10 best hassle-free travel souvenirs
Do you find that you are tasked with bringing home some reminders of your travels, whether for others or yourself, only to discover that you're at a loss? Some things are terribly expensive while others will not fit in your suitcase. So, at the last minute you scramble at the airport for something with the name of your destination on it, just so you and others will know you have actually been there. Airport tchsotckes are not a bad thing, but we have some suggestions for you to get some fun, hassle-free souvenirs that will make you and the others you are getting presents for quite happy. They don't have to cost a lot, take up much room in your suitcase, or create difficulties with you at customs.
Though we each have our own favorites in the following categories, they really do not have any particular order. Just think about your gifts recipients and you'll pick the ones that suit them best (and don't forget to get a little something for yourself too!)
1. T-shirts, Hats, Scarves, Ties: These come in every size, color and configuration imaginable, from the comical to the memorable. We have a habit of picking up t-shirts from every destination because it gives us a reminder of that wonderful place every time we put it on. We also collect Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts from every destination we visit that has one. The rule for us is that we actually have to go there ourselves (no one bringing it to us from their trip) so be sure you're not violating any other such collector's rules by bringing them one. Some destinations have characters or icons associated with them. For example, we love our Bad Toro t-shirt from Spain. Bad Toro now comes on everything from key chains to breath mints. We also like to get t-shirts from various institutions of higher learning, which would also have hats, scarves, ties and other loyalty items as well. As we said, the choices are almost limitless, and most of these rarely cost more that $20.
2. Coffee Mug or Shot Glass: Some people can't wake up without their cup of joe in the morning. Others love to party it up on the weekend. You know who you are, and if you're one of those, or know someone who is, one of these will be a perfect gift. They're practically ubiquitous and come with everything on them from the ridiculous to the sublime. Just be sure that you get one that expresses the pleasure of the place you have visited. Sometimes, one with a museum name or picture of an artwork, sculpture, public place or recognizable element of the destination will work well. It's hard not to smile when looking at a coffee mug that says Je 'taime Paris or a shot glass that says Salud!
3. Refrigerator Magnets or Collectors Pins and Buttons: Now, you need to be careful about this one. There seem to be two camps - those who love them, and those who don't. Be sure that your gift recipient is in the former category. However, if they are, you sure can have fun. There is such an incredible variety of these little critters that you can find one that suits just about every personality. From magnets of a spiny lobster with wobbly antennae and claws to buttons of the a famous city skyline or a pin in the shape major recognizable landmark, each item can share the character of the destination and your own sensibilities. One of the best things about these is that they are generally very small and take up almost no room in your suitcase. They are rarely more than $5 and can be found just about everywhere.
4. Music: We know that everything is going digital, but there are some times when regional music from a wonderful destination needs to be captured on a CD and shared with those you love. We have a fondness for listening to live music, so there are opportunities everywhere to find something you like and get a copy of it from the musicians. Recently, we sat in front of the Prado Museum in Madrid enjoying the wonderful classical guitar music of a fellow spending his afternoon entertaining the visitors. After thoroughly enjoying his playing, we noticed CDs in his guitar case. 10 Euros later and we have not only some wonderful classical Spanish guitar music, but also a lovely reminder of our most excellent day at the Prado and sunny Spain.
5. Regional Cookbooks: Again, this may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy the culinary arts, there's nothing more fun then getting authentic recipes for places that you have visited - or hope to visit one day. Many destinations have books translated into English and provide plentiful photos so you can fake your way through if not. One suggestion would be not to opt for a giant volume of all the cuisine of the region, but rather some special area of culinary delights. Tapas or Pinxos recipes from Spain, pasta recipes from Italy, curry recipes from India. Or even localized recipes that are more specific to a city or area such as Viennese pastries or churrascaria from Rio. If you want to go all out, you can even pick up an unusual spice or two if they are a bit on the exotic side, such as a nice garam masala from India or a fajita blend from Mexico.
