Why travel souvenirs suck

Palace on Wheels Turban tying

Why yes, I did bring a turban home with me from India

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After travelling around the world via every method from backpacking to luxury travel, I’ve noticed a common pattern: souvenirs suck.

Allow me to explain…

It’s rare that I find myself back in Canada surrounded by the comforts of home, that I pull out a pair of Aladdin-like pants from Turkey and think ‘Gee, I can’t wait to wear those again!’ Or how about those itchy mittens sourced from Peru. Or those wooden earrings from Antigua. See, you’re starting to notice a pattern here…despite spending my hard-earned money on such ‘must-haves’ overseas and lugging them around in my already over-packed bag, I NEVER end up using them again. And don’t even get me started on people who bring home T-shirts as a ‘gift.’

I’m a strong believer in passing along things like liquor, chocolate or a Cuban cigar—not a cheesy T-shirt from a place your giftee has likely never even been to.

What women should pack for a trip to India

That’s not to say I don’t buy souvenirs anymore. In fact, I have a prized collection of shot glasses from every single country I have ever visited. (Side note: shot glasses are hard to track down in Muslim countries!). I also pick up a Starbucks mug for my mom from different countries to add to her impressive stash—though those are not nearly as easy to carry around. And I’m always sure to bring home a bottle of booze, whether it’s absinthe from the Czech Republic, sake from Japan or ouzo from Greece.

Oh wait, another pattern has emerged—my ridiculous urge to cart around breakable items.

There was that one time I was starting off a seven-week trip through Europe, when three days in I visited the Champagne region in France. Not content to simply pick up a bottle of bubbly, my friend and I BOTH decided we needed to buy six champagne flutes. Let me tell you, those are about the worst things you can truck around while backpacking. Incredibly, they all made it home in one piece!

I have a friend who is much smarter than me, who buys a little flag from every country she visits, which obviously has a zero per cent chance of shattering all over your luggage. A quick Twitter poll also reveals that some festive folks collect Christmas tree decorations, while others grab refrigerator magnets. I think these are great examples of picking up something that’s actually meaningful to you, versus crap you will never have any use for.

My new thing is to skip the shopping once I’ve picked up that treasured shot glass, and spend my time actually enjoying the destination. I can always go to the mall on a rainy afternoon back home.

Is there a souvenir you always make sure to pick up on vacation? Comment below!


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29 Responses

  1. 2wisemonkeys says:

    Fabulous post – Had us chuckling. Funny you mention the t-shirts as gifts. We are guilty of that but in our defence, we have several family members who LOVE the T-shirts we bring back for them as they seem to always be wearing one of the ones we get them, so its become kind of tradition. As for “souvenirs” for ourselves, we always pick up a keyring representing the country and a magnet. The other thing we also try and pick up which is MUCH harder to find is “3 wise monkeys” figurines. We have been collecting for several years but have to be conscious not to pick up big or fragile ones. And yes, we have itchy ponchos and beanies from Peru that we have NEVER worn (lesson definitely learnt there)!

  2. Well at least your family is using the T-shirts! I wouldn’t doubt that finding monkeys is tough, especially in some places 🙂 We just picked up a huge Alpaca blanket in Peru, we’ll see if we end up doing anything with it!

  3. I never buy souvenirs any more for exactly the same reason. I used to buy loads but they just cluttered up my house and look like junk as soon as they’re among your other stuff.
    I usually just take loads and loads of photos and get them printed onto little photo blocks and decorate my house with them. It’s a nice way to decorate and they bring back memories from all over the world.

  4. The Guy says:

    I travel so much that picking up souvenirs is not really something of interest, unless I’m on a proper big holiday and something unique captures my eye.

    A colleague of mine is big on the fridge magnet thing and even asks me to pick them up from places he’s not been to.

    I do treat my wife from time to time with treats from Bath & Body Works or the random soft toy.

    I have to be careful what I buy though as I don’t want to be buying more luggage.

    • I agree with you, the more I travel the better I am at not buying anything (even when the locals try to guilt me into it!). Frankly, I’d rather spend my vacation time checking out the sites, then stuck in a mall. Thanks for reading!

  5. Too funny! I always chuckle when I see someone get sucked in by the chatty souvenirs. I always wonder to why tourists need to wear the khaki cargo pants…emergency safari perhaps?

    • Ha, you never know when you’ll end up on a safari! In all seriousness, there are some great cargo pants (for guys) that are perfect for travelling and don’t look half bad! Now if only they could come up with something for us girls…

  6. Melissa says:

    I always get post cards. They’re easy to carry around and if need, I can send them home for cheap. I also think they’re great because places change so you’re getting a snapshot of a setting that might not exist in the future. Example, I have several postcards of the NY skyline with the Twin Towers in them.

  7. Toni says:

    My photos and memories are my major souvenirs now, I usually create a digital album after a trip and I’ve had several large canvas done of special places and moments. That said we have bought back some less convenient items in the past before I went more minimalist – various wooden shields and weapons from around the South Pacific that always put the immigration guys into a spin when we declared them, a Starbucks coffee mug collection from all across Japan that clinked all the way home but somehow came back unbroken, a Chinese tea set and a painting from Hong Kong, a hand crafted chess set from Malaysia. I’m so please I got past that phase and started spending the money on experiences instead.

    • Haha awesome thanks for sharing! Yes, those Starbucks cups are not the easiest thing to lug around, that’s for sure. Other than my shot glasses and the odd clothing purchase, I’ve fortunately also managed to avoid the souvenirs and spend my travel budget on more memorable things such as tours.

  8. Geri says:

    I always bring T-shirt for my son and all his wardrobe is full of T-shirts from around the world that he actually uses all the time! So, T-shirts work for me perfectly. It is the only “souvenirs” that he really use from all different kinds of shit that I brought back home for years. You are right, we don’t need a lot, just one or two favorites. In my case this is a doll in traditional costume (if there is decent one) and/or ceramic plate as there is always some beautiful traditional designs at the destination that I use back at home when gathering with friends or family.

  9. Great Blog Tamara! Nice meeting you today. Enjoy the lens! – Nicole

  10. Copperhair Emeraldeyes says:

    Why not just mail the shot glasses and mugs from there and avoid the hassle? I don’t wear many t-shirts anyway but the ones I do have I thought about making into simple pillows (tuck in the sleeves and fold the bottom inside and sew the neck shut), fill with pillow forms. I focus on my photos for my scrapbooking rather than lugging things around. I did get some nice clothing in Sedona rather than the tourist tee’s.

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