Episode #4: Souvenirs

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I’m sure what I am about to say could be psychoanalyzed, but I enjoy shopping.  I think it is probably the most enjoyable while traveling. Over the years, I’ve learned to become a more purposeful shopper.  I’d rather fill my house with items that mean something to me rather than something that was at Target or Ikea, and it simply filled the space.  Today, I hope to share my shopping wisdom with you.

As you travel, you will find lots of souvenir shops with tacky key chains and shot glasses.  You can buy those kind of souvenirs too, but it is going to end up just being “stuff” that you have.  I try to find souvenirs that can be passed down–either the physical item itself or the memory of it. These long-term souvenirs will hold greater value to you or the recipient.

Today’s list is an assortment of 17 different items that you may want to be on the lookout for during your trip.  Not every item on this list will apply to every place you go, but pick and choose what you like.


  1. Take advantage of the local crafts.

    1. Sometimes when you visit a place, there are certain crafts they may be known for.  When we were in Poland, I fell in love with Polish Pottery. The colorful patterns are a distinctive design to Poland.  It is much more exciting to get out my coffee and creamer set when it brings up memories of being in old town Warsaw. At times, it can be difficult to bring these items home.  We made use of the Polish Postal service to send home our goods. Although it took about 4 months for us to get our package, we only spent about $40 to get it home. You may want to consider creative ways to transport your souvenirs.  Sometimes the local craft may be a traditional piece like the Polish pottery, or it could be more modern. When my dad was on a road trip with his father-in-law, visiting our genealogical past, he found an artist that made necklaces out of broken porcelain.  I think what is so enjoyable about these types of gifts are that they are one-of-a-kind.
  2. See the art, buy the art print.

    1. This is probably the souvenir I purchase most often. I usually try to stick with just carry on luggage, so I don’t have much space for extras. By getting a poster tube, I can find multiple prints and keep them safely rolled and stowed away in the side pocket of my bag. The only issue with this becomes that my husband and I are fighting for wall space in our house. If you are looking for reasonable frames to showcase your new art, I recommend visiting IKEA, or using Snap frames as an affordable option. One of my favorite prints came from a bouquiniste while strolling along the Seine River in Paris. For less than $10 I found two prints that embodied haute couture, and it is a fun little surprise to see these prints when I go to grab a scarf since they are displayed right above my collection.  If you are really trying to be frugal, buy a calendar. I’ve been known to rip out each month and make a gallery wall out of it. When I was in the Cinque Terre in Italy, I found an artist who made a calendar out of his paintings. Just like that, I had twelve prints to create a cohesive wall of art. Sometimes I catch myself sitting on the couch, as I’m lost in thought, staring at my print and being drifted away.
  3. Bring the smells home.

    1. I’m sure you’ve experienced it.  You are walking along, minding your own business, and then you smell something, and immediately you have been transported through time and space to whatever moment is stored in your memory bank.  Thanks to the olfactory bulb, messages are sent to areas in our brain that hold memories and emotions. Sometimes those memories are thanks to travel. If I happen to be in a place that has a distinct smell, I try to capture that with a souvenir.  While in Provence, France, lavender was queen. At one little shop, I found fresh-made lavender scented soaps. As if a bath wasn’t relaxing enough, lavender scented soaps made it all the more serene. Even if it is not a scent you bring home, hold onto that memory.  At one of our apartments we stayed at, there was a strong garlic aroma lingering in the hallway. Even something as simple as roasting some garlic at home can take me back.
  4. Read between the lines, and buy a book.

