely items for our garden.
We found a statue of the Bird Girl from the book/movie “Midnight In the Garden Of Good and Evil” – certainly not something we could pack in a carry-on.
Rock City is a spectacular cave structure that we love visiting, so we picked up a birdhouse (and windchimes) that resembles the main barn there.
Our biggest and heaviest travel souvenirs are some gorgeous shell-shaped planter pots we found at a local potter in Myrtle Beach area.
These are some of our favourite travel souvenirs that we have ever picked up. They really make our garden come alive.
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Historical & Cultural relevance
In some destinations, the cultural and historical significance of the place is just too impactful for a silly typical souvenir. In ancient lands, we prefer to pick up travel souvenirs that better represent these historical places or the local culture. Artefacts from past civilisations that were uncovered through archaeological digs have been made into travel souvenirs. Things like replicas of fertility gods or goddesses, tiles from Pompeii, and similar finds, make great souvenirs, and amazing conversations pieces when people visit and see a giant phallus, a statue of a naked pregnant woman, or a statue of “Agent Orange” taking a DUMP (He is full of S#it, after all).
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Travel helps broaden the mind and expand our world view. The best vacations teach us something we never knew before. Books are a great way to further the education you received on your vacation. On a tour of Pompeii, you may learn a lot, but that is just scratching the surface. There is so much history you can learn about the people, the civilisation, and the archaeological discoveries. Books on art and architecture are popular travel souvenirs as well, and they keep the excitement of travel alive, years after you have been there.
Nick loves pressed pennies. He gets at least one on every trip, and he has amassed a small collection of these little souvenirs. He is reasonably selective of the pressed pennies he chooses, and each machine offers about 3 or 4 designs, and the one he picks has to be worth it. At least they are tiny and take up hardly any space in your suitcase.
Postcards and Tee Shirts make wonderful travel souvenirs. They are small, simple, and can have some interesting imagery. When it comes to postcards – you can send some to your friends – or find some really nice ones that are suitable for framing,
Support Small Business
While most souvenirs are mass-produced in China or Taiwan, many of the vendors are small business owners. I would recommend trying your best to purchase as many of your souvenirs from very independent sellers, artisans, or craftspeople to ensure you are doing your best to help local economies. When we travel, we believe in supporting small businesses and independent producers as often as possible.
Whatever your passions are, there is a travel souvenir out there for you. There are zillions of options when it comes to finding the perfect travel souvenirs for you, your family, and friends.
What makes the perfect souvenir for you comes down to your personal taste. Whatever you like, you are sure to find it. Mementoes exist to bring you fond memories of your fabulous vacation for years to come, and if it does that, then that is all that matters. Find the souvenirs that make you happy, and you can relive those fantastic vacation memories over again when your friends ask you “where did you get that?”.