What Makes the Best Travel Souvenirs

I confess, I do have a box full of shot glasses and even a few fridge magnets.  Having grown up as a traveler, I collected these items over the years.  But now, these items just sit in a box and collect dust because I’ve come to realize that I have no desire to decorate my house like a tourist gift shop.  Although the collection of shot glasses came in handy during college, that was the extent of their use.  Now that Josh and I travel so much, we’ve discovered that our best travel souvenirs which we treasure most don’t come from a tourist shop.

One of our favorite travel souvenirs of all time - an original oil painting from Cambodia!
One of our favorite travel souvenirs of all time – an original oil painting from Cambodia!

What’s Considered a Souvenir Anyway?

Technically, a souvenir can be anything.  But since when did a souvenir equate to t-shirt with the destination printed big across the front or a shot glass with a logo (or inappropriate saying or picture) printed on it?  To Josh and I, travel is about the personal memories and unique experiences that we had; and only rarely did those moments have anything to do with a shot glass!

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We passed on the fridge magnet and bought a hand carved plank wooded picture of the beautiful Caribbean island of Jamaica from a local man.

Honestly, Josh and I aren’t big shoppers at home or when we travel.  But if we are going to pick something up on a trip, we want it to have some kind of unique memory tied to it.  And we want to be able to display it in our home proudly so that we can enjoy it!  It may be something as small as the wooden spoons for the kitchen that I picked up in Tuscany, the jerk seasoning from Jamaica that we love to use when we cook chicken, or dried peppers from Thailand.  We also enjoy bringing local coffee / tea from all over the world!  All of these items bring back great memories from our trip whenever we use them; after all, that’s the point of a souvenir!

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Signed on the back from the artist, we found this in Bangkok and had it framed for our bedroom. Looks amazing!
Looks good framed and hanging in our bedroom! Bangkok artwork, travel souvenir
Looks good framed and hanging in our bedroom!

Choose Unique Items that Support the Local Economy

Whenever possible, we try to avoid the mainstream tourist shops.   So much of the items are mass produced, generic, and do not support the local economy because they are often made elsewhere (well unless you are visiting China).  Shopping from local vendors and craftsman is one of our favorite things to do because we can have more of a personal experience, and we feel better knowing that our money is going directly back to the residents and not to a big corporation overseas!  And throughout our travels, we have discovered that our absolute favorite type of souvenir to bring back from a trip is local art!

Local Art is Our Best Travel Souvenir

Art can consist of so many different things, and it varies in size and price so it can apply to a wide range of traveler’s preferences and budgets. The reason we consider art the best travel souvenir is because so often it has a story behind it.  Whether it is a cultural piece with religious or historical significance, or if it is a piece that we watched the artist create right in front of us. Perhaps it is made of local materials or depicts a local structure or sight.

Check Out:  How to Conquer the Foreign Shopping Market like a BOSS!

We also enjoy picking up artwork because it’s actually something that we enjoy displaying around our home — it would never be hidden away in a box!  In fact, I would love nothing more than to grow old and be able to look around my home full of memories of our travels and adventures over the years!

We settled on this painting of the Tulum ruins. So many beautiful pieces to choose from. tulum art, tulum souvenir, travel art
We settled on this painting of the Tulum ruins. So many beautiful pieces to choose from.

Another benefit to buying local art is that it is a great way to support the local economy and help to keep traditions alive.  It gives a reason for generations to pass down craft skills or an incentive for people to be creative in developing their own artistic craft.  Especially in developing nations, these are crucial ways that people can earn a living without having big companies take most of the profits.  It also gives us the opportunity to interact with the locals on a more personal level.  

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A local craftsman carves a traditional Mayan mask in Valladolid Mexico & explained to us what each symbol meant.
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The mask we purchased in Valladolid Mexico, from the man who carved it.

Priceless Travel Souvenirs = Memories!

Overall, we have grown to cherish these unique travel souvenirs and pieces of art that we have collected during our travels.  Each item has a story and a memory.  If possible, we try to connect with the artist and get to know them.  Also if they are willing, we enjoy taking a photo so that we can remember the moment even more. These moments are what make travel so special.  So next time you think about grabbing a quick souvenir to remember your vacation by, take a moment to look around you and try to find something unique, like a piece of art!

Share with us your Best Travel Souvenir from your travels!

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11 thoughts on “What Makes the Best Travel Souvenirs”

    1. Thank you for the comment – bearded men, huh? How unique!!! I must say, we do actually have a number of pint glasses from different breweries that we’ve visited. Those we actually use on a regular basis, but it’s getting to the point that we can’t fit anymore glasses in our kitchen cupboard, so we are going to need to start passing on those too!

      Thanks for sharing!
      – Liz & Josh

  1. I love this! I do exactly the same thing, and writing a post about what we’ve collected so far is on my to-do list! When my boyfriend and I got together almost 4 years ago, I knew he was keen to buy a house, and I was keen to see the world… as a compromise, I wanted our house to be filled with unique memories. So every country we visited, I insisted we purchase a piece of art – we’ve got everything from Canvas paintings, to Tapa drawings, to stained glass (the only one where we actually met the artist face to face)… but everything has a story behind it, that’s more in depth than “I liked it”

    1. Awesome – thanks for the comment! So glad to see other travelers who think the same way. Our collected pieces of art from around the world are definitely our most cherished possessions, and I really love that everything has a memory and a story behind it. Would love to see your upcoming post about your favorite treasures that you’ve found!

      Happy travels!
      – Liz & Josh

  2. I actually saved all my train, plane, bus, site/attraction/museum entry, etc. tickets and such once when I travelled through Europe and Egypt and then when I got home I made a 12×12 page out of them and framed it – didn’t have much room, weight allowance or $$ to get much in the way of souvenirs and I ended up liking my little home made reminder of my travels quite a lot anyways 😉

    1. Thanks for the comment Kirsten! We also love making montages of our ticket stubs, great little memories! There are all kinds of cool things that you can do with them. Great inexpensive memory!!!

      Happy travels!
      – Liz

  3. I used to be a massive hoarder of t-shirts from my travels but I’ve now become addicted to collecting ticket stubs like a few of the others have mentioned :o)
    Local art is a really great idea though as it captures a very individual view/representation of a place/culture, something that you’re not likely to see in someone else’s living room, or on someone else’s fridge!
    Really enjoy reading your blog, all the best.

  4. Agreed! I live my collection of carved faces from various places in Central America. I also collect shells/rocks -even a random marble I found in Costa Rica, and have them all together in a martini glass on a shelf. I like the idea of all those tiny pieces from all over together in one place. Some of them I can even remember exactly where they were found.

    1. Thanks for reading! We usually try to make sure that we can either carry it with us the rest of our trip or make sure that we can mail it home. We always consider weight and size, but overall if we love it then it can be priceless 🙂

      Josh

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