    1. There are several different approaches you can take with this souvenir.  Maybe it is just a hip bookstore, and you want to remember it by picking up a book of your choice.  Shakespeare and Company is a great example of this. Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast called to me from the shelves.  Buying it and reading it while in Paris made the book come more alive.  Perhaps a book in a foreign language is to your liking. Although you may not be able to comprehend these books as well, it can be an opportunity to learn more of the language.  My aunt has been working on her French by reading Harry Potter in French. I have ambitions to do the same with Le Petit Prince. Or, maybe the cuisine of your travels is something you’d like to bring to your kitchen.  Cookbooks are special additions to your library. I have cookbooks from New Orleans that have taught me how to make jambalaya just right. If you get a chance to pick up a new read, picking it up during travels might be the right move.
  5. Get a doggy bag.  Bring home food or drinks that left an impact.

    1. Have you ever had a taste of something, and having it once just wasn’t enough.  On almost every trip I take, there is a food that I fall in love with, and I need to have it again to survive.  You can take a cooking class to learn the recipe, or you can bring home key ingredients. You’ll want to look online to make sure you are not smuggling back illegal foods, but typically canned and packaged goods are fine.  Alcohols are okay as long as you check them since they surpass the 3 oz maximum for liquids. When you actually go to enjoy the samples you brought back, make a big deal out of it. Invite people over to share the food and beverage with others. Some of my favorite souvenirs I’ve brought home are Toc Cheese Crackers, Super Sur Sour Candy, and many wines.
  6. Scoop up some sand or rocks.
    1. I’m not saying you should go chisel a piece off Stonehenge.  People have done that before, but our intent is not to be destructive.  While you are out, see if there are any unique rocks to bring home. In Petoskey, Michigan, I was on the hunt for a Petoskey stone.  And I actually found one! Make sure you aren’t accidentally bringing home chunks of concrete. When I am at a beach, I take a water bottle and add some sand.  Grab a couple shells and sea glass if you see it. My father-in-law is the king of “can you bring me back a rock?” It is just a natural way of bringing a place home.  When you do get home, I recommend writing on the rock where it is from. Otherwise you just have a big collection of rocks from somewhere.
  7. Hold onto those glass bottles.

    1. Recycling, or repurposing can not only be a gift to yourself, but also to the planet. While traveling, you may notice that glass bottles are more prevalent.  A simple water bottle can become a great way to store sand or transform into a makeshift vase. While in Venice, I saved my aunt’s Campari bottle to store little pebbles I found.  How many times do you see something at the store with writing in a foreign language? This is a way to make your own version with something relatable.
  8. Take photographs and film videos.

