Travel Souvenirs: How to Find Trip Mementos You Won’t Throw Away

Ever browsed your average tourist shop? There is, in my humble opinion, a whole lot of useless garbage available for sale at almost every major destination. Yet somehow, even sane people suddenly buy a pen holder in the shape of the Eiffel Tower or a paperweight carved out of concrete that may (or may not) have been part of the Berlin Wall.

Many of us (and I include myself here) obviously have a yearning to take home some souvenir of our travels, but over the years I’ve refined my souvenir hunting to ensure the mementos I bring home are actually things I won’t be throwing out in my next spring clean.

Souvenir Eiffel Tower
Souvenir Eiffel Tower © Zoha N

Why Do We Want Souvenirs From Our Trips?

I guess human nature is all about hanging on to the good times. Most of the time when you’re traveling and on holidays, you’re having a good time, and you want to take back a little piece of that to help you get through the regular times of work, school, commute, and all that daily grind stuff. Some people also like to display their travels – perhaps on their office wall or in the entry hall at home – as a conversation starter, a good reason to chat with colleagues or friends about places they’ve been and seen.

Naturally enough, whichever your reason for wanting a souvenir, it’s easy to be swayed in the heat of the moment to buy something that’s not quite what you’d usually buy. Whether that’s because of the excellent haggling of the souvenir traders or just a spot of heatstroke on your holiday; but I’m hoping if you keep the following characteristics in mind, you might come home with something a bit more worthwhile.

Tip 1: Buy Practical Souvenirs

Traveling as a kid, I was all about buying pretty little ornaments – yes, I have a mini Eiffel Tower, and a mini Leaning Tower of Pisa too. As I grew up, I realised that first of all, I was never going to have the space (or desire!) to display all this stuff, and secondly, that I could get a lot more joy out of some practical souvenir. Having the name of a famous landmark plastered all over an object, I realised, was not a big deal – it was only important that I knew where something came from, and that it reminded me of the good times I’d had.

These days, I don’t specifically go shopping for souvenirs, but if I come across something practical that I could use at home, and will remind me of a particular destination, day, or person I met, then that’s what I take home.

For example, I have a small bag I use for packing toiletries and cosmetics when I travel which I consider one of my favourite souvenirs. I bought it in a small hot spring resort in Japan and although nobody else would know where it came from, it transports me back to that magical resort every time I use it. You might also consider souvenirs you can use in the kitchen or at your computer, or souvenirs you can wear.

Tip 2: Buy Small Souvenirs

If an ornament or trinket takes your fancy, first of all, try and take the time to go away, think about it, and buy it the next day (nine times out of ten, you won’t!). But if you just love it, try and buy a small version of it.

Above my desk, I have a small set of shelves where I display some of those traveling trinkets I’ve bought over the years, and every so often I take out my box (of more!) and rotate them. These small objects, which vary from a carved wooden penguin from Tasmania to a small cow’s bell from Switzerland, actually do entertain and inspire me while I sit here and type.

However, if I’d gone for the life-size penguin carving or the authentic-size cow bell, I would be drowning in stuff and I wouldn’t have room for my computer!

1987 Wooden Shoes
Wooden Shoes © JD Hancock

Tip 3: Buy Educational Souvenirs

Without meaning to sound like a teacher or a parent (although, oops, I’m both!), why not take home something that can add to the meaning of your trip and destination?

For example, after visiting the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Birkenau, I didn’t take home a fridge magnet or a poster, but a small booklet, a memoir of one of the survivors. Reading it after seeing the long rows of buildings, the barbed wire and, worst of all, the gas chambers, meant I could relate to the physical places the survivor wrote about, and understand just a tiny bit of how horrifying the circumstances must have been.

My husband is a real art fan and enjoys looking through exhibition catalogues from art gallery visits over and over again, too. Occasionally I’ve even purchased DVDs about some of my favourite destinations. The additional advantage of these types of souvenirs is they’re usually small, flat and easy to pack.

Tip 4: Don’t Buy Anything At All!

Some of the best souvenirs don’t actually cost anything.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take home a souvenir. But some of the best souvenirs don’t actually cost anything.

For example, I once flew on Air Vladivostok from Japan to Russia, and since the plane’s air-conditioning wasn’t working, we received complimentary cardboard fans to wave in front of us. This well-constructed fan still has pride of place in my office and when I’m reading and thinking on a summer day, I give it a few waves.

The complimentary hand towel that came with a package deal to Okinawa one summer is something I still use regularly in my bathroom, and I smile to see the funny cartoon people and the unfathomable Japanese characters on it. For many years, the ugly green airline socks the airline provided us with when flying to Europe for the first time were a much fought-over status symbol in my family.

So keep an eye out for unexpected and unpurchaseable souvenirs – they might turn out to be the most meaningful of all!

12 Responses

  1. Barb

    One of my favorite souvenirs is a mezzaluna that I bought in a hardware store in a small town in Italy! Every time I use it, my memories come back to me!

    Reply
  2. Matt

    I buy Christmas ornaments and tuck them away. Every year when we decorate the tree all of our travel memories get revisited.

    Reply
  3. Ian [EagerExistence]

    I think the same thing (about useless crap), but still id like something more than travel Photos to remember my trip by. Ive found myself looking at art lately..

    Reply
  4. Marsha

    I too buy Christmas ornaments however many hand on the frame of my world map in my office. Also I collect pictures, thousands. They are on my itouch so a frequently review them as I listen to music…my portable photo album

    Reply
  5. Sheena

    I decided I wanted to collect wooden/handicraft dolls so I look for those in every country I visit. It’s really fun! I have a shelf dedicated to them and I love how just looking at my shelf reminds me of all my trips. :) But it’s true about the other mini trinkets; you really end up not having space for them (and sometimes you really don’t want to display them at all anymore!)

    Reply
  6. Bluegreen Kirk

    I’m so difficult when it comes to souvenirs not just with selecting them but keeping them. I don’t like clutter and though I like memories those things just keep building up the more places you go. I like idea #4 where you don pay like with the fan.

    @ matt – now that a great idea!

    Reply
  7. Debra Maher

    A while back I started buying tiny magnets for one corner of our refrigerator. Nothing too tacky, just a little reminder. I also have the small (free) subway/underground maps from London & Paris, tacked to my bulletin board at work. Looking at the stops reminds me of where we stayed and where we visited.

    Of course, the best souvenirs are the photos.

    Reply
  8. Elize

    I plead guilty to buying trinkets. I love magnets, and above my desk in my study I have a magnet board with all the magnets i bought.

    The board is a constant reminder of where I have been, and how hard i had to fight to get there.

    I also buy books about the country or city i have visited. not a typical tourist book, but artsy photography books.

    Reply
  9. Anne Helmers

    On our RTW trip space was limited. My daughter collected charms from tourist shops to antique shops, my son collected stickers and patches which now adorn his bedroom furniture and a blanket on his bed. I did the Christmas ornament thing although rarely was it a traditional ornament but something from the place that I used as an ornament such as good luck bead from the amazon or elephant candle holders from bali. Our main collection is the over 30,000 pictures. There were so many souvenirs I would have loved to take and I spent many hours wandering markets in over 25 countries but it was bittersweet to know you can’t take it with you. Sometimes it is best not to buy. We have everything we need.

    Reply
  10. Louise Webster

    Great idea to buy some practical souveniers the amount of times you come home with a bag full of nick nacks and do not have any room for them. Thank you for the tip !:)

    Reply

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