I love to travel and am always thinking about the best souvenirs to bring home from a trip. If only my home could be outfitted in things from exotic faraway places, maybe someday. I haven’t (yet) traveled as much as I would have loved to. My husband did 22 years in the Air Force though and has brought home many wonderful things from his deployments.
At first, I never thought much on souvenirs other than the spoon collection my Grandma had or seeing the shot glasses, keychains, and magnets in the stores. When my husband and I first started traveling I wanted to collect souvenirs of our travels, but I couldn’t decide what and was all over the place. I have a collection of magnets, a few keychains, some shot glasses, and coffee mugs. I’ve collected rocks, sand, and shells from various locations, free business cards, brochures, and maps. And I can’t pass up pressing a penny!
I would have loved to be able to start a collection when we began, looking for that ONE thing everywhere we went. Knowing that I would always be able to find that ONE thing. However, things of that nature are usually uninspired, made in mass and not in the place you are visiting – unless you do happen to be in China.
Look beyond the magnets and keychains
Over the course of my husband’s deployments, he was able to bring back so many unique things from each country that it opened my eyes to many more options than what can be found in the tourist shops and airports. He’s given me a cherry wood carved vase stand inlaid with marble from Portugal, a puzzle box with my name engraved from Turkey, a carved marble tea set and set of marble vases from Saudi Arabia, Asian rugs from Turkey, jewelry from Saudi, the list goes on and on…
Have a Plan
Before our last vacation to Iceland, I began thinking of what I wanted to bring home and to talk about it with my family. We lived there for three years so we already have quite a bit scattered around our house. Gorgeous pottery and handmade candles from local craftspeople as well as the more “touristy” stuff that we bought on the military base.
I wanted each of us to look for one thing to bring home that would make that person think of our trip each time they saw it. For my son, I also asked that he find something that would last for years, that he could display and he wouldn’t outgrow (no t-shirts, stuffed animals, toys, etc.) My husband ended up with a mug that he uses daily. My son found a tchotchke that is a similar size and style to his New York collection. I ended up with a pair of earrings made of lava stone and a bead that reminded me of Glacier Lagoon. We also all agreed on a new Puffin Christmas decoration and ornament.
Each place you visit is probably known for something; Holland’s wooden shoes, Russia’s nesting dolls (Matryoshka), or a hula girl from Hawaii. Just google “the most popular souvenir in …” and you’ll find whatever mass-marketed item is common. It’s not wrong to want to go that route. If that item is what will bring you back to the trip when you see it, that’s what a souvenir is for. To remind us of the time and place and help us relive the experience.
I think we did a good job on our last trip to limit the number of items we felt we had to bring home. We also picked out a few things to gift to others. That is not always something we do, but this trip was special. If you do travel and want to bring home souvenirs, read my post about My Best Travel Tips for ideas on how to do that.
The best souvenirs to bring home
1) Jewelry – Not only does it remind me of a time/place when I put it on, but it reminds my husband as well. He notices the Iceland earring, the lava drop necklace from Iceland bought 15 years ago, the cartouche he bought me in the middle east, the necklace and earrings we bought at Loch Ness. Jewelry is small and easy to pack, you can usually find locally made, and can be enjoyed for years. My husband has also brought me home beaded necklaces from a bazaar in Afghanistan knowing I would probably not wear them but would use the beads in my own designs – genius man, gotta love him!
2) Postcards – I am not a photographer and it shows. So I don’t mind paying the person who is to get the perfect shot for me. When we first moved to Iceland and would travel I would buy 5 copies of each postcard. One I would write a journal entry about what we did and include who I sent the other 4 postcards to. That way I never sent the same person an identical postcard and had a journaled photo album of our travels.
3) Free tourist brochures and maps – They are free and easy to pack. They have descriptions already of where you were and usually amazing pictures as well. We like to highlight the maps after a trip to show all the places we went. These are easily stored with our photo albums.
4) Food – This one is fun and it is an easy something to bring home as gifts. The last trip we brought back Lakkris (black licorice), our favorite chocolates, hardfiskur (dried fish), Sea salts, tea, various candy, butter, and cheese. Some of it was for us and some for others to try. Check for customs regulations and TSA restrictions.
5) Money – I love foreign money, especially coins. As soon as we get into the country we start to stash away each unique coin until we have a complete set. Compared to most souvenirs, collecting a set of coins is about as inexpensive as you can get.
6) Ornaments – I don’t remember exactly when I decided we’d had enough of the magnets and little trinkets that get misplaced and decided to find an ornament for a souvenir. We have a Santa riding an orca to commemorate seeing Keiko “Free Willy“the killer whale in Iceland. We have a Santa holding a Coke bottle from the factory in Atlanta. A photo keychain from Stone Mountain in GA I turned into a Christmas ornament. They don’t clutter up the house as they only come out once a year for us to reflect on our travels. It makes for a beautiful, eclectic, and meaningful Christmas tree.
Let me know in the comments what are your best souvenir ideas or which souvenir has been your favorite. I didn’t list my absolute favorite souvenir above, I’ll be posting that next week, so check back in! Until then I hope you make it a great week ~ Nickalli