    1. I know this one is kind of obvious, but it is my favorite memento, so I have to share it.  This one doesn’t necessarily cost money, which is nice. The key is to do something with your photos.  Make a video montage, frame some of your favorites, or check out my Etsy store at Liberated Traveler to get some other ideas on how to creatively capture your travels.  Not that I’m trying to promote myself. In the future, I will share a podcast with you about how to take better travel photos.
  9. Play that funky music.
    1. Finding music to bring home started with my first trip abroad.  I was fourteen years old and headed to Ireland on a ladies trip with my mom, grandmother, and aunts.  While out shopping, I found a CD with classic Irish pub music. When I got home, I really missed being in Ireland.  The first signs of wanderlust were sinking in. There were so many nights I laid in bed with my headphones in, listening to Whisky in the Jar.  That started my obsession with bringing back music.  Sometimes I go to a music store to find the top billboard CD’s and pick one.  Other times I go to a concert and pick up a CD at the end. I’ve even been known to use the app Soundhound to find the title for a song playing at the bar.  With apps like Spotify, it is even easier to make a playlist of your favorites.
  10. Pick up some new threads.
    1. I typically avoid buying clothing unless it is something unique to the place.  I’m not against going shopping during the Soldes in Paris (which are their bi-annual sales), but usually I am looking for something I can’t get at home.  I’ve bought scarves, shoes, skirts, and even sweatshirts when a place is colder than I anticipated. It is kind of fun when someone says, I like your scarf.  Where did you get it? And you get to respond with, oh, I bought this in southern France. Something to think about.
  11. Get some bling.  
    1. If you are lucky, you are visiting a place with a distinct kind  of jewelry style. In Poland, amber is the way to go. With the Catholic influence, I knew a cross made out of amber was the perfect gift for my Polish grandma.  Don’t just buy jewelry because. Make sure you are seeking quality.
  12. Drape your home with linens.
    1. Some places you go will have distinct patterns or types of fabrics.  If that is the case, it might be a good idea to bring home some linens.  I have tablecloths and placemats from Provence that go out in the Spring and the vibrant colors repress the winter blues.  Little kitchen towels with sweet phrases make cleaning up not such a chore. I also enjoy buying fabric to later be used for a multitude of purposes.  My aunts have been kind enough to make napkins for me out of fabrics from travels. There are many options for how you can make use of this souvenir.
  13. Decorate your home with your travels.
    1. You probably won’t see pictures of my house in Better Homes and Gardens, but it is a perfect mashup of my husband and I.  The largest influence in our design is our travels. It might be a lamp we bought in Columbus, Ohio from a Turkish store, or a decorative antique tray for the kitchen.  I am excited to take a road trip this summer because I feel like I don’t buy much for the garden since it is typically not compact and customs doesn’t really like it when you bring back live plants.  This is a way to surround yourself with memories.
  14. Make way for new traditions.
    1. While traveling you will notice that overall, humans are pretty similar.  Something that makes each culture stand out is its traditions. Purchasing the little Swedish gnome known as a Tomte protects our farm which is a plot of about 8 tomato plants, 2 varieties of lettuce, some herbs, cucumbers and zucchini.  This is just one way we’ve brought in a new tradition.
      If you are like the Italians, you’ll leave out some wine and food to feed the witch known as Befana as she drops off candy for the kids in stockings on January 6th.  Perhaps you’d like to make some of these cultural traditions part of your own.
  15. Get accustomed to other cultural customs.
    1. Building on traditions, you may also want to bring home the souvenir of customs.  As you visit new places, you will see that they sometimes perform events in life a certain way.  Maybe you’d like to treat your family to a standard Italian five-course meal. Start with an aperitivo which is a drink to warm up your appetite.  Feed that appetite with the antipasto first. Next, you will be ready for the primo. This is the pasta part of the dish. It is interesting how it is served separately for the main course.  The secundo is next. This is the meat dish. After you’ve filed yourself with that, it is time for the contorno which is the veggie dish. If your sweet tooth has been calling, the dolce is next.  Then of course, you should probably have a coffee, too. Finally, you will finish with a digestive to help the meal go down. If this sounds like too much, go for an afternoon fika, which is a Swedish coffee and  pastry. My husband has found a way to bring this into his teaching life by calling the students’ snack time a fika. No coffee for them, though.
  16. Seek and send postcards.
    1. This is a classic. I think writing postcards is more important than ever because it is one of the few forms of writing that I still do. When I receive a postcard from a far off land, I feel loved because that person took time from their getaway to think about me. A couple of twists that I have seen with postcards are writing one to yourself. My aunt introduced me to the idea of a postcard journal. Write to yourself about your adventures, send them, then put them together in a scrapbook or keepsake of some sort. I can see this being a great idea for kids. It allows them to write without having to put down a whole novel, and hopefully it would be something they cherish later. Another idea my father-in-law mentioned was purchasing postcards from an antique store, finding vintage versions, then take them with you to use and send. Your trip will be encapsulated in a new way.
  17. Knowledge is power.  Bring it back.
    1. I have saved the best for last.  The ultimate gift you can give yourself on a trip is the knowledge you have gained.  If a vacation is planned well, you will come back with a greater wisdom about the world we live in.  You will hopefully feel more connected to people, and empowered by the experiences you had. These are the true souvenirs that have left a life-long impact on me.


Hopefully, the next time you are out and about shopping for souvenirs, you’ll have some guidance to help you make rewarding choices.


I’d love to hear about your favorite souvenirs.  Please visit my website liberatedtraveler.com to leave a comment.  I hope you join me next week. Thank you for listening.


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