among the online travel community, souvenirs are sort of a divisive issue. there are those who would never even touch a souvenir and feel like they are a waste of money and not an accurate representation of a place, and then there are the people who can’t stay away from those touristy shops with knick-knacks and bags that say the city’s name all over it (made in china).
while i don’t like knick-knacks (clutter!!!), i do love a little bit of shopping on a trip and almost always regret not picking up something. over the years, i have developed and refined my stance of souvenirs – often there’s not a whole load of room in my bag and normally, i’m on a smaller budget when i travel. but! that does not stop me from bringing home really meaningful souvenirs that i can use in my everyday life back home. that’s the key thing you want to aim for – useful. not anything to sit on a shelf.
so here’s my tested guide of the best things to take home from any place – for yourself or even as a gift.
above all, when you don’t know what to buy, always lean towards the edible.
1. woolen goods, especially socks!
in many places, especially in northern europe, this is really a get! socks are an affordable way to get yourself a little something (#selfcare), keep yourself warm in the colder months, support the local economy, and enjoy a traditional product. (the more wool in my winter wardrobe, the better)
above, some spoils from a past iceland trip!
2. tea or coffee.
when i say i am a tea person, i’m not even fooling around. i take home boxes when i go abroad at all, no matter where that is. i love picking up local icelandic herb tea or pukka herbs tea when i go almost anywhere, or whatever the local favorite tea purveyor is. conversely, my friend ginny is a complete coffee nerd, taking home sometimes 6 bags from a trip!
hot tip for taking tea home: break down the box the tea comes in so it packs flat and put all the tea bags in a ziploc bag – you can re-form the box when you get home (if you want it). another space saver is purchasing only loose-leaf tea which ends up lasting much longer than bagged tea.
3. sweets, snacks, jarred food products or liquor
once again, you cannot go wrong with the edible! when you visit a place and try loads of snacks and sweets, why not take home your favorites? last time in iceland i did not buy enough tritlar when i left and i had regretted that ever since. this time i tried a new sweet (lindar buff, it’s no tritlar, though).
i’ve also taken home local honey from switzerland, lebkuchen around the holidays from germany or austria, and rhubarb jam from iceland. even if i can get jam and honey here, it sort of gives me warm fuzzies thinking about where it came from and keeping a connection with that place.
please note that one is not permitted to take meat products out of the european union, even in your checked baggage. (eat your black forest ham while you can!) wine or liquor is a great souvenir (also makes a great gift), but pay attention as there are maximum amounts permitted. i wouldn’t recommend flying with beer in your checked bag, but i’ve seen the desperate do it – more often, people purchase beer at the duty-free at the airport and get to bring it with them in the cabin.
4. prints or art
when you can’t get enough of your favorite place, put it somehow on your wall! we still have a print that i’ve been waiting for frame for want of a good framing shop in budejovice (local friends: advice accepted regarding a frame shop!).
5. a cloth shopping bag
this, i tell ya, is the cheapest yet most useful and meaningful souvenir for the money you can take home. i doubt it costs more than a dollar, but every time you go to the grocery store in your normal daily routine at home, you’ll remember all those stops are your favorite supermarket that you made! it’s always a fun conversation piece.
i’m not just talking about raiding the high street primark (which, cool, if you want to, i won’t judge) but picking a unique piece from a place to take with you. perhaps, a locally-designed rain jacket, a silk nepalese skirt, a dress from your favorite clothing store that you could otherwise never afford the shipping for but lust after for months? (just me?) this is the time. perhaps the most expensive of all my souvenir options, but if you save and budget for it, it will become an unforgettable souvenir you may have for even decades.
7. a book or an album
so many books and albums, too little money! but if you see something that strikes your fancy while you’re away, don’t wait – you’ll regret that more! i don’t actually buy too many books even though i love them, but recently i picked up an english/german duo reader book as i know they’re harder to find here in the czech republic and i regret it exactly zero percent. while in iceland, i wished i had picked up JFDR’s new album which… get this… was sold in an om-nom matcha flavored chocolate bar. now that is a next-level willy wonka situation. nobody regretted picking up a book or an album!
8. spices or salts
i always tell alex we’ll go back to budapest when our sachet of amazing smoked paprika runs out. (it looks like that could be within the year, so you know what that means!) i love picking up some local spices or salts (whatever the specialty is) to use in my cooking back home, and it also makes an amazing gift. recently i’ve picked up some herby salt from iceland (above) which has bits of crow and juniper berries in it. be still my herby heart!
this one is for my knitters out there – what could be better, especially if you’re visiting a country famous somehow for its wool and wool products, than picking up some for your next project? i am such an amateur that i have no idea how many skeins i would need for a certain project, so i personally prefer to have my source near me so i can easily obtain more, but if you already know, there you have it! icelandic wool is famous for its waterproof qualities, making it one of the most prized wools in the world.
(above – my current WIP/yarn stash – unfortunately, i am possibly the slowest knitter ever and need to get a move on!)
10. holiday decorations or ornaments
i adore my precious ornaments i’ve brought from past wintery trips and cherish them so much every time i un-box them to put them on the tree! also fun is hanging decorations. kind of funny, isn’t it, because if you saw these ornaments every month of the year, you’d get tired of looking at them, but putting them away for eleven months and taking it out is like remembering your trip all over again!
and one bonus souvenir, because i can’t help myself….
11. shower or bath goods
i tried the sóley organics line from iceland on my second trip and adored the fresh herbal scent and, honestly, the fact that these products are made with plants and herbs from the icelandic countryside as well as the pristine glacial water. whenever i use these products now, it takes me back to those smells and images (like in the banner image at the top) of the sweeping landscapes, deep gorges, hours spent laying in icelandic moss as a light rain started to fall, or traipsing through the long grasses on the way to glacier or waterfall hunt. anything that i use almost daily that brings back those memories and feelings is absolutely worth it!
the main takeaway here is that all of these are everyday things you will eat, look at, use, or see everyday. i think those, far and away, make the best souvenirs, regardless of price tag.
what do you tend to buy the most when you go on a trip or holiday? anything i’m missing?