6. Original Artwork: We enjoy visiting museums and seeing the master artworks of the world. We equally enjoy seeing the work of local artists who make their works available for sale everywhere from street stalls to galleries to outdoor flea markets. If you are looking for something original, you can often find wonderful paintings and photographs that local artists create and offer for very reasonable prices. The most important thing is that you find subject matter that you like, and, as a souvenir, generally that represents the destination you are visiting. Japanese calligraphy makes for lovely artwork and photos of well-loved destination highlights can be a great reminder of where you have been. If there is something uniquely pleasing to you about a destination, the gift of art is a great way to share that with someone in a souvenir.
7. Practical Items: These gifts can sometimes serve double duty. For example, if you get caught in the rain somewhere, you can pick up an umbrella with the destination name or some other identifier on it. When you're done using it to keep yourself dry, you can give it to the recipient along with a story of how much it helped you while you during your travels. Not only is this a practical gift but it comes with a memorable history as well. Other items can fall into this category as well such as fleece blankets, reusable water bottles, local clothing item, duffel bag and so forth. Just be sure when you purchase such an item that it has something distinguishing about it that will set it apart as being from the destination of your travels. If you're staying in a memorable hotel or shopping at a well-known store, then mementos of those places can make great souvenirs - shopping bags, toiletries, notepads, pens and other items with the logos of these places can make a great souvenir - and often at no cost! Don't forget too, that if you or one of your recipients is a beer or wine afficionado, the press board coasters, wine corks and labels also make a fun gift.
8. Post Cards or Destination Guides: While you may have every picture of your travels in your mind, your friends and loved ones who didn't come with will only be able to share in part of your journey. Post cards mailed to them (or yourself!) are a great way to capture some of the memorable images that will help you share or remember the highlights of your trip. It's especially meaningful to those who love you to know that you were thinking of them while you were away. A few words about your travels and a friendly hello are sometimes the best gift anyone can receive. Destination guides are also great and readily available at practically any souvenir stand at a destination that is not too rural. Find one that you feel best reflects the parts of your travel that you want to be sure to share and that give you an opportunity to recount some of the highlights of your trip.
9. Local Handicrafts: If you do find yourself in somewhere that is quite rural, out of the way or simply not so commercially equipped, you will surely be able to find something produced by the local inhabitants. Whether a textile or metalwork, weaving or carving, ceramic or glassware, something is surely made in the hope of selling to those who are visiting if you are not on a philanthropic journey. Local craftspeople hope to get their work in the hand of appreciative buyers, whether to spread information and inspiration of their culture or of their own skills. It's good to know too that you are supporting the locals and enabling them to pursue such endeavors. Whenever possible, try to talk with the sellers or makers of such local goods and see if you can get any story associated with the maker or village or production associated with the items. Sometimes, the stories of how, where and who made such items is a treasure in itself.
10. Unique One-Off Items, Stamps or Currency: It is not difficult to purchase things for collectors. In our recent visit to Madrid, we saw entire collections devoted to stamps and coins. If you know someone who is a collector of these or other items, your souvenir task is an easy one indeed. And, if gathering souvenirs for yourself, just be sure to keep a little change from each destination and you will build your own collection. Otherwise, when you simply are at a loss, do what we call the "stumble" into local shops and stands. Look around at all the little items that are there. Undoubtedly there will be something small to catch your eye. A figurine? A tiny porcelain thimble? A mustache comb? A money clip? Be curious and you will be able to see all kinds of items that would make for a unique and special souvenir. For some of our friends who are incredibly well traveled, this is the only method of getting something unique that will provide special meaning both to us and to them. Such gifts show not only the depth of your caring by going into a local shop and finding a unique gift, but also the singularity of an item selected from somewhere a little out of the ordinary.
We also keep a small collection of odds and ends that made it to the bottom of the suitcase or bag. Corks from wine we loved, beer bottle caps, key chains, hotel soaps, coins and more. These small items always bring back memories of great travels and adding a new items after each journey helps the collection continue to grow.
No matter whether you're searching for souvenirs to bring home to family or friends or if you're seeking something fun for your own memories of special destinations, we hope these tips give you a good launching pad from which to explore. Remember too that if you find something that doesn't fit into your suitcase or would be too heavy or large to carry back with you, it is not too difficult to pack it up and ship it back home. This way, there should be no limit on the souvenirs you find that touch your heart or tickle your fancy. The most important aspect of any gift is, of course, the joy and love with which it is selected and given. So have fun in your travels and use these tips to make the memories of them that much sweeter!