We’ve all been there—you haul home a stuffed suitcase, only to get home, open it up and wonder what you were thinking. Cheesy magnets, hoodies and etched shot glasses have a tendency to pile up in the back of our closets and cupboards, never to see the light of day again. Instead of remembering your trip fondly, you’re left with a bunch of clutter that you’re planning to send to Goodwill before you’ve even finished unpacking.
But no more! The following tips can help you build a collection of Souvenirs that will incorporate into your daily life and provide fond memories of your amazing adventures.
Go Off The Tourist Path
In many cities, the streets are lined with shops selling kitschy memorabilia declaring the name of the city in loud, splashy letters and goofy fonts. These stores are great for grabbing a few cheap postcards to send home, but you probably aren’t going to find any investment pieces there. Instead, avoid the areas crowded with tourists and try to figure out where the locals are headed.
In a foreign city, I like to check out the department stores—they usually carry different brands than we have stateside, and I once found an adorable sweatshirt that said “Berlin” in the KaDeWe, but it was much more stylish than any tourist shop options. Even drugstores or essentially foreign versions of Target are great options (keep an eye out for Monoprix in France or Upim in Italy). For domestic travel, it is so easy to Google “Kansas City best local shopping” (or insert whatever city you’re visiting) and find adorable local options.
I also look for street markets, which often carry a lot more than produce, or art galleries—I may not be able to afford a huge painting shipped home, but I picked up a tiny dormouse sculpture in Bath, England that fits in the palm of my hand and looks so sweet on my bookshelf. Think outside the box—a souvenir need not scream the name of the city you’re visiting.
Limit Gifts for Other People
I know it’s fun to pick up gifts for friends and family while you’re traveling, but try to remember that you’re the one on the amazing trip, not them, so many of the souvenirs you buy will mean more to you than they will to them. I’m not saying not to get them anything, but don’t spend too much of your hard-saved travel budget on other people.
Edibles can be very thoughtful yet inexpensive gifts from a big trip—some coffee, tea or chocolate is always a good idea. Personally, my favorite gift to get for my friends and family at home is a postcard. I send stacks of them when I travel internationally because they’re easy to find in many shops, and writing them is a relaxing way to unwind at the end of a busy day.
They take enough effort that the receiver knows you’re thinking of them, but you wont break the bank. I even save a couple for myself, to remember highlights of my travels or use in a scrapbook.
Build Your Wardrobe
It is so tempting to buy a whole new wardrobe to ensure that you look Instagram-perfect on your next big, exciting trip. Try to save your money, though, and instead curate a wardrobe built with pieces from your travels.
You will feel truly glamorous getting a compliment and being able to say “Thanks, I got it in Rome!” Leave a little space in your suitcase and look for pieces that you will wear once you get home but that you can also wear on your trip, so you can avoid an overstuffed suitcase or the dreaded end-of-trip new luggage splurge. If you’re really going to shop ’til you drop, you might want to bring a foldable tote or duffel in your suitcase. I’m obsessed with this one from Henri Bendel.
Pay attention to the differences in what you see people wearing at home versus the city you’re visiting in order to find pieces that will really remind you of your trip. In India, you might pick up a couple of light, cotton tops that are popular in the heat. In Paris, you might be inspired by the minimalist French style. In London, you might look for big, cozy sweaters to emulate the locals.
Spending a minute thinking ahead about your must have souvenirs will help you research shops and focus your shopping. Would you sooner die than leave Switzerland without chocolate? Make a note and be sure to research the best chocolate shops around your hotel. Do your research on the items that are special in the area. If you’re shoe-obsessed, is there a famous shoe store in the area or brand of shoe well-known in that area?
It can be as simple as an internet search with the name of the neighborhood or city you’re staying in plus “best chocolate” or “best shoes,” but it will save you precious tourist time once you arrive. A little knowledge before a trip goes a long way, especially when you’re dependent on a slow hotel internet connection. Who wants to stay inside researching things to do when they could be out exploring a new city?
Take screen shots of the google maps directions from your hotel to stores you want to check out, so you’ll have no excuse not to visit. Don’t be afraid to stop in shops you happen upon on the way, but planning ahead will help you not to miss out on anything you’re dying to pick up on your trip.
Yes, sticking to your budget when traveling is crucial, especially if you’re hoping to make another trip in the near future and trying to avoid incurring debt on this one. But sometimes, you just need to splurge in order to get the perfect item to remind you of your trip.
I once hemmed and hawed over a scarf I was dying for in the Bahamas, stopping by to visit it in the shop three different times! I ended up getting it and I’m so glad I did—I can’t even remember how much it cost, but I wear it all the time and it always makes me smile and remember my trip. It may mean a little scrimping elsewhere along the way, but don’t hesitate to splurge once in a while on a souvenir that will bring the joy of your trip into your daily life once you return home.
What’s your favorite souvenir from your travels? Let me know in the comments or tag me in a photo on Instagram!