How many times have you scrambled at the last minute to find that special souvenir? And let me guess: in the end, you ended up sending off some cheesy postcard from the hotel. Or buying a completely overpriced item at the airport.

The next time you’re trekking off to foreign lands, here’s how to tell the ghastly from the grand. Whether for yourself or a loved one, a great souvenir is …

Tantalizing, But It Won’t Land You (or the Recipient) in Jail

Sure, bringing back a bag of marijuana may sound exciting. It may even be very appreciated by some. But spending a night in prison or having to pay a huge fine is not a good end to any vacation.

Be sure you are familiar with the import laws of the country or state you are returning to. For the U.S., check out the Customs and Border Protection website, which has extensive information on prohibited and restricted items. For other countries, a simple Google search on their respective forbidden items will do.

Be aware that when you are traveling from one country to the next, an item may be legal in one but not the other. The Netherlands, for example, is notorious for allowing certain drugs. As soon as you hop on the train to Germany, however, you are subject to search and fine. Don’t simply assume that all countries on one continent will have the same rules.


© Julián Rodriguez Orihuela

A Local Specialty, But It Won’t Require Going Back Every Week

Returning from Buenos Aires with a mate cup? Great idea, just make sure that you can actually get Argentinean yerba in your hometown, or your cup will soon be collecting dust (unless you plan on flying back every time just to get your daily tea fix).

You can inquire beforehand or from abroad whether specialty stores are available back home. Again, an internet search can be of great help. If you really won’t be able to buy the necessary accompanying products back home, think about whether your souvenir can be used for anything else that is obtainable.

In the case of a mate cup, it is possible, although uncommon, to use it for normal tea. You may consider bringing back several bags of yerba, but again, be careful with importation laws.


© Emiliano

Spectacular, But Small Enough to Bring on the Plane

The debate about whether size matters may still be going on. In this case, however, if you can make sure that your token fits in your suitcase, you’ll be just fine.

Each airline lists luggage restrictions on its website. Note that they vary according to flight class and destination. Sometimes you can get by with slightly heavier hand luggage, although companies are becoming stricter here too.


© Sharon Terry

Fabulous, But Not So Fragile It Will Break

Countless are the tourists who open their bags and have porcelain sprawled all over. If you acquire something delicate, make sure to it’s wrapped, and wrapped (and wrapped some more).

Here, your clothes can come in handy. A glass vase, for example, can be stuffed with socks and underwear, and enveloped by a series of sweaters. Posters, canvases or other large artwork should be rolled up and placed into a tube if you can get hold of one. Last but least, carry fragile items in your hand luggage whenever possible.

Whether hand or checked luggage, label it “FRAGILE” either with an official sticker or a normal pen. If applicable, consider adding “THIS END UP,” “PLEASE HANDLE WITH CARE. THANK YOU,” “DON’T DROP” or drawing a glass sign.


© Pulpolux !!!

A Cross-Cultural Communicator

Going abroad is all about immersing oneself in a foreign culture. A sari will easily break the ice with an Indian, as will a dirndl with a Bavarian. Let the souvenir speak for itself!

Be sure, however, that you know what it is and what it is used for. As a Munich native, I see thousands of tourists coming to Oktoberfest each year – many outfitted with the traditional Bavarian costumes. Yet significantly fewer know the details of what they are wearing.

This is why I recently published an article on How to Wear a Traditional Bavarian Dirndl on The Lost Girls. Whether it be a dirndl, a sari or something completely different, know the story behind what you have bought.

A Tool to Teach

Bring a little bit of those distant customs back and allow your souvenir to educate others about what you learned abroad. More than just a start for small talk, let your token open up deep conversations about foreign lands.

Again, make sure you are familiar with what you have bought. Read about it online, or better yet, inquire directly with the locals while you are there. When you are back home and someone asks about that small statue you have on your shelf, start with an interesting short story. This can be about its history in general, or you yourself connect with the souvenir. Don’t bore your listener(s) with too many details; keep it snazzy and leave them yearning for more. Generate a dialogue between you, your audience, and the souvenir.


© Meir Jacob

An Exotic Guardian, Protecting You from Evil

Back home, few people may carry or even know the Turkish nazar. But the lucky eye will watch over anyone who believes in it.

Those who know best about the magical properties will be the locals. So, once again, while you are abroad, be sure to find out directly from them what your souvenir means. More than that, however, inquire about how you, too, can use it to optimize your luck. Are there special rituals? How can you re-create them back home? Are there other goods to go along with it? Find all of this out before you hop on the plane back home.


© stuart anthony

An Inexhaustible Escape from Reality

Just looking at that Mexican beach pareo will have you thinking of the ocean breeze. Go a step further and put it on, and you’ll be right back on vacation, the waves splashing around you.

A Reason to Return

The definition of souvenir may be “memory” or “memento.” But ultimately, a great souvenir will always remind you of an even greater trip, leaving your mouth watering for the next time you can quench your travel thirst, and go again. As you eye that dirndl, sari, pareo or nazar, keep saving up and plan your vacation.

8 Responses

  1. J. Thal

    Hi there!

    After traveling to 120 countries I have my say about gifts. I use to bring to those who are waiting for my gifts…..Stones! I don’t mean precious stones, or just simple stones from the street, but specially picked stones that have anything to say about the place where they was picked, or the culture which live around. Sometimes I ended up with too heavy stone but if you look at the collection at home of my beloved, it fits like in a precious bracelete

    Reply
  2. California traveler

    I have started looking for souvenirs for myself that will still fit somewhere in my own decor. I’ve bought things in the past that I LOVED, but just looked out of place no matter what I did with them. Sometimes this is a bit of a challenge, but after putting away so many things that I would have liked to keep out, but just didn’t find a good place for, I go to the extra effort now to make sure that, even though exotic, it also blends with what I have in some way.

    Reply
  3. Veronica

    I always come back with some sort of small artwork from the countries I visit. I think art is my favorite type of souvenir!

    Reply
  4. Oksana from Drink Tea & Travel

    Great tips! I had struggled with souvenirs in the past. I used to collect shot glasses, until I quickly discovered how fragile they are, then it was magnets, until the magnet collection started to add significant weight to my luggage. There were also clothes, and figurines, and textiles, which eventually just added clutter to my life. Not great when you are moving countries every year. Eventually, I funneled my love for shopping into buying gifts for others and kept nothing but photos and memories for myself.

    Reply
  5. Chloe

    I always go for clothes or food. The problem with food is that it gets eaten so I always go for something that has nice packaging that can be reused too. With clothes I like to buy things that are made locally and interesting that can’t be found elsewhere.

    Reply
  6. Amber

    I also find more and more that my travel photographs alone are becoming my souvenirs. Framed they make great artwork at home, plus they bring back great memories with only a glance.

    Reply

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