Whether you’re buying a souvenir for yourself or as a gift for someone back home, you want it to be something that will actually get used. I can’t tell you how many spray painted t-shirts I bought at a tourist trap and then never wore (don’t worry, I’ve learned the error of my ways).
To help you avoid a souvenir mishap, I spoke to travel and home décor experts to get their tips on how to find souvenirs that aren’t tacky. Check out their ideas for items you can buy that will actually get used in your home.
Skip the Souvenir Shops
One of the best ways to find mementos from your trip that you’ll want to use when you get home is to steer clear of the souvenir shops, according to Tinne Van Loon, the founder and creative director at Baladi Home.
“When you’re on vacation, I recommend going as much off the beaten path as possible to find beautiful authentic goods,” advises Van Loon. She adds that many of the items sold in souvenir shops aren’t local at all, they’re actually manufactured in China.
Try visiting local artisans’ shops or markets to find unique and authentic pieces directly from the maker.
But What Do I Buy?
So, you know to avoid the typical souvenir shop and opt for something local, but what should you buy when you find a shop or market that’s more authentic?
Van Loon’s first rule of thumb is to avoid anything too specific to the location. “Definitely, by all means, avoid buying anything that has the name of the place written on it. That can instantly make any piece look cheesy.”
Next, think of how this item fits in your home.
“While it may be tempting to buy large, colorful, authentic pieces, always keep in mind the aesthetic of your home and make sure it integrates well,” suggests Van Loon, “Perhaps you find a gorgeous colorful embroidered blanket that is in the traditional local style, but it won’t fit into your more neutral décor. Check to see if maybe the artisan has a more muted or one-color version of it for sale as well.”
Here are a few specific items you can look for that will likely get used in your home.
My personal favorite souvenirs to buy are coffee mugs. I love traveling to a new city and getting a mug at a coffee shop I tried on vacation or one made by a local artist. I have an entire cupboard at home filled with coffee mugs from places I’ve traveled.
Mugs are also a great option if you’re vacationing in a more tourist-centric location like a theme park, where many of the souvenirs are branded.
Taylor Wasson, of Taylor at Disney, says that one of her favorite souvenirs at the park are the Disney-exclusive Starbucks mugs. “The Starbucks x Disney mugs are my favorite because I always start my morning with a cup [of coffee],” says Wasson. “I like to display them on my coffee station to be able to see them and enjoy them, not stuck in a cabinet.”
Wasson adds that each Disney theme park has a Starbucks location and the mugs are only available to buy inside the parks.
Ashley Viola, the founder and CEO of Meridian, a social enterprise that partners with global artisans to create home décor, suggests buying textiles from local markets on your travels. These will have interesting stories and look great in your home.
“For years I have brought home interesting textiles from my travels and used them as framed art, table linens and decorative objects in my home,” says Viola.
If you’re looking for a souvenir that can be a conversation starter, consider buying prints or artwork from local artists.
Kara Harms, founder and writer at Whimsy Soul, buys a piece of artwork from every new place she travels to.
“My tiny San Francisco apartment is covered in travel memories in the form of artwork,” says Harms. “I love telling my guests the stories behind each piece – how I bartered in terrible Spanish for my Don Quixote mural in Mexico or how, after months of searching, I finally found a unique painting of the Eiffel Tower.”
If you’re not sure which piece to buy, Harms suggests picking something with your personal style. She says that even a few postcards could be framed together as a memory of your trip and a new piece of wall art for your home.
If you’ve been down the wall art aisle at any home décor store, you’ve probably seen the maps as artwork trend. Quite possibly with the quote, “Not all who wander are lost,” or something along those lines.
Instead of spending upwards of $100 on a giant framed map for your bedroom, why not use maps from your own travels?
Lori Leroy, a family travel writer at Maps, Memories and Motherhood, used a vintage school map she found outside of Indianapolis as décor for her child’s room. “The beauty of it (besides the actual aesthetic) is that it would work for any age and I love that he can now fall asleep dreaming about our family vacation to Japan and future journeys to the Far East,” says Leroy.
Do you have a go-to souvenir you look for on trips? Tell us about your favorite travel mementos in the comment section.
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