Souvenirs: To Buy Or Not To Buy?

Somehow the bullfighting snow globe wasn't a big seller... Credit: Freebird 71

You’re often bombarded with them the moment you step off the plane, whether you’re in a remote island or on a stylish city break, and it’s certainly true that souvenirs are hard to avoid these days.

Whether you wear your ‘I Heart New York’ t-shirt with pride or you’d rather stick it in the bin and go for something more authentic, you’ll find this guide useful. Find out what top travel bloggers end up bringing home, and how to create memorabilia for free.

Sorting the Treasure from the Tat

Matt, author of the travel blog Landlopers, has a great rundown of the five most unusual souvenirs he’s picked up on his adventures. Don’t expect to find a single fridge magnet or key ring in his collection – how about an oar made by the native people of Canada?

Over at Vagablogging, have a read of the useful rules when it comes to buying worthwhile souvenirs and fitting them in your luggage. Tips to follow include making sure you don’t stand near fragile objects in Prague, or you’ll end up paying for the damage!

Meanwhile, seasoned traveller Andy Jarosz of 501 Places is not ashamed to admit that he’s bought some ridiculous souvenirs on the road. His best advice? Always consider the weight of what you’re buying, and work out if it’s going to clog up your backpack. It’s easy to be swayed by bargains and not realise you’re the one who has to carry the Terracotta Army home…

 What to Pick Up Locally on Holiday  

  • Majorca, Spain: Camper Shoes, now a global brand, began life in the small Spanish island of Majorca as a family-run business making use of old materials such as car tyres. Head to Inca where you’ll find the company’s outlet store, for cheap footwear straight from the factory. If you’re struggling to locate the building then look out for signs featuring a very large foot!
  • Murano, Italy: if you’re into glassware then this should go straight to the top of your travel bucket list. Known as the glassmaking hub of Italy, this island next to Venice has been making a name for itself since the 1200s. Hop on a boat from the city centre and it takes just ten minutes to reach Murano. Why not take a tour around the museum or the glass-making houses?
  • Marrakech, Morocco: exploring the maze-like souks of the Djemaa El Fna might seem daunting, but give it a try and you’ll return with some amazing holiday bargains from Morocco. Haggle with the stall holders, Apprentice-style, if there’s something you really want (that’s how business is done here) and you could track down some fantastic locally made lanterns, rugs or jewellery. Check out what famous fashion blogger at The Clothes Whisperer, Kristin Knox, bought when she visited Marrakech.
  • Turkey: Raki is the national drink of Turkey and it’s enjoyed with a variety of food, from soft cheese to salad and fish. It’s been available here for hundreds of years and can be made from different fruits depending on which region you buy it in, including plums (in colder climates) and grapes (warmer climates).
  • West Germany: You probably didn’t know it, but Gummi Bears were invented in Bonn, Germany, in 1922. Now loved worldwide, they started life as the creation of Hans Riegel, who founded the Haribo Company. Every year there’s an event in October where the headquarters allows the public to trade acorns and chestnuts for sweets, with the nuts used to feed animals in the wild and set them up for winter.

Free Souvenirs

Fashion blogger Jessica Quirk transformed her old holiday money.

Fancy doing something useful with all of the petty cash you bring back from your holiday? Style blogger Jessica Quirk has come up with an inventive solution – the DIY coin charm bracelet. As long as you have access to a drill press, pliers and some split rings (supervised by an adult, obviously), you can make some amazing jewellery from your spare change. Her step-by-step guide talks you through the process.

Don’t forget to make use of your camera when you travel; even if you don’t have a digital one to hand, you can take great photos from your phone these days. Without too much expertise you can document your trips using different camera modes. On a digital it’s wise to make use of ‘Auto’ if you’re not sure what you’re doing, but braver snappers will enjoy taking close-up photos in Macro mode and trying out Photo Stitching to create long panoramic scenes.

Another easy souvenir is a travel journal, which kids will love. Keep hold of every useful scrap of paper you come across on your holiday, from museum tickets to leaflets. You can turn it into a diary either on your journey or when you get home, adding in photos and drawings of what you’ve seen day to day. As travel blogger Monica Stott, a.k.a. The Travel Hack, wrote: travel memories are the best souvenirs we have. Monica’s lost journal has meant that she’s struggling to remember everything from her two year travels through Australia and South East Asia.

Terrible Souvenirs

With a collection to make you cringe, Shelf of Shame is the best place to start if you want to see some of the world's trashiest souvenirs, including snow globes and some very bizarre fake thermometers. With a hilarious 'Tat of the Month' award up for grabs, just hope there's nothing on the Shelf that you've brought back from a far-flung place.

The Museum of Broken Relationships, in Zagreb, Croatia, is a completely unique experience where you can view the sad, touching or bizarre relics left over from old love affairs and donated in the name of art. Having toured the exhibition around Europe, the Croatian artists behind the project have now settled with a permanent home in their capital city where you can marvel at the relationship souvenirs and the memories they stirred up in their donors.

Jumping on the bandwagon of Barack Obama fever, Ethiopia is the place to buy a ballpoint pen branded with the US President’s name, as featured on the Gadling travel blog. This is either a very sly promotion by Obama’s PR team as they tackle the tough stationery market, or it shows that you can have too much of a good thing.

So, whether you're a sentimental softie who can't resist collecting pens and t-shirts on holiday, or you prefer to soak up local culture without a whiff of commercialism, souvenirs are something to consider on your travels. Just make sure you bring back enough of the free stuff - good memories.

  • A Montrealer Abroad

    I used to buy a bunch of cheesy souvenirs when I traveled - shot glasses, key chains, etc. But now I stick to postcards. I have over 200 of them, and I plan on doing some sort of art work with them when I get back home.

  • Jo from easyJet Holidays

    What a great idea! Would love to see your finished artwork when you get round to doing it - we could feature it on here!