Everyone likes to have a little something to remember a moment of their trip with or even to start up a conversation about their adventure. I love my bedroom because even while I’m in New York I have reminders that at some point I was wandering free in Europe and hopping jet planes across America. I always collect patches which I used to sew onto a backpack but since that filled up, I made a shadow box. The patches are fun because they are usually from an experience and not just a place. For example my Bahamas badge is from my shark dive and has a little reef shark on it. Sometimes I can’t find patches and often make my own, cutting a design off a hat or oven mitt I find on vacation. These are also cheap, light, and tiny.
Deciding what to buy is incredibly difficult because you are censored by space and money. When I bought a Carnivale mask in Venice I had to get rid of stuff I was going to carry on board so that I could hold that instead. If you’re going somewhere famous for certain items, and you think you may want one, plan ahead. Bring an extra tote or a large sweater you plan to leave in a hostel so that you have space. If it is expensive buy it last. Make sure it is the nicest of its kind and that you don’t prefer something else. I examined every nesting doll in Austria before choosing mine and it turned into a nice little adventure; speaking to different shop keepers about the dolls and life in Vienna. I remember exactly where I bought mine and one for my friend (a little shop under a bridge by my hotel and a small town outside Melk).
Then there’s the additional cost.
Somethings need to be shipped. If you have the money you can get amazing things this way. Someone I know bought a plane ticket for their large Buddha statue when they finished their employment in Saudi Arabia. It’s beautiful, if you can afford it. Don’t buy something large if you can’t afford shipping. Shipping is extremely expensive and should never be relied on but if you adore a Berber carpet and can afford to ship it home do it. These kinds of souvenirs are useful too. Just be sure to either research before hand or ask your hotel for help in the shipping process to get a good rate.
Size. Big souvenirs are a big problem but small ones can be equally annoying. Think beforehand what do you want a million of? So many fellow travelers complain that they hate having 50 shot glasses but don’t want to toss their only souvenir from various trips. Collections can be great fun but at some point they can begin to control you. Think about what you buy at home, do you enjoy magnets or a bare fridge? If you’ve never owned a magnet don’t collect them. If you’re obsessed with postcards start one awesome collage (or decoupage your bathroom with them).
What is in a name? Do you really want a souvenir that says Florida in big tacky letters? Sometimes I do and I love my Las Vegas Flamingo tee and my I heart NY magnet but usually I prefer pieces that speak for themselves. Studying artifacts and anthropology most of my life I usually know, or learn, about a piece before I buy it. I knew that nesting dolls from Austria and from Russia follow different traditions and when I went to Austria I bought Austrian designs. It doesn’t say Austria on it, at least not with words. My Big Ben statue doesn’t say England but everyone knows what it is. These items are personal and represent my trip and not just the destination whereas my patches are really ‘looky looky I have stamps in my passport you just can’t see because it’s in the safety deposit box.’ deciding what you want your souvenir to say is half the battle.
Jewelry is my favorite souvenir because it can be small and cheap and worn. I have once or twice bought something over $50 but very rarely and I love all my pieces equally. Try and avoid the idea “I’m on vacation I can buy whatever I want. Only buy what you truly want.) Another traveler I met bought a silver bangle everywhere she went. They were all under $5 but the effect was beautiful and I wanted to know the story of each one. Simple purchases like this are great for backpackers.
Don’t forget you already have a souvenir – photographs! It’s easy to get bogged down with souvenirs. You go to watch glass blowing in Venice and feel the need to remember it always so you buy an ornament, you love the man who runs your hotel so you buy a towel from his gift shop, suddenly you can’t close your suitcase. You can just take a picture, it will make your money last longer. (I actually do this when shopping at home too, or when throwing away old keepsakes.)