How to pick unique souvenirs
Updated: February 1, 2019
There are so many types of travelers out there from those going abroad for the first time to taking Caribbean cruises, backpacking through Southeast Asia, family trips to Disney. And travel means something different to everyone. So, how do you know what the best souvenir to take home will be? What is a good souvenir? Will it be worth buying? Is it worth the suitcase space or the cost to ship it home?
Well, here’s some advice to help you pick out unique souvenirs for yourself or your loved ones. I’ll also share what kinds of meaningful souvenirs we bring home and why.
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How to pick unique souvenirs
Wine as a souvenir seems like a classic to me. There are regions known for their famous wine — regions I don’t even need to mention for you to know where I’m talking about. Taking home a bottle of a Champagne from the vineyard where you had a tasting is a memory you’ll be able to re-live at home. I also highly encourage you to keep an eye out for unique wines from regions that aren’t famous (and obviously try them while you are there!).
I was shocked to find incredible wine in the Czech Republic, but they don’t make much, so it doesn’t get exported. I bought 3 bottles to bring home. The hard part is knowing when to drink them! The same situation comes up in a few other countries around Europe, so there’s usually at least one wine to pack.
You can tell I’m a big wine fan, but the same goes for cider in areas like Spain and England. Obviously, beer is huge in Germany, the Czech Republic, and other regions. It may be possible to have these items shipped straight home, otherwise, it might be smart just to get a large bottle or two to pack. Just be sure they are packed nice and snug!
Spirits and liquors
Along the same lines as with the wine, many countries have a specialty that it would be almost criminal to not take home as a special souvenir. Ginja from Portugal, vodka from Poland, limoncello from Italy, and so on.
I like discovering this type of alcohol a bit more than the wine/beer/cider because you can take it a step farther and make a cocktail that reminds you of your visit, or drink it in a traditional way. It also tends to last longer since you use a lesser amount for each drink.
Finding new and exciting takes on the regional classics is always fun. Then you can decide if you want to go old school or new school or both and play with them when you need a taste of that trip.
Glassware or pottery
Venetian glass is famous, as is Waterford Crystal, so those are obvious pieces that you may want to take home as a souvenir if you have the budget. But even just a locally created and painted pottery bowl or vase could be a lovely addition to your home while still reminding you of your trip. In the Netherlands, we have the famous Delft Blue pottery. It is stunning and very distinctive.
When we were in Ireland, I was able to create my own piece of pottery and have it shipped to me after it was painted and fired. In Germany, when I took my first trip to Europe with my grandparents, I blew my own glass Christmas ornament. That singular experience made me want to have more hands-on experiences all over the world and is a big reason I started this website. Travel can change you and putting that glass ball on the tree each year is a nice reminder.
When my Italian friends go to Italy, they always come back with Italian goods to remind them of home. Everything from pasta to wine and olive oil! I absolutely love that. Goes to show — you should do that, too!
Buy pasta in Italy, saffron in Morocco, salt in Poland, lavender in France. Side note: do you ever eat lavender in food? It’s really hit or miss from me. But it is still a good souvenir from France.
Candy and sweets are always a hit when you get home. Obviously, Belgian chocolates are good for any occasion. Coming to see me? Bring chocolates 😉
If it’s legal, bring back dried meats and cheeses. This is super easy if you live in the Schengen area in Europe where this isn’t a problem. If you are ever concerned, just ask the person in the shop. If it’s an area with tourists, they probably know if you are allowed to take it to your country.
Painting or photography
We aren’t all incredible photographers. When I was younger, I would buy postcards because they had the best photos. Sean and I turned 5 postcards from Amsterdam (on our first trip here) into a beautifully framed piece.
You can always find art shops with photography that will blow you away…though, the price might also blow you away!
Our favorite thing to bring home is painting from local artists when we adore a place. It’s getting more popular now to have entire shops devoted to local craftspeople and some are specifically for painters. It makes finding a piece so much easier! Keep your eye out for local markets, too.
Clothes and accessories
You may want to tread lightly with this one depending on how you feel about “stuff”. I’d be tempted to buy a Dirndl for myself because I may wear it again for actual Oktoberfest or a themed party, but would you just want it in a closet?
A safer, less cluttery way to go would be to buy something you’ll actually wear. Depending on where you are going maybe you want to buy a sweater from Norway, a hat in Paris, a raincoat in England, or a swimsuit in Greece.
Anything you buy, whether it be a scarf, hat, necklace, or anything else, if it had meaning for you when you bought it, it will always give you that feeling.
Little (or big pieces) you see every day can be great souvenirs to remember your travels. I bought my grandmother a silk doily from Malta from a family that has been creating them for decades. But you can also grab some Portuguese tiles to decorate part of a wall or turn them into coasters. Think about what the area is known for or ask your hotel staff.
Rugs, lamps, and wood carvings are all incredible pieces that would add a worldly aesthetic to your home. My best advice is to make sure they are made from locals and not a knock-off from another part of the world. It just doesn’t mean as much if that’s the case. Bonus points if they have an area you can watch them being made!
Small items you collect along the way
Maybe you collect seashells and want to have a little bottle of sands. How about that playbill from the first musical you saw in London?
Create a shadow box to highlight the small things you just happened to collect along your trip.
What we collect
In the years we’ve been together, we’ve collected quite a few things on our travels. Mostly Christmas ornaments (specifically glass baubles) and local art of the skyline. I had started collecting silver charms after my mom gave me a silver charm bracelet when I was younger. But these are getting harder and harder to find.
When we find something that “speaks” to us and we just have to have it, we let it go for now and know that if we want in later in the trip, we know where to go. Other souvenirs we’ve purchased to relive our trip is a Capri Watch and perfume.
What you will never find us buying are magnets, shot glasses, and keychains. They definitely work for some people, just not us. I think magnets can be super fun, but our refrigerator isn’t magnetic…
Watch out for what you can’t take home
I mentioned meat and cheeses earlier, but make absolutely sure you are allowed to take them into your home country (or wherever you are traveling to next) before you buy. Countries have very strict rules, for good reason, on agricultural goods being brought in.
Many times seeds are a big no-no. Again, always ask! The Netherlands is known for tulips, that’s a pretty widely-known fact. Visitors love the idea of taking home tulip bulbs or even seeds of other flowers. Unless you ask for the certified bulbs a flower market in Amsterdam or grab them in the airport, you probably can’t take them back. You are also limited to how much you can take back. Google everything!
This might be common sense, but we all have our moments, don’t we? Don’t buy something that you can’t physically take with you. We’ve made adjustments, carried a canvas onto the plane by itself, or used an extra tote to carry more stuff and expanded the checked luggage if we use that service.
Another learn-from-us moment: If you buy wine in its smallest form and still isn’t 100ml, you must drink it before the flight. A shop lady basically challenged us saying that that particular wine was to most appropriate in small doses (it was ice wine). Yeah…challenge accepted and completed!
TIP: If you want to buy alcohol but just have nowhere to pack it, hope they have it in the duty-free shop so you can add it to your other carry-on items.
- Buy locally and not from a tourist shop if you can help it.
- Find something that you absolutely love.
- Make sure you have room in the luggage or can have it shipped.
- If you want one of a kind but aren’t sure if you’ve picked a mass produced piece, just ask. Hopefully, they will tell you the truth. If you really love it though, does it matter?
- Be aware of your country’s restrictions if you buy food or plants.
Wishing you joy and travels!
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