Having some guidelines for how to pick a souvenir might have been helpful when I studied abroad in college. I may have gone a bit overboard with tacky tourist souvenirs when I spent a semester in Europe. Just a wee bit. Okay, there was an 18” David statue shoved in my suitcase, but that was the only over-the-top piece….okay, maybe also a Leaning Tower of Pisa statue (I think…I can’t remember, but it seems probable).
When I checked my suitcase for my return flight it promptly received a brightly colored sticker that said “lourde” – heavy. In my defense there were also rolls of film (wow does that date me!) in the suitcase and some gigantic boots.
At the time I was desperately thinking that if I didn’t have small momentos from all the places that I visited then I would quite possibly forget everything I had seen and done. As it turns out, the story of lugging an overstuffed suitcase home from Europe full of souvenirs, and straining my wrist in the process, is still vividly etched in my memory. No tchotchkes necessary.
One reason we decided to homeschool was so we could travel more as a family. It was something that neither my or my husband’s parents had the resources to do when we were growing up, and we wanted to travel with our girls while we had the chance.
My youngest wants to know “where is the gift shop” almost immediately after we purchase our tickets for any destination, museum, or other activity. She’s definitely my child.
I find myself in the bizarre situation of talking her out of buying useless nonsense while realizing full well that she has inherited that impulse from me.
Are Souvenirs a Good Idea?
The journal I kept while in Europe and the pictures that I took are the best pieces that came back with me and remind me of my extended stay. I can reference them to recall stories and incidents and conversations and moments that otherwise would have disappeared. And none of those memories could have been suitably preserved by a plastic souvenir.
Pictures and journals may be sufficient for some people. There isn’t a requirement to purchase something just because a place has a gift shop (and yes, I have successfully walked out of gift shops without making a purchase, so it is possible). But for others, souvenirs are a tangible reminder of an enjoyable time. Neither is right or wrong.
Despite my enthusiasm, or maybe because of the lessons learned from my aforementioned enthusiasm, I now carry a more balanced sense of purpose when browsing gift shops.
Teaching my children to be selective is turning out to be a harder challenge. We’re at the beach this week, and I’ve got my fingers crossed we can manage at least 2 out of the 3 guidelines below…time will tell.
How to Pick a Souvenir
From my own lessons learned, allow me to suggest three guidelines for how to pick a great souvenir.
Make the souvenir packable
Whatever you pick should be fairly small and lightweight. Pick something that you will be able to shove in a shoe or wrap in a t-shirt or even stow in a carry-on bag.
Let me just clarify one step further – it should be packable in addition to packing everything else you brought with you. In other words, don’t try to create extra space by deciding to leave a pair of favorite shoes behind so that you have more room for an impulse buy.
Make the souvenir collectible
Find something that is fairly common and that you could find at any other destinations you might visit. This has the added bonus of making souvenir-shopping a lot easier – your decision is already made! Along the same lines, this guideline can help you from over-spending: if you can’t find what you collect, move on.
If you’re not a traveling-type of family, couple, or adult, this guideline might be more flexible. A unique purchase from a rare vacation experience could be just the thing to keep the happy vibes flowing when you look at it at home.
One drawback to this suggestion is if you’ve picked something that you can’t find in every location. There’s no way to know that in advance, but just be aware that you may have to occasionally substitute if a place that you visit doesn’t have your collectible piece.
Make the souvenir connect
My youngest bought a pink Minecraft rubber duck at the Tea Party Museum in Boston. If you’re wondering what that possibly has to do with anything related to the Revolutionary War, please join me in waiting for an answer. This guideline is a direct response to that decision.
Souvenir in french is “memory.” Presumably, a souvenir should be something that reminds you of the place or experience that you visited. Make the tchotchke connect to the place.
That’s it, three guidelines. They’ll keep you wandering in the relatively inexpensive section of gift shops while allowing you to indulge in a keepsake.
Ten Souvenir Ideas
So what kind of souvenirs fall under these three categories? Well, the collection I currently have is patches. I have an assortment of dozens of patches from experiences and destinations around the world. They are colorful, light, inexpensive, and easy to keep track of at home. Patches can be hard to find, but I’ve found them more often than not.
What other options are there? Who wants a bonus list?
- Christmas ornaments
- Post cards (These can also be great bookmarks – use them whole or cut them in halves or thirds for an artistic look.)
- Pens or pencils
- A book (I keep an eye out for local authors or picture books, but too many can be heavy so consider carefully!)
- A mug
- T-shirt (Rocking the mom-vibes on this one, but if I’m looking for something comfortable to wear that I can toss in the washing machine when (not if) it gets mess on it then I am loving any t-shirt that I have.)
- Local handcrafted pieces (Remember to look for something that you can pack easily – jewelry perhaps. This is a great way to support your host community and find a unique piece to remind you of your trip. If you shudder to think of having any sort of travel tchotchke collection, this might be your best approach to finding a souvenir – that way everything will be slightly different.
3 Things to Remember for How To Pick a Souvenir
Pretty simple guidelines for how to pick a souvenir, right? Easier said than done I suspect.
Remember to take pictures and jot notes. Those will be your strongest link to your trip.
Remember that you absolutely CAN enjoy an experience and NOT have to buy something to recall it by (definitely wish I had realized this much sooner!). But if a souvenir is what you’re after, then remember…
Pack it, collect it, make it connect.