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Five Creative Souvenir Ideas for Any Trip

Updated: May 18

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 how global our economy really is. It can sometimes feel very difficult to find novelty or surprise when traveling because many of the best things from around the world are available right at home. This is especially true when shopping for souvenirs and gifts.


From cuisine to fashion, art, and more we're fortunate to have two-day delivery or the internet to help us enjoy all that the world has to offer. However, nothing beats experiencing the real thing at the source.


In all my years of shopping at home and abroad, I have found the following items to make useful or creative souvenirs and gifts for anyone on your list.


Three Pro Tips for Finding Unique and Creative Gifts While Traveling

Cost

Depending on your country of origin, you may have to pay additional taxes on any items over a certain cost threshold. 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 that would also take care of the import costs as part of their service.


Size

Size becomes particularly valuable if you don’t typically check your luggage. As a general rule, I travel with an international carry-on size suitcase for all trips including two weeks stay in Europe. So, saving extra space to bring items home can be quite challenging. For this reason, It's great to opt for non-breakable items when shopping too.


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 US.


However, it's important to remember the many reasons why TSA and Customs officers are in everyone's best interests. Designed to keep passengers and their luggage safe as well as limit the possibility of unknowingly transporting invasive species or diseases between countries.


When shopping for souvenirs be sure to 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 in order to be safe for transit.


This is most commonly the case for food or plant matter like seeds. Make sure to check your government's state department website for updates on any import restrictions.

Awesome places to Look for Unique Souvenirs on Any Trip

Museum Gift Shops

One of the most common places to start shopping for souvenirs is museums or attraction gift shops. These can be both good and bad depending on the location. If you're visiting multiple museums in an area you can certainly expect to see a lot of the same souvenirs at each shop. However, this sometimes makes it easier to spot the unique items that would make a great gift.


Having a little redundancy can also be useful 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 part of the fun of shopping. It's all about searching for that perfect gem of a gift.


Local Boutiques

Sometimes expensive but many times 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 conversation you may meet the shop owner who will also be a wealth of knowledge. They will be able to direct you to specific items in their shop and may also be able to recommend other retailers in the area who might have a specific type of item you're looking for.


Local boutiques include any kind of shop you may have at home but what makes them unique is their product line and the limited places where you could purchase their specific product line.


Region Specific Specialty Shops

The key distinction here between local boutiques and region-specific specialty shops is that the type of boutique may exist in your area but what makes them special is the specific selection of products they offer that are not available in your hometown. Region-specific specialty shops would be a genre of shop that is well known in a specific region.


For example, wooden clogs in The Netherlands. You could purchase wooden clogs elsewhere but it would be a little 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 Murano glass in Venice, Italy, or fresh marzipan in Toledo, Spain.


These region-specific specialties are becoming tougher and tougher to come by but when you find one it can really open your eyes to the value and quality of that specific product. Best of all you'll learn something and have a story to share too.

The Best Creative and Useful Souvenir Ideas for Anyone On Your List

Reusable Grocery or Shopping Totes

What started as a necessity for grocery shopping in Europe soon turned into one of my favorite gifts. In nearly any destination you can find a variety of totes ranging from a few dollars to upwards of twenty or thirty dollars in a range of different 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 a great memory.


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 a variety of styles featuring notable artworks.

Tea or Dish Towel

Unique, useful, easy to stow, and decorative. Tea or dish towels are great 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 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.

Lens Cloth

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.


I recently found a few beautifully printed lens clothes at a museum gift shop that I was excited to gift. They’re very affordable, useful, and easy to fit into already 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.


Holiday Ornaments

Ok, ornaments have been around as souvenirs forever 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.


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 didn’t go, 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 Cosmetics

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 chapstick, sample size lotions, and more. These items are great because they don’t have to be expensive so 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 a variety of notable brands at affordable prices compared to the post-import markup in the US. Better yet, you may come across quality products that haven’t made it to the US at all.

Wrap Up

When you’re traveling it’s fun to share the experience with friends and family at home. Though there’s always video chat, finding a unique souvenir or two makes a great gift for birthdays holidays, or just because.


Before each trip, it’s always good to do a little research about specialties to get a feel for what you may want to bring home. However, if you ever find yourself struggling with ideas, I hope this article will serve as a trusted source of inspiration regardless of your destination.


Do you have any souvenir fallbacks that didn’t make the list? Share them below

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