The quintessential touristy thing to do when you travel is to buy a few souvenirs and other knick-knacks to bring back home, whether for yourself or your friends.
My Family Souvenir Traditions
I loved to wait up for my Dad when I was younger, when he came back from one of his later flights. My sisters and I would play board games until we heard the lock turn and as soon as my Dad came in, we’d swarm around the suitcase and see what he brought back for us. Chocolates were a favourite, and he used to despair that we would settle for cheap Cadbury over fancy Swiss brands.
Another tradition I have from my family was buying souvenirs for everyone back home when we went on a trip somewhere. It was quite the highlight when I was younger – I wasn’t that much into shopping for myself, so buying things for people was always quite a kick. These days, older, wiser and perhaps a little more jaded, I usually save the souvenirs for the family since I do most of my own travel without them these days.
We have a collective magnet board filled with kitschy magnets from all the places that we have visited – that’s the only thing I consistently add to after all my travels. Decent kitschy magnets that both represents the place I’ve visited and are not of too crappy quality can be surprisingly hard to find.
I also purchase souvenirs for the colleagues who cover my work for me while I’m away; it only seems polite to get them something in gratitude. Now that the enthusiasm for souvenir shopping has faded, I often find myself at a loss as to what makes a good souvenir for someone back home.
How do you feel about souvenirs that other people have bought for you? I’m usually glad for the sentiment – it’s nice that someone did think about getting you something, but on the other hand if it’s a touristy souvenir with little thought to what you can actually do with it (keychains… a shot glass… a random snowglobe thing…), I’m always stuck trying to decide what to do with it; I feel bad throwing away gifts from people so I hoard, and my place just gets messier and messier, which was the thought that led me to ultimately decide not to get souvenirs for people unless they’re edible or actually meaningful to the person.
Do you really want to get another Koala Bear keychain if you’ve never actually been to Australia yourself?
Trinkets and knick-knacks are really only meaningful if you’ve picked them out yourself so I tend to only buy these for myself. Exceptions though are for exquisite locally handmade stuff that I know will excite certain closer friends, or the obligatory country or city magnets for my mother’s growing global collection on our fridge.
My failsafe souvenir of choice is always food.
People are always appreciative of a snack and exotic tasting food is a great and simple way to bring some foreign flavour to the table. Work place colleagues as well usually appreciate the new and unusual snacks in the pantry. While you never know what people’s favourite foods are exactly, most tend to be a little more adventurous and appreciative of foreign food so it’s your best bet when you have to buy souvenirs for people you don’t know so well.
Unique and unusual
Try and pick out something really unique to the country you’ve been to, but look out for your international customs laws – the mango puree I bought on my recent trip had to be exchanged because I couldn’t bring it on board, even though I purchased it at the airport. Also, countries like Australia are pretty sticky about meat and plant life… My usual choices are dried foods and a bottle of locally brewed wine/liquor from the airport DFS.
Casual T-shirts are the next best thing, but only if it’s for someone you know reasonably well to gauge his or her tastes – there’s nothing worse than having to coo over something and swear to wear it often when you know it’s something you would never pick out over your own dead body. I usually reserve the clothing option for family or close friends whom I know well enough. Accessories are a next best alternative because you don’t need to know exact sizes, but people’s fashion tastes are quite subjective, so unless you know what they’ll love, could be a little tricky.
But ultimately, don’t feel bad if you come back empty-handed.
Remember that the trip was for you, and the best thing you’ll take away are your memories and stories; so if anything at all, snap lots of photos and take lots of chances, and you come home with a ton of great experiences to share with your friends and family!
That is the one unique thing you won’t be able to buy in a souvenir shop anywhere.