Depending on how frequently you’ve had the pleasure of hitting the road or flying to faraway places, you may have become keenly aware of our global economy. It can sometimes feel challenging to find novelty or surprise when traveling because many of the best things worldwide are available at home. This is especially true when shopping for cool souvenirs and great gifts.
From food to fashion, art, and more, we’re fortunate to have two-day delivery or the internet to help us enjoy all the world offers. But nothing beats experiencing the real thing at the source. Not to mention all the wonderful travel memories you will collect.
In all my years of shopping at home and abroad, I have found the following items to make practical or creative travel souvenirs and best gifts. On our list of the best souvenirs, you will find travel souvenirs for family members or anyone on your list.
4 Pro Tips for Finding Creative & Unique Souvenirs While Traveling
Depending on your country of origin, you may have to pay additional taxes on items over a certain cost threshold when returning to the United States or your home country. If you plan to shop for items in the hundreds or thousands of dollar range, it would be worth looking into customs import rules for your country. At this price point, the retailer may offer free shipping to take care of the import costs as part of their service.
Space becomes particularly valuable if you don’t typically check your luggage. Generally, I travel with an international carry-on suitcase for all trips, including a two-week stay in Europe. So, saving extra space to bring items home can be pretty challenging. For this reason, buying non-breakable items is a great way to ensure your souvenir gifts make it home safely.
Government Regulations (for international travel)
Going through airport security is hassle enough, but international travel brings the additional step of going through customs at your destination and on the return trip to the U.S.
However, it’s important to remember why TSA and Customs officers are in everyone’s best interests. It is designed to keep passengers and their luggage safe and limit the possibility of unknowingly transporting invasive species or diseases between countries.
When shopping for travel souvenirs, check with the retailer and your country’s import laws to ensure that the items you intend to bring home are safe for airline transport. Sometimes, regulations can be as specific as notating the size, quantity, or way an item is packaged to be secure for transit. This is especially true for things like food souvenirs.
This is most commonly the case for food or plant matter like seeds. Check your government’s state department website for updates on any import restrictions.
Visit Souvenir Shops and Tourist Attractions with Caution
If you’re truly looking for souvenir items that will make the perfect gift, it is essential to shop for quality. However, sometimes tourist attractions can help give you souvenir ideas if you’re unsure what is popular. But unless you’re short on time, looking for a good deal, or there is a themed attraction you know without a doubt someone on your list will love, opt for goods from local artisans made in small batches.
The Best Places to Find Souvenirs Worth Bringing Home
A Museum Gift Shop
Museum or attraction gift shops are among the most common places to start shopping for cool souvenirs. These can be both good and bad, depending on the location. If you’re visiting multiple museums in an area, you can expect to see many of the same merchandise at each shop. However, this sometimes makes it easier to spot the unique souvenirs that are also great presents.
Having a little redundancy can also be helpful if you were on the fence about an item but later decided it would be the best gift for someone on your list. So there are upsides to both ends of the equation, which is also one of the fun things about shopping. It’s all about searching for that perfect gift.
Visit Local Shops on Your Next Trip
Sometimes expensive, but often not, local boutiques can be a great place to find souvenirs your friends and family back home won’t be able to buy.
If you’re lucky and have a knack for striking up a conversation, you may meet the shop owner, who will also be a wealth of knowledge about the local community. They can direct you to specific items in their shop, recommend other regional markets, or give you some of their best souvenir ideas based on the local culture.
Local businesses and boutiques include any kind of shop you may have at home, but what makes them unique is their product line and the limited places to purchase their specific product line.
Region-Specific Specialty Shops for Souvenir Gift Ideas
The key distinction between local shops and region-specific specialty shops is that a boutique may exist in your area. Still, their uniqueness comes from the specific selection of products they offer that are not available in your hometown. For example, there are thousands of shoe shops in the United States, and there will be dozens or thousands wherever your travels take you, but the specific brands each shop carries will likely be unfamiliar to what you have seen at home.
Region-specific specialty shops would be a genre of local markets renowned in a specific area. For example, wooden clogs are common in the Netherlands. You could purchase wooden clogs elsewhere, but it would be tricky to make a good purchase and know what you’re getting. It would be much easier in the Netherlands as there happens to be a higher concentration of these specific shops in that region. The same would be true for things like fresh pasta from Italy or ham from Spain.
These region-specific specialties are becoming tougher and tougher to come by. Still, when you find one, it can really open your eyes to the value and quality of that specific product. Hunting for a great souvenir this way allows you to connect with local artists and uncover many different types of souvenirs you may not have previously considered. Best of all, you’ll learn something and have a story to share, too. What a fun way to make memories and have travel inspiration for your next adventure.
Places for Inexpensive Souvenir Ideas
A local grocery store, flea market, and sometimes even convenience stores can have small, novel items that would make fantastic gifts. Grocery stores, in particular, are one of the best places to buy a cheap souvenir. If anyone on your gift list has a favorite candy, consider bringing some back for them. Comparing the packaging and flavors to their favorite at home is a fun way to share an experience.
