Monday, March 29, 2010

4 Tips for Buying Cooler Souvenirs

I admit it, I'm a travel cheapskate. Not hard-core, but I like to save a buck or 20. Especially when it comes to souvenirs. Over 15 years of traveling around the world has taught me that rarely, if ever do souvenirs look as cool or seem as interesting once you get them home. If you're tired of buying souvenirs you never use, read on.

Tip #1: Buy only one or just a few big-ticket items during your trip. That way, you're not filling up your bags with knickknacks that you're just going to stick on a shelf and let get dusty or put in a drawer and forget about at home. I've never regretted the antique woven rug (US$250) that I bought in Africa, the hand-carved Buddha statue ($40) from Laos, or a ceremonial tea bowl ($110) from Kyoto, Japan.

Tip #2: Get creative with free stuff that you can craftily turn into souvenirs. Some of my favorite freebies are atypical 'Do Not Disturb' signs from hotel rooms (Las Vegas is an especially fruitful source), which I hang on my office door to let folks know when I'm seriously writing. I also take tickets from sports games and music festivals and turn them into laminated bookmarks for my bedside reading pile. They sky (or really, your imagination) is the limit here.

Tip #3: Hit the thrift shops and look for whatever that place is famous for. Recently, I bought gently used golf clubs for just a few bucks each at a Goodwill store in Scottsdale, AZ, a retiree and resort mecca. I found some awesome mid-century modern decor in Palm Springs, CA (too bad that sexy couch just wouldn't fit on top of my car, because its was practically priced to steal).

Tip #4: Buy everyday stuff that you'll actually use at home. Wherever I go around the world, I often pick up a cooking tool or some unusual-looking dishes that I can use at home on an everyday basis, instead of a souvenir I'd hardly ever look at. Lately, I've been buying micro-roasted coffee from indie coffee shops in whatever towns I visit. That way, when I get home, I've got at least a few week's worth of morning brew, and while I'm making it I can dream about my last trip...and of course, the next one I'm going to take, too.

What are your tips for buying cooler souvenirs (i.e., ones that you'll actually use and not just end up recycling, re-gifting, donating or throwing away)? What's the most expensive souvenir you're still glad you bought? Leave a comment below.


  1. It's a bit geeky but I've gotten hooked on buying fridge magnets! They're light, cheap and when I get home I get constant reminders of all the places I've been.

  2. If you find yourself in a hip or upscale joint, occasionally they have their own coasters. I've never had trouble with taking a couple home with me. No need to get greedy and reach over the bar for a pile, all you need is one or two to recall fond memories with your next drink at home.