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How to Find Meaningful Souvenirs on Vacation

A man and woman looking for souvenirs at a flea market.

Half the fun of traveling is bringing home fun souvenirs. You’ll have no trouble finding things to spend your money on when you’re on vacation. However, if you’d rather buy things that are more meaningful, rather than the standard overpriced tourist trinkets, here are some tips to help you out.

It’s actually pretty easy to find unique items when you’re on vacation—you just have to know where to look! Here are a few souvenir-buying strategies that can ensure you won’t head home with buyer’s remorse.

Use Google

an image of a Google search for souvenirs

The internet offers an unlimited amount of help for travelers, and not just on the pre-travel planning, like flight deals and unique hotels and B&Bs.

After you’ve determined which cities you’ll be traveling to, take a few minutes to search for shopping destinations in those places. A simple search like, “where to buy souvenirs in Paris,” or, “locally-owned shops in Mexico City,” will give you hundreds of links to places you can visit to buy cool souvenirs.

Google Maps is available in most parts of the world, as well. When you find a shop you want to visit, simply bookmark it on your phone or write down the address. Be sure to note the store’s hours of operation, as well, since smaller locations aren’t always open 24/7 like those in the more touristy areas.

Plan Ahead 

The front of the E.Dehillerin shop window in Paris, France.
The famous E.Dehillerin cookware shop in Paris. eric laudonien/Shutterstock.com

Most of us have panic-purchased some cheap figurines or ugly magnets because we were nearing the end of a trip and didn’t want to go home empty-handed.

Most people like to bring home a few mementos to remember a vacation or to gift to friends or relatives. Sometimes, the perfect purchase drops right into your lap, but try to avoid being in a situation where you feel like you have to buy something you don’t really like.

The best way to do that is to plan ahead. Before going on your trip, think about the kinds of things you’d like to buy. If you aren’t sure, it can be helpful to look up recommended souvenirs before you go.

For example, if you’re visiting Japan, you might want to bring home a maneki neko, the waving cat figurine that’s believed to bring good luck. In Egypt, you might want to find a bracelet or necklace with a scarab on it, like the ancient Egyptians used to wear.

The internet can also help you out here. Just search, “traditional souvenirs to buy in [city or country],” and you’ll get plenty of ideas. To go the extra mile, note the locations of specific shops where you can buy these types of souvenirs. This way, you won’t be disappointed if you don’t see anything similar while you’re just browsing around on your trip.

Finally, think outside the box about what you want to bring home. If a waving cat or scarab beetle doesn’t appeal to you, think about souvenirs you’d actually use.

If you love to cook, for example, a beautiful cake pan or serving plate would make a fantastic souvenir, especially if you buy it in Paris—one of the culinary capitals of the world. If that’s where you’re headed, be sure to visit E. Dehillerin, the most popular kitchen supply store in France.

Thrift Stores 

A secondhand shop in Valencia, Spain.
Joaquin Corbalan P/Shutterstock.com

Secondhand stores are fantastic places to find unique items while on vacation, not to mention they’re far more affordable. They’re particularly useful if you’re looking for clothing, shoes, and/or housewares, all of which are items you can actually use when you get home.

Keep in mind, though, that as vintage clothing has always been quite popular in the fashion world, some items might not be as affordable as others. Be prepared to browse two or three stores to find the one that has the best products for the best prices. Bonus if you find one that’s actually locally-owned so your dollars (or pesos or euros) go right back into the community.

Farmers and Street Markets 

Two female tourists at a flea market.
PR Image Factory/Shutterstock.com

While farmers and street markets tend to highlight food, many vendors also sell other goods, like clothing and jewelry. In many countries, including Thailand and Morocco, street markets are the main places locals shop. This means you’ll be able to find pretty much anything you need there.

The most important thing to remember about street markets is there will always be a few scammers there who are just trying to get as much money from you as possible. In locations where haggling is customary, you’ll typically be quoted a price that’s three, four, or even five times more than a product is actually worth.

Haggling (also known as bargaining or bartering) can be uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re from a country where asking for a lower price is considered rude. However, this is where a bit more research can really come in handy if you’ll be visiting a country where this practice is common. It’ll also ensure you don’t end up overpaying for your souvenirs.

Consider How You’ll Use an Item

A box frame with pictures and souvenirs from Paris hanging on a wall.

Like many folks, we have a “travel shelf” on which we display small figurines from every country we’ve visited. However, we also like to buy a few practical items we’ll actually use. Some of our favorites include a leather jacket we purchased at a flea market in Italy, a winter hat we got in Norway, and a handpainted ramen bowl from Japan.

It doesn’t matter how you use it, but every souvenir you buy should have some intended use. Otherwise, it’s just going to sit in a box for years after you get home. When you see something that you like while abroad, think for a second about how you’ll use it.

If it’s just going to be displayed, where will it sit in your home? If it’s an item of clothing, how often will you wear it? Is it going to be a gift? As long as you can think of a good use for an item, go for it! If, however, you’re thinking, “I’ll find somewhere for this,” it’ll probably end up being that purchase you regret.

Stumped on the best way to display a souvenir? One cute way to display photos and small trinkets is in a shadow box. They’re a subtle, but classy way to show off all the places you’ve been.

Most travelers purchase a few souvenirs while on vacation to commemorate their trip. These tips will help you avoid any buyer’s remorse, and purchase meaningful items you’ll actually use. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to save some extra room in your suitcase for all your new items!

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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