1. My personal favorite is scarves! Now I’m not suggesting male travelers adopt this type of souvenir collection, but it might not be a bad idea for something to bring back for a mother, wife, sister, girlfriend or any other female. I know silk and decorative (not winter) scarves haven’t been at the peak of fashion in the states in recent decades, but they are still very easy to find and a great accessory. They are also possibly the best thing to buy when traveling because they are often relatively inexpensive, easy to find, both useful and decorative, almost always unique, can show the local culture and (maybe best of all) fit easily into your luggage! I have a scarf from every country I have visited (and one from Greece that my co-organizer brought back for me from that trip). They make for a beautiful and useful collection of memories.
2. A bit pricey but very special, jewelry can make a great keepsake. Every country has some form of unique jewelry. Jewelry is ideal for its beauty, utility and the limited space it takes up in a suitcase. So if you’re willing to spend a bit more on your souvenirs, it’s a great idea. Again this idea is easier for female travelers to make a habit of, but if you’re up for spending the money a watch from each country could be a great souvenir. If your a frequent traveler, you could even set each watch for the time zone you bought it in and make a display of them.
3. Especially if you are crafty t-shirts can be more than just a typical souvenir. Another souvenir that’s always easy to find no matter where you travel is t-shirts. While this may seem a bit mundane, I’ve heard of at least one great way to make those t-shirts into a unique souvenir – once you’ve collected a bunch of t-shirts from your around the world (or even around the country or state) travels, you can use them as the basis for a pretty unique quilt. I actually first heard of this in non-traveling circles as a great idea for a souvenir or fundraising item made from each year’s Relay for Life t-shirts, but in the past couple of years I’ve also been hearing of this idea as a way of preserving your individual travel memories. This could also be a project to use those souvenir scarves for, but t-shirts tend to be more durable for this type of activity.
4. If you’re looking for something to capture the memory of one specific location prints are a more artistic alternative to your own amateur photographs or postcards. Hand painted or drawn prints of sites such as Sans Souci Palace and Notre Dame have become one of my favorite ways to decorate my walls and remember my journeys. The best prints are handmade, but it’s also easy to find photo prints of popular tourist sites. They look great in even cheap frames and are easy to fit into luggage (well as far as size is concerned, but you may want to put them in a sturdy folder or inside a book to protect them during your return flights).
5. When you travel with as many college groups as I do you get used to helping them hunt down souvenir shot glasses. They’re a bit touristy, but they’re also small for fitting in luggage and often relatively inexpensive. Plus you can practically find them anywhere anymore, and they do look great in a display case or on a shelf together with their unique images from various travel destinations.
6. Sometimes the best souvenir is the one you have a hand in making. One of our participants on last year’s tour now has a professionally made book using the photos she took on tour. These books are becoming more and more popular and are even offered for sale from the tour company we travel through. Most include a selection of your photographs (often creatively cropped, turned or layed out on pages or on the cover), pages to record your thoughts and memories and even information on the places you traveled. And while I still prefer my own photo arranging or even scrapbooking, this is a nice way to have your memories professionally preserved and organized in a creative conversation piece.
7. You know you always have extra currancy (change at least) when you travel anyway! I am not an avid coin collector, but I do have at least a few coins from each country I’ve visited. After all, it’s nearly impossible to come back from a trip without having spare change, so you don’t even really have to work much at collecting this souvenir. Kids especially love foreign coins, and while this was more fun when European countries had their own unique currencies, it’s still a lot of fun to try to collect Euro coins with backs representing as many countries as possible. You will likely even come home with coins representing countries you never set foot in!
While it may take more research and work and won’t result in the most uniform of souvenir collections, I’m still a proponent of researching a country (its culture, history, etc) and getting a souvenir that is truly unique to that area. For example, possibly the best thing I brought back from Ireland (aside from my authentic shamrock necklace – yes a bit touristy, but I love it!) was a St. Brigid’s cross. It took a while to find one actually handmade of straw (I refused to settle for some plastic tourist item!) but I eventually came across some at a gift shop at the Cliffs of Moher, and they were only 1 Euro each!