Hands up who collects shot glasses, fridge magnets, post cards or snow globes when they travel? I think most people can agree that there is something hypnotic about those tacky little souvenirs stands that surround every tourism hub. Cheap bits of plastic or plaster that will more than likely end up in a box somewhere at home.
I’m guilty myself of fridge magnets, but at least I keep them up on display on my fridge. By looking for quirky, hand made ones in small little gift stores, I have managed to avoid getting ones that are identical to my friends. They make me smile every morning, when I remember some detail of where I was when I picked it up.
These cheap souvenirs may seem small and harmless, but they are part of a bigger problem. Non recyclable, made in cheap labour factories in third world countries that can’t be reused. The entire chain of how/ what/ where they are made contributes to environmental issues. And most of them get shoved away as soon as we get home, never to be seen again.
So what should you buy instead of a typical souvenir?
If you are short on luggage space, then think scarves, ties, jewellery, soaps, art work and hand painted postcards.
Look for local markets, they often have a few stands with handicrafts. Homemade souvenirs don’t have the same feel as the ones you buy at the airport. By going local, you often meet the person who has used their time to make something meaningful and by talking to them, it helps add to the story of where you are visiting.
There are so many places where you can find artists painting or drawing on the street. Have a look, some of the artwork could rival a professional! I have a small collection of gorgeous watercolour postcards from France that I had framed up for display. Much more personal than a mass-produced photograph.
Make it Personal
The key here to avoid wasteful spending is to pick something meaningful to you. Maybe you do like collecting little statues, if that is the case, then go to stores with handmade figurines made from local craftsmen.
Maybe you like collecting the same ‘type’ of souvenir from each place, or maybe you want something that is symbolic of where you are visiting. It honestly doesn’t matter as long as it brings a smile to your face every time you see it on your shelf at home.
Scarves are my absolute weakness, I have a rather generous collection and can’t leave a town or city without picking one up! I can remember where each of my scarves came from. Wool, silk, cotton and cashmere. All different colours and patterns.
Even better, I can wear them while travelling. What is the best way to blend in Europe? Wrap a scarf around your neck. Added bonus: you can get away with wearing the exact same top every day, no one will notice (I had to hand wash clothes and they took days to dry – managed 3 days in the same tank top. It was desperate times!).
Make it Eco Friendly
This flows on from meaningful. By making a mindful purchase you are contributing to the local economy. Buying local means a significantly reduced carbon footprint because your item didn’t have to be packaged and flown from another country to be sold.
Make it Cultural
Most cities or areas have something that is unique to them. Florence is known for its leather works. Venice for its Murano glass and lace. Japan has gorgeous folding fans and stoneware.
With a little of reading about the cultural heritage of the area you are exploring, you will be much more likely to spot an item that it local and meaningful to the area. The Eiffel tower, while an icon, is only a tiny spot in the incredible city of Paris. It is a shame that we can’t bring French cheese back to Australia!
The best souvenir though, is the experience itself. We shouldn’t be treating the holiday as one big mission to find the perfect souvenir. There is no such thing.
Travel is an intensely personal experience of exploring another culture. Remembering that we are just temporary visitors, the people who live there have homes, family and businesses that are impacted by what we as tourists do while we are there.
Note: Affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you use my affiliate link. Full disclosure policy here. I only recommend products that I have used personally, or currently use that I feel provide a high amount of value