Some gurus advise not to buy travel souvenirs in order to lower your expenses and travel light. It’s a good advice, but it’s not something that I can apply, and I imagine that the same thing happens to many of you. We’ll probably not come back to the country we visited, and we want to have something that reminds us of that wonderful experience.
But of course, we can not buy everything we like (even if we wanted to). And we can not bring a gift to all the people we know. Typical that before your trip everyone asks you to bring him or her a souvenir. Well, no friends, it’s not possible. Neither will you get the money, nor will you have space in your suitcase. So select a few people who deserve it.
What to buy as travel souvenirs?
I love shopping for travel souvenirs and gifts. Most of the times I do a research of the most traditional of each place before traveling. I like to buy original products and preferably not “made in China.”
Crafts and handmade products
I like ethnic, artistic, vintage and handmade things very much. My first advice is to buy handmade and representative items of the city. You will take home something different, besides, you will support the local economy. For example, in Florence Italy, you can buy leather goods. You don’t have to buy something expensive like a handbag, but how about a coin purse?
There are countries where it is easier to get local crafts. For example, in Sarajevo, I bought a beautiful coffee set made of copper by local artisans. Also a bag and a small rug with Ottoman design. In Croatia, traditional textiles in white and red are also produced.
Read here about my experience in Sarajevo
Useful and practical items.
I don’t like to buy those ornaments that will later end up in a box because I don’t know where to set them. Yes, some are pretty but most of them just keep dust and take up space. It is better to buy something practical that every time you use it, it reminds you of your trip.
I almost always buy one or two cups of coffee for me or for gifts. They might not be the most original gift, but they are beautiful and at least you can use them. Other things you can buy in the souvenir shops (without resorting to the worn-out key chains) are pens, lighters, and mirrors. They are more useful and practical (although they are not cheap and not of very good quality).
I know I said that I don’t like ornaments, but a good option to buy as gifts are the magnets for the refrigerator. If you seek well, there are some really nice. In Prague, for example, I found some very pretty made of wood, it was difficult to decide which one to buy. I like an ethnic or vintage style. They will not take much space in your house and they will remind you of your trip when you go for a snack to your fridge.
If you haven’t read my post about Prague, you can read it here: A magical city, what to do in Prague in 4 days
Other items that I usually buy for myself, but which can also be good options to give away are scarves and pins. The scarves are practical and you can always find one with the print of the city. The pins are cheap, wearable and don’t take up any space. Recently I decided to start a collection although I have still very little.
Of course, make sure that they are not prohibited to enter your country and that they’ll not get damaged either. What you can usually enter without problems are chocolates, wine, honey, coffee, and tea. If you are in Italy you could bring a mature cheese, handmade pasta, olive oil and sauces in a jar. If you check the local markets and supermarkets you will find something interesting at a good price
My guilty pleasure: the stationery. And I’m lucky that I’ve found many beautiful things. The number one in this category is postcards. I love collecting postcards, especially with vintage images. Although some people may think they are insignificant and useless, I believe they are a timeless classic, what do you think?
I must also admit that I am addicted to notebooks. They are practical and beautiful, and you can use them as journals in future trips. In Florence, Italy, they make marbling paper, which they use to make notebooks and other articles. You can also buy paper sheets, ideal for wrapping gifts or making crafts. I do scrapbooking and that’s why I always buy them. In Florence, I also bought a nice pen and ink for calligraphy.
More tips for shopping in Florence in this post: Advice about what to do in Florence: art and shopping
Another option to buy as a gift are books, such as travel guides. Or Some of native authors, for example, Franz Kafka from Prague or Federico García Lorca from Granada. Bookmarkers are a good option for someone who likes to read, and super light to bring in your luggage.
What not to buy?
Plastic ornaments. I have mentioned it before, particularly I don’t like the figures that you put on shelves. They are usually very commercial, made of plastic and not very pretty. If you want ornaments as travel souvenirs look for something original like Murano glass in Venice, or something handmade. Although of course if you find one that you like, go ahead
Keychains. They are zero original and not very good quality, buy them if you find some that you really like. I gave my mother one with 7 keys for luck and she still keeps it. There are many other more beautiful and interesting options as I mentioned.
T-shirts. I mean those with messages or prints. Like the key rings, they are not original at all, and perhaps they are not the style of the person to whom you give them. In Florence, there were even shorts or t-shirts with a certain part of Miguel Angel’s David. In Austria, there is one with the no kangaroos in Austria print (seriously?). Maybe they are funny, but would anyone really wear them? Ok, don’t answer me.
Where to buy?
Local markets and street markets
Oh! These are my favorite places to go in search of souvenirs. Especially when they are seasonal markets such as Easter or Christmas. You find such cute things! And the best part is that they are mostly all local stuff. You can also buy edible products made with traditional techniques and ingredients.
In the so-called flea markets, if you seek well, you may find some treasures. Something original and unique that you can take as a souvenir, or if it is not so original, at least cheap. An example of these markets is the famous Rastro in Madrid, usually packed with buyers and tourists. In most European countries, they set up weekend markets where you can find travel souvenirs or gifts too.
In Supermarkets, you can buy packaged food like jams, coffee, and chocolates. They do good travel souvenirs, and as supermarkets target local consumers, prices are lower.
Far from the tourist areas, you can enter to browse the local shops, and you may find surprises. In Italy, I went to a little store of kitchen gadgets and utensils. I came out with a couple of beautiful Moka pots made in Italy and at a very good price, I kept one and the other one I gave it to my sister.
Gift shops in museums
Well, I already gave you some options. But the most important advice is that you look around and walk to find things that make you happy. If you have time compare prices. Get away from tourist areas that are full of tourist traps. Ask about the markets that are not always popular with tourists.
Visit the local stores. Investigate on the internet. Ask your host or local people. Enter the department stores, the little shops, the bookstores. In some places, you can haggle, ask if they can give you a better price.
I hope these tips will help you to buy original and cheap travel souvenirs. If you have more tips that can help other travelers, share them in the comments section. Also tell me, what are your favorite souvenirs? Where do you like to buy them?
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