Ever receive a souvenir from friends or family members and think “huh?”
Even the most well-meaning traveler can run out of time and end up buying a souvenir headed for the trash.
I mean, how many magnets does one person need? How many trinkets can you scatter around the house? Do you really need another coffee mug?
Buying great souvenirs for your loved ones is an art form.
So how do you nail it every time? What are great ideas on souvenirs? Here are some tips on how to buy souvenirs they’ll love.
First, Narrow Down Your Souvenir List
You don’t have to bring home a present for everyone you know. You can’t!
Narrow it down to the people you really want to buy something for. And you don’t have to stick to that list exclusively.
If someone didn’t “make the cut,” but you see a gift you know they would love, then go for it. And if someone did make the list but you couldn’t find anything for them, that’s fine too.
Most people are not going to assume you’re bringing something home for them, so don’t worry about offending someone.
Sometimes, some of the best souvenirs are those that cost nothing.
For example, I have a friend who loves weird noises–so I filmed a video of the sound penguins make while trying to mate, and he loved it! It was a simple way to say “I’m thinking of you” without spending a penny.
Think about Their Interests, then Combine Practicality and Aesthetic Value
Souvenirs have the most meaning when they actually take the recipient’s interests into account.
Does your best friend love to cook? Bring her back a potholder or other kitchen accessory. Is your cousin a big wine-drinker? Scour the local craft fairs and street markets for a unique hand-painted or hand-carved wine bottle holder.
If you can find something the recipient will actually use, you’re on the right track. Bottle openers, serving trays, coasters, photo frames and vases all come to mind.
There are also the standbys of shot glasses and coffee mugs, but they can sometimes get a little old and seem generic unless you know the person collects those items.
Make sure the Gift is Unique or Representative of the Culture or Location
This doesn’t mean the item has to have the name of the country or city emblazoned across it. (Although my best friend did love her potholder with sea turtles on it that said “Jamaica.”)
It could be something as simple as bringing back a food or drink that the place is known for, such as Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee or jerk spices. Or it can be more along the lines of a piece of Australian art.
For the really special ones, maybe invest in a piece of jewelry with a gem or stone that is found in the region. (I know my mom loved her Australian opal necklace!)
Regardless, whatever you pick should be representative of the place in some way, whether stated outright or just in terms of a craft the country is known for.
Would you Want it for Yourself?
When thinking of what would make a good souvenir for someone else is to think of the souvenirs you have received and liked the most.
Maybe you are sick of getting pens from every city your friends visit, but you absolutely adore that notebook with gorgeous photo of Venice on the cover. You’ve never worn that T-shirt from Cancun, but you smile every time you look at the custom-designed, handmade photo frame from London.
Would you like receiving the gift you’re thinking of buying?
If not, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
The bottom line is that whatever you give someone, they are going to be touched that you thought of them. But if you really want to wow them, put a little more effort into the souvenir search.
Street fairs and markets are usually really great places to find affordable, unique and meaningful gifts for the ones you love.
If you decide to forego the gifts on a trip or two, that’s fine too. They will be just as thrilled to hear stories about your adventures as they would be to get a tangible souvenir.
I know you have some things hidden in drawers and in corners that you can’t stand looking at, but might have to pull out when that friend or family member comes to visit.
Or maybe you’re not even in the habit of buying souvenirs for people – how do you share your experiences with them and let them know you were thinking of them while you were away?
Great Souvenir Ideas
Souvenirs that are thoughtful and funny are always a winner. I have a friend who loves weird things, so I always aim to find the cheesiest, strangest tchotchke I can find.
I have another friend who loves shells, so I pick up pretty shells and rocks that I find along my walks.
Other great ideas: some mud from the Dead Sea, some sand from a famous beach, a printed calendar of your favorite travel photos, local snacks from a country.
Avoid, if you Can
Coffee mugs, shot glasses, cheesy t-shirts, bad keychains. You can do better than that!
Tell us: what are some of the best and worst souvenirs you’ve received?