A shop stall at an open-air market displays multiple wares and knickknack.

6 Rules for Buying Souvenirs That Don't Suck

Souvenirs can be warm mementos or obnoxious clutter, depending on how you play it. It’s nice to have a tangible memento of a good trip. It’s also nice to have someone bring you something and know that person was thinking of you. But those mementos can turn to clutter pretty darn quickly if you’re not careful. Here are some tips on avoiding that.

  1. Make It Place-Specific
    You’ll want something to actually remember your trip by. Maybe you have the kind of memory that ties every object in your home to the place you found it, but more likely it’s going to meld into the larger landscape of your home. Try and find things that are tied to the places that you’re visiting. We’re not talking about gas station kitsch with the name of the place stamped on it, either. Drive through the South, and you’ll see any number of identical fridge magnets with vague hillbillies on them or the name of the state emblazoned across it. Wouldn’t you be better off picking up camping gear from Fayettechill or a bottle or two from Post Familie Vineyards?
  2. Make It Something You’ll Use
    Some people set out to collect, say, a shot glass from every place they visit. If that’s what you’re about, awesome. We tend to prefer integrating our travels into our daily life. If you’re into music, pick up a local instrument or an album from a local band. Buy a large Marks and Spencer bath towel in London or a flannel in Scotland. Get maple syrup in Vermont. Whatever it is, make it something you’ll care about instead of something that you’ll find yourself needing to make space for.
  3. Be Open
    Be willing to try something unusual and exciting. Be willing to follow your instinct. Be willing to spend a little more than you had originally planned. You don’t have to be foolish to be open—there’s a lot of ground to cover between “rigid” and “impulsive.” It’s best to live in a sweet spot between the two. You’re seeing parts of the world that you may never see again, and if something absolutely captivates you, be willing to take the occasional plunge.
  4. Be Thoughtful
    If you’re buying souvenirs for other people, then it’s less about what you’ll actually use and more about what they want. It sounds sort of “after-school special” to take your friend’s taste into consideration over yours. The truth is, though, if you know a person well enough to pick out something for them, you know that you don't necessarily have to love what you're buying. They’ll probably appreciate having a friend who knows them so well.
  5. Comparison Shop
    There’s nothing wrong with picking up the occasional airport t-shirt, but bear in mind that you’re going to be paying a premium. If you can head off of the beaten path—into smaller towns adjacent to big famous ones—odds are that you’ll find something that not only feels more authentic and supports the locals. It will usually cost a lot less than what you’d pay at your typical tourist trap, too.
  6. Embrace the Nip
    As we’ve mentioned before, you can absolutely carry 3-ounce bottles of anything you want in your carry-on luggage through TSA. It’s not just for toiletries. That comes in handy if you’re trying to get maple syrup in Vermont and realize that you weren’t planning to check a bag. If you’re at a distillery somewhere nice and want to bring a little piece of it home, always remember that the 3-oz bottle is your friend.