The Best Unique Souvenir Ideas for Anyone On Your List
Reusable Grocery or Shopping Tote Bags
What started as a necessity for grocery shopping in Europe soon became one of my favorite gifts. In nearly any destination, you can find a variety of tote bags ranging from a few dollars to upwards of twenty or thirty dollars in various designs.
One of my favorite totes I’ve kept for myself is from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which features a classic William Morris print from the 1900s. I use the simple canvas bag all the time for running errands, on road trips, or as an occasional overnight bag. It’s sturdy, beautiful, and holds great, unforgettable memories.
Another style tote I always keep an eye out for is nylon bags that fold into a tiny pouch the size of a deck of cards. These bags are great because of their compact size. They can be kept in the car, easily packed in a suitcase, or put in a jacket pocket for any grocery or other shopping occasion that may require a bag. These style bags have become increasingly popular in museum gift shops and often come in various styles featuring notable artworks.
Tea or Dish Towel
Unique, useful, easy to stow, and great decorative items. Tea or dish towels are a perfect souvenir because they’re a really practical and universal type of gift to give. If you have a recipient in mind and can match colors to coordinate with their kitchen, that’s wonderful!
If not, it may serve as the inspiration for a modest kitchen refresh. I find tea towels an enjoyable gift because they make a great conversation starter for you or anyone you might plan to gift the towel to. They also don’t require much space in your luggage, which is also a plus.
Slightly less common than the other items on our list but worth keeping an eye out for. If you know anyone with glasses, you may have noticed they tend to have glass-cleaning clothes tucked everywhere. Or maybe you wear glasses and know how easily and often your glasses are being smudged. Having an extra lens cloth or two is always a good idea. Why not have a few to remind you of your favorite places or things?
I recently found a few beautifully printed lens clothes at a museum gift shop that I was excited to gift. They’re affordable, useful, and easy to fit into stuffed luggage. Another great thing about lens cloths is that they’re generally a very unisex item and can be given to virtually everyone since they can be used on electronic screens, too.
Ok, holiday or Christmas ornaments have been considered souvenirs forever and might be one of the most classic souvenir ideas. However, it’s about the type of ornament. I think buying ornaments for anyone on your list that has themed décor is a great idea and a way to help them add even more joy to their Christmas tree.
Not everyone will want an ornament with the name of the destination you visited, and it probably won’t have much meaning or value to them if they’ve never been. But, if, for example, they have a collection of snowmen on their tree, it would be fun to find a small snowman to bring back from a unique location.
Hand Lotion / Small Beauty Products
Make sure it’s less than 3oz for TSA. Bringing back cosmetics from different destinations, usually Europe, can make fun and interesting stocking-stuffer-type gifts.
Anything from hand lotion to lip balm, sample size lotions, and more. These items are great gifts because they don’t have to be expensive. This way, if the recipient isn’t a fan, it’s not a big loss for anyone. They’re also useful because almost anyone can use an extra hand lotion in a purse, desk, or car console.
Often, European drug stores carry various notable brands at affordable prices compared to the post-import markup in the U.S. Better yet, you may come across quality products that haven’t made it back home at all.
When in Doubt, Opt for the Most Classic Souvenir Ideas
Nearly every travel tips gift guide will surely have these items included among their suggestions, and for good reason. These souvenir ideas are usually easy to find wherever your bucket list trip has taken you. So next time someone on your list is proving particularly challenging to shop for, opt for one of these classic choices.
Find local artists or craftspeople who make unique mugs wherever you are.
Tasting tours have been a long-time favorite among tourist attractions. Consider collecting the tasting classes or purchasing a small shot glass or other tokens from each place you visit.
a cherished classic that’s fun for children and adults alike. They come in many different sizes now, making it easier to transport them.
sometimes, it can be fun to commemorate a trip by holding on to some of the local currency to compare to your usual money. This is also become a more unique type of memento since paper money is becoming less and less common.
Coffee Table Books
Though sometimes heavy, a coffee table book is a great way to commemorate your travels, and you can have pages of beautiful professional photographs to remind you of the trip and help you share the experience with your family members.
These make a great, inexpensive souvenir. However, they are becoming a little more difficult to enjoy as many new refrigerators are not magnetic on the front anymore. So keep this in mind when picking out the type of souvenirs you want to bring home.
Sharing the experience with friends and family is part of the fun when you’re traveling. Though there’s always video chat, thinking of special souvenir ideas always makes a great gift at birthdays, holidays, or just because.
Before each trip, it’s always a great idea to research the local culture and specialties to get a feel for what you may want to bring home. However, if you ever struggle with ideas, I hope this article will serve as a trusted source of inspiration regardless of your destination.
Marly is a lifestyle writer and creator of simplylivinghappy.com, a site dedicated to helping readers improve their health, wealth, mindset, and overall happiness. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her listening to audiobooks while gardening, visiting with family, or traveling.