I’m not a big fan of Christmas shopping but it’s almost impossible to tear me out of a souvenir shop when I am traveling. Unless you’re in Vegas, skip the shot glasses and bring home good souvenirs with real cultural significance. Below are 10 timeless and/or creative souvenirs to bring home for yourself or family & friends!
1. Send a Postcard home
This is a classic little something to brighten someone’s day or for a keepsake you’ll have forever. It’s great if you send it from the country you are in so that it gets stamped from your current location. These are great for long trips away from family and friends too! I did this for my boyfriend when I was studying abroad for four months and he loved the surprise since we didn’t get to talk that much!
Many of the places I have been have very significant drinkware that I like to bring back as a souvenir. I imagine that if I were in China I would be picking up a ton of tea cups for gifts (It’s on my list, I’ll make it there eventually). When I was in Germany, I got a classic beer drinking glass as a gift for my boyfriend. Be sure to do your research and ask people what is a real souvenir and what is just made up by the souvenir shops. In Germany, they told me that the souvenir shops sell a ton of glasses shaped like boots although no Germans ever actually drink from boot glasses.
My family takes our Christmas tree very seriously and it’s a full day affair pulling out the ornaments and talking about where they all came from. Looking ahead, I want to have the same tradition with my kids and want to share my travels with them. I started buying ornaments everywhere that I went that way I will have stories to share with my children every Christmas and my tree will be decorated with memories and travels from throughout my lifetime.
Local artists are everywhere in most cities and you can get some inexpensive art for a friend or to hang around your house. I studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic and found myself wandering through every little art shop I found to see how others viewed the city that I came to love. I have a stack of art that I plan to hang up whenever I move into an actual house and have the space. If you are waiting to hang it, make sure you preserve it and store it somewhere safe so that it doesn’t get damaged before you have the chance to enjoy it.
5. Scrapbook and/or Album
If you’re anything like me, I love creating a scrapbook of all my favorite moments and keepsakes from a trip. This couldn’t really be used as a gift but it’s something that you will have and cherish forever. In order to make a good scrapbook, make sure you keep brochures, plane tickets, maps, currency (if it’s different than your normal currency), tickets to attractions, etc. Having the scrapbook also from where you were will make it stand out amongst the other books on your shelf and complete the whole feeling of looking through the scrapbook of your trip. I know many people don’t make albums anymore and just use Facebook but scrapbooks should not be forgotten!
Saving some sand or pebbles from a place you visit can make for a really great souvenir and while you are shopping around you can maybe pick up something that you could put the sand into. One thing you could do is save the sand in a little water bottle and when you get home buy one of those clear ball ornaments, add the sand to the inside, and then decorate the outside with the name of the place you went and the year. Just make sure you’re allowed and it isn’t a protected area. For example, you’re not allowed to take rocks or dirt from the Grand Canyon!
Magnets are a classic and some can be super corny or plain but I take great care in picking out a magnet that has some cultural significance. When I am older I think it’ll be nice to cover my fridge with magnets from all of the beautiful places I have been. I also like to make my own magnets if I can’t find something that I like. For example, when I was in Corfu, Greece on Easter they had a tradition where they drop huge clay pots out of the windows into the street. After the ceremony, everyone walks around and picks up the broken pieces that are covered with beautiful designs. I found a little piece that I loved and wrote Corfu on it and now it makes a great magnet with a memorable story behind it.
8. Non-perishable snacks
Everyone loves when you bring home great snacks that all can enjoy. It’s always interesting to try new candies, chips, pastries and more if they can make the trip home. When we were in France we stuffed a baguette in our suitcase in the morning, flew home, and enjoyed it for dinner with some wine! Snacks are my go to souvenir because let’s face it, if someone wasn’t on the trip they don’t necessarily want a tchotchke from somewhere they didn’t go. When in Amsterdam, we brought home Stroopwafel for everyone to enjoy and set over their mug of coffee together. Also, this is a very economical option because your whole family can share snacks and you don’t have to buy each person something specific. When we get back from the Philippines I just put out a whole pile of banana chips, candies, cookies, and crackers out at a family dinner and got to explain to everyone what each thing was and enjoy hearing everyone’s opinions of everything. Make you don’t bring any meat, fresh fruit, or fresh vegetables though- those are restricted. Most cheese is okay to bring home though!
9. Bottle of alcohol
You can actually bring alcohol home in your checked baggage but you just have to read the laws of your state that you are flying into. You may also have to pay taxes on anything that is over one liter. Just make sure you are 21 (or whatever your local drinking age is) and that you declare it! Many countries have alcohol that is popular there and makes for a great gift for family and friends. When I studied abroad in Czech Republic, they have a local alcohol called Becherovka that seriously tasted like Christmas. I brought home a bottle (make sure it’s in a plastic bag just in case) and I still have not opened it two years later. It doesn’t really go bad so I decided to save it for my wedding in 18 months when hopefully all my study abroad friends can get together and enjoy it again as a group!
I’m not a big bumper sticker person for my car but I love to buy them and stick them to my laptop case or even incorporate them into my scrapbook. See if you can find stickers that were designed by local artists or one that embodies something that you loved about your trip and where you went. I love these souvenirs because they are affordable and can be used in so many places to remind you of your trip!
Overall, each city and country will always have their own special types of souvenirs that are classic and you HAVE to bring home. But think about starting a collection of something like magnets, ornaments, postcards, etc that you can keep forever and use to dress up your house and tell stories to your kids. For me, kids are way way in the future but I know I will thank myself for storing these types of souvenirs to share with my family and reminisce when I am old.