One of my favorite excursions on any adventure is searching for souvenirs for friends and family. Finding that perfect souvenir will invoke some of your most loved memories once you’re back home and remembering your fun adventures will undoubtedly inspire more journeys to come. It can be challenging to find the perfect souvenir as a token to symbolize where you have been and what you have experienced but the goal of this article is to help you bring back meaningful memories to share with those you love. So lets get started!
Before buying just any souvenir, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:
- Will It Fit In Your Luggage Or Will You Ship It?
- Is It Legal?
- Is It Authentic Or A Tourist Trap?
- Is There A Way To Support Local?
- Is The Souvenir From The Heart?
- Is It Something You Or Others Collect?
By the end of this article you will be able to make informed souvenir choices using the questions above as a guide. From space, size, and legalities, to navigating the pitfalls of the dreaded tourist trap markets and even a new perspective on meaningful souvenirs - learn how to find that perfect piece AND get it home safely too!
Will It Fit In Your Luggage Or Will You Ship It?
Packing and unpacking souvenirs in your suitcase throughout your trip might not be ideal, however when weighed against the cost of and time it takes to ship your souvenirs back home, it may be worthwhile in the end. Especially if said souvenirs are fragile, glass, jewelry, or artwork.
However, if you do decide to ship your souvenirs back home follow these tips and tricks to ensure your items get delivered safely to your door.
There are two options when shipping your souvenirs back to your country:
- The best advice would be to plan ahead. Do some pre-trip research on the major international shipping companies such as FedEx or UPS.
- Prior research allows you to gauge a good estimate of the time and cost of shipping and allows you to draft a handy list of in-country customer service numbers, drop-off locations, and country-specific restrictions.
- If you have decided to ship, I would not recommend using the local postal service in the country that you are traveling in. Not all local mail systems are reliable and if you have any hope of getting your items on the other end, it is advisable to choose an international carrier.
- Another option is asking the merchant to ship your souvenirs for you. This is quite common nowadays and even in far-flung regions like the tiny island of Gili Trawangan, I had retailers offer to ship my purchases home for me.
- Make sure your items are packed properly and insured. That way, should they not arrive for any reason, you are protected and have a line of recourse to follow. Don't forget to get the tracking number and all of the merchants details before leaving!
- Shipping via the merchant is advisable, the reason being that if these retailers stock fragile or delicate items they will also have appropriate containers to ship them in safely. Additionally, when items are large, such as that perfect dining table and chairs, the merchants are usually well versed at picking up the items and utilizing freight brokers to ship overseas - plus the prices can be surprisingly reasonable!
FUN FACT: Different countries can have different wrapping requirements. In the USA it is good practice to ship items in a box, but you may not use an alcohol box or if you do, you need to make sure that all references to alcohol are completely covered. In India, your packages should be wrapped in cloth, whilst other countries need items to be wrapped in brown paper.
Pro Tip: Some travelers like to pack light and save space in their luggage specifically for souvenirs, or even take a second, collapsable empty bag for this very purpose.
Is It Legal?
International shipping has a host of pitfalls and forewarned is forearmed.
Before you swipe your card for anything abroad that you wish to take home, it is important that you research your country's prohibited items so you know to stay away from these tokens.
Some items are going to have special stipulations, be subjected to astronomical duties or will not be able to be taken across borders altogether.
For instance, the US Customs has prohibited items such as alligator hide and raw beef. They have even prohibited some items you wouldn't expect such as certain textiles, fine art and certain ceramics from specific regions and producers that are flagged due to their high lead content.
Therefore research prior to a big purchase is advisable!
Next, it is important to familiarize yourself with your county's duty-free exemption and custom duty requirements.
Your items may be liable for customs duty and taxes.
Even if you have shipped your items back home, the personal exemption amounts may be different for mailed items and hand-carried items. Take a look at the duty free amount that each person is legally able to bring back from each country. This will help prepare you for the additional taxes you may have to pay upon arriving on home soil.
For US citizens this amount is $800 - you can familiarize yourself with Custom Duty Information as this amount is subject to change before I have had time to update this article. Each country will have their own set limit as these taxes are to protect each country's internal economic structure.
Pro Tip: Keep your receipts safe and document what they are for on the receipt itself that way when you are filling out Customs forms upon arrival you have a hard numbers to go off of.
Is It Authentic Or A Tourist Trap?
Avoid tacky Chackies
From Times Square in New York to Bangkok’s floating market, tourist traps can quickly sour the mood of an otherwise rewarding travel experience. The same goes for thinking you have found a beautiful and authentic item only to see it repeated ad nauseam for the rest of your trip whilst your version of it is taking up space in your suitcase.
From slogan t-shirts such as Thailand’s “same same but different” to the snow globe of the Spanish Bull we recommend avoiding these generic tourist traps as they are usually not manufactured locally or ethically.
A good reason NOT to purchase an item is to buy something just to have something.
Don't wait until the last day to run around and select last minute items that have no personal meaning. If you really want to find the perfect gift for someone make sure to have the intention in the forefront of your mind so that when you come across that perfect token it just clicks.
Think about it: Avid readers remember where each of their books were purchased. Photographers remember where each of their pictures were taken. Selecting a souvenir is meant to have this same impact. If the souvenir is chosen from the heart it will most definitely be cherished once you’ve made the journey home along with all the memories with it.
Is There A Way To Support Local?
Behind the stalls trying to hock a box of mismatched shot glasses or ingenuine trinkets, you will find true artists and creatives trying to make an honest living selling the art, jewelry, and original pieces.
They may take a little extra legwork to find, sometimes as little as one street over from the main “strip”. But rest assured that you will get more joy from hanging a one-off painting from an artist you had a conversation with, who does bespoke pieces than some generic item that never really spoke to you in the first place.
Another thing to remember is that souvenirs don’t have to be permanent. They can be simple indulgences such as Matcha Kit Kats from japan that you just couldn’t stop eating or even a favorite beer, wine, or cider made locally that you fell in love with whilst out at dinner one night. These are meaningful items that have value in your suitcase and your home. Not forever, but for a time.
Pro Tip: Look for Fair Trade stores with local handicrafts or ask hotel/hostel staff for recommendations. Looking out for local artisans is a sustainable and wholesome approach to tourism.
Is The Souvenir From The Heart?
Giving something heartfelt always makes the gift just that much better.
And just like that you have a five-star, heartfelt meaningful souvenir whose memory will be timeless!
Is It Something You Or Others Collect?
A great idea is to start a collection of souvenirs if you travel quite a bit or even if you are just now beginning your traveling endeavors.
My partner and I collect patches. He gifted me with a stuffed teddy bear early on in our relationship and so whenever we travel to a destination together, we purchase a patch and I sew the patches onto the bear. Now, this little bear is a physical memory of our times spent together in all of the different destinations we have traveled to hand in hand.
My sister sends post cards. Everywhere she travels she sends a post card from that place so that the person receiving it will know that she thought of them while she was away.
A friend of mine collects Christmas ornaments. Every year when she gets her Christmas tree, she lovingly picks through all of her ornaments and remembers her travels while she decorates. What a fabulous way to be grateful each year all of the adventures leading up to that special day!
More Ideas for a souvenir collection:
- Post Cards
- Alcohol specific to the Region
- Fridge magnets (common but some people love it!)
Most importantly, find the story from your trip, and bring it home!
Thank you for your interest in heartfelt souvenirs. Feel free to reach out to us via our contact page if you have any questions!
Until then, take care, travel well & make meaningful memories while you are away!