It is somewhat humorous that no matter where you travel in the world and no matter how remotely you venture, there are just some souvenirs that are universal. It seems as though everyone in the whole world got the memo on standard travel souvenirs.
You know the ones: the “I Love” t-shirts; shot glasses; little spoons with the city capital building on them; ceramic toothpick holders and the odd collection of wooden animal trinkets. As a child, I found those tiny souvenir spoons fascinating, but now that I am older and travel more often, my tastes are more refined.
So, what makes a great travel souvenir beyond the little silver spoon? Here’s my Top 5 Travel Souvenirs:
1. Memories – Nothing can replace memories of a unique experience. I won’t even venture to say “good” memories because sometimes travel mishaps create memorable moments that are less than pleasant. I have found that those make for the best travel stories though when you are back on your home turf and can laugh about it. Travel memories create a permanent place in your mind that you can re-visit at a moment’s notice. They are by far the BEST souvenir you can get.
2. Locally made crafts – I love crafts and jewelry that are made by locals that can only be found in that particular region or country. Buying beautiful scarves and robes in Thailand or clay lip plates from Ethiopia are the kind of souvenirs that are so special because they are one of a kind. Oftentimes, you get to watch craftsmen making the pottery or necklace that you buy.
I often take a photo of the artist or vendor with my purchased item to keep as a memento of its authenticity. Buying local crafts is also a great way to give back to the local economy. I remember buying a couple of dresses from a dress-maker in Hoi An, Vietnam. While the clothing was very inexpensive for me compared to buying silk dresses in America—what I spent at her shop enabled her to close up for the day–maybe even the week. I enjoyed giving back in that way.
3. Currency– Collecting currency from the countries that you visit is a fun way to remember your trip. Over time, you can get creative with your collection and use the currency in a decorative way in your home in a window-box or in a bowl on the coffee table. It is a fun way to showcase the emblems, colors, writing and cultures of the places that you visit. It’s almost like having the stamps of your passport on display.
4. Something that just speaks to you– There are going to be times when you travel and for no good reason, something just “speaks” to you. If that happens–that is a souvenir that comes with a fun memory of the moment. I got lost in Chiang Mai, Thailand while winding through a complex marketplace. When I realized I might not have enough money for a tuk-tuk back to my hotel and exhausted from walking in the 110 degree heat, I stopped at a quaint coffee shop for a cup of joe and a moment to collect myself.
That’s when it happened. The hand-crafted ceramic Buddha sitting atop a shelf in this cafe that supports local artists spoke to me. It was beautiful and something about it was special. I knew I had to take it home even though that meant hand-carrying it in an awkwardly large box half-way across the world. I still smile every time I see it on my fireplace mantle.
5. Something from an experience – I find that I always seem to end up with accidental souvenirs from various experiences during my travels. Entry tickets to museums, chopsticks from lunch and hotel key cards sometimes make fun souvenirs. I sometimes take these items and create a fun window box of memories. Keep your eyes open for unique souvenirs from experiences on your trip.
So, the next time you reach for that souvenir shot glass to add to your collection–think outside the box and aim for something original and special to remember your trip.