I always find it somewhat humorous that while perusing the souvenir shops in Mexico or the Caribbean, I’ll inevitably pick up an authentic-looking item, such as a steel pan drum or a serape, and find the “Made in China” tag. How does this make your souvenir any better than something you could find at the superstore back home?
It helps to have an idea in mind before you travel to decide how you’ll handle souvenir shopping. And this is especially important if you’re traveling with kids. Anticipate that the opportunity to purchase will present itself quite frequently, and have a discussion about what will happen. Here are a few ideas you might consider:
The one-souvenir rule. This can be tough, especially if spread out over a long vacation with multiple stops, but limiting souvenir purchases to just one will help you and your companions think carefully about what will be especially meaningful to take home.
Invest in quality, not quantity. Keep in mind that if you want something that will last for a while, you should prepare to spend a bit of cash. My favorite souvenir in recent years was a pair of turquoise ostrich leather cowboy boots purchased in Mazatlán. I had to spend time thinking about whether I wanted to buy them (I must have visited the same store three times before forking over the cash), but when I pull them on three years later, I’m still flooded with memories of that trip.
Something authentic or homemade. This will take a little sleuthing on your part—read up on which local goods the region you are visiting is known for, and then seek out the local artisans who are making these things. Ask them questions, and take time getting to know about their craft. It will give an added to dimension to your souvenir purchase.
Follow your nose. You know how a scent can instantly transport you back to another time—how a certain cologne or perfume will remind you of an old flame, or a spicy candle just signifies being “home for the holidays”? You can apply that same principle to searching for a vacation scent. It could be a particular sunscreen that you associate with the Virgin Islands, or orange blossom perfume from your Florida beach vacation. Your quest for a scent could even take you to a local perfumery, where you not only get a souvenir, but you also learn something about the local flora.
Challenge your kids. Souvenirs aren’t limited to the things you can buy at the store. Have your kids find free items from nature, interesting pieces of driftwood or a handful of pebbles. Press flowers into the pages of the book. Pick a seashell that you might be able to use for crafts (drill a hole in one to make a necklace, or fill up a decorative jar).
Cynthia J. Drake is the author of the forthcoming book, Budget Travel for the Genius, which comes out in January and is available for preorder. Follow her Facebook page, Budget Travel Genius.