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If you’re looking for unique souvenir ideas, you’ve come to the right place.
Souvenirs are the bomb dot com.
They not only remind you of your worldwide adventures, but they also often help the local economy and allow you to immerse yourself in the culture. (Unless you buy them at the airport, of course!)
But not all souvenirs are created equal.
Some gather dust on the top shelf of your closet. Some are meant to be seen. And some are INSIDE you.
What? Inside you? Is this guy crazy?
You heard me right. Keep reading to see what I mean.
Table of Contents
- What are souvenirs?
- Types of souvenirs: Which is right for you?
- Unique Souvenir Ideas To Remember Your Travels
- Tips For Transporting Souvenirs Safely And Legally
- Frequently Asked Questions
What are souvenirs?
Souvenirs are items people use to remind them of events like travel. But really, a souvenir can commemorate any meaningful milestones in a person’s life.
Souvenirs are usually tangible items that include things like keychains, scarves, and postcards.
In some cases, souvenirs can be intangible things like skills, friends, or knowledge that you take home with you.
But souvenirs aren’t just for lifelong reminders of your adventures. For those looking to spread a little love, souvenirs make great travel gifts for friends and family who may have missed out on the travel fun.
Types of souvenirs: Which is right for you?
Now that we’ve covered what souvenirs are, let’s talk about the different types of souvenirs.
We’ve all heard of the more cliche souvenirs like keychains and postcards. And while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with those things, they only scratch the surface.
There are souvenirs to match any personality or occasion.
Most can be categorized by:
▶️ Wearable Souvenirs
▶️ Edible Souvenirs
▶️ Decorative Souvenirs
▶️ Intangible Souvenirs
Let’s look at the best souvenir ideas from each category.
Unique Souvenir Ideas To Remember Your Travels
1. Handmade Decorations
Ornaments and decorations can make wonderful souvenirs to commemorate a trip or special event. But don’t waste your money on mass-produced plastic trinkets that every other traveler buys.
Instead, opt for handmade.
Since the world is full of skilled craftsmen who sell their items to both locals and foreigners, handmade decorations aren’t hard to find. Plus, supporting a small, independent business can be your little way to support the local economy.
Since handmade ornaments are usually higher quality, prepare to pay a little extra.
2. A Travel Hobby
Remember when we said that souvenirs don’t have to be tangible?
You can also commemorate your trip by learning a new skill that you can take home with you.
This could be anything from taking a foreign language class abroad or a cooking class with a master chef.
I took salsa dancing classes when I visited Cali, Colombia (“Salsa Capital of the World”), and it’s a hobby I can take with me around the world.
Even if you don’t retain 100 percent of the information you learn, you’ll always have memories of that experience. And that’s priceless.
For more ideas, check out my full guide on awesome travel hobbies to enhance your trip.
3. Foreign Foods
Indulging in all the delectable food that a culture has to offer is part of what makes traveling worth it. When you return home, sometimes it’s the food you miss the most.
Fortunately, you can extend that bliss a little longer by bringing home goodies from your trip.
In many places, specialized snack shops sell a variety of readymade gift baskets for tourists to bring home. You could also freestyle things and put together your own assortment – a wonderful excuse to do a little extra shopping (and sampling).
4. Foreign Friends
Nothing enriches your trip more than making meaningful connections with the locals.
It gives you a deeper cultural understanding, and those connections can turn into lifelong friends.
Thanks to modern technology, that burgeoning friendship can serve as an especially precious souvenir of your trip (and will hopefully last forever).
Jewelry makes for a great souvenir because it’s something you wear (versus a trinket that collects dust in your closet). It’s also lightweight and easy-to-pack.
Certain jewelry can immediately show which region of the world you’ve traveled to, and it can also serve as a great conversation starter when you’re out and about.
For example, I once bought a leather bracelet etched with the Colombian flag. Whenever someone commented on it, it allowed me to share (and relive) my adventures in Colombia.
Speaking of Colombia, you could also research what types of gems a country is known for to score a good deal (just make sure it’s not fake!). Colombia is known for emeralds, so you can buy emerald jewelry cheaper there than in other countries.
Much like ornaments, look for homemade jewelry or one-of-a-kind designs rather than mass-produced stuff.
One way to never forget your epic adventure is to tat it on your body.
While this might sound extreme to some, some travelers get a tattoo of every single trip.
To take things a step further, you could get tattooed with traditional techniques. For example, in Thailand, you could get a sak yant tattoo, which is done with a bamboo rod.
If you’ve ever wanted to bring home a piece of the many lands you’ve traveled, then rocks are a great way to do so on a small scale.
Though little in size, rocks contain much of the chemical composition of their environment, so you’ll always have a part of it wherever you go.
Not to mention, rocks come in a variety of shapes, textures, and colors, and can add a decorative flair to your decor back home.
People have long shuffled seashells to and fro as a sign of a fun day at the beach. Considering their fanciful designs and shapes, it’s no wonder that people are awestruck by their natural beauty.
When it comes to international or even interstate travel, seashells are great little mementos to take home and enjoy or share with friends and family.
And if you’re crafty, you can even make them into jewelry or home decorations.
9. Local currency
If you’ve traveled far enough to have to exchange your local currency, then you already have a wonderful souvenir to bring back.
Yes, I’m talking about money. Cast. Dinero.
A country’s money can inform you a lot about the society — from the people printed on it to the increments in which they print their bills (ever heard of the $100 billion note from Zimbabwe?).
Flashing colorful bills back home can also be a great conversation starter with friends.
Fun fact: not every country’s money is as boring as it is in the United States. Canadian money, for example, is shiny and colorful. So if you ever get your hands on some, don’t spend it all.
When traveling to far-off lands, language barriers can quickly arise. But where words may get lost in translations, a picture can tell a complete story.
Art is an invaluable souvenir to give as a gift (or keep for yourself). It comes in many shapes and sizes — from paintings to sculptures.
My favorites are paintings of beautiful places I’ve been. For example, India is known for many fascinating things, but the Taj Mahal is one of the most iconic. And if you visited it, a painting would be a good souvenir idea.
Modern technology may have done away with much of the world’s demand for maps, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still useful.
Due to varying internet connectivity throughout the world, it’s always a great idea to have a paper map as a backup, just in case your GPS fails you.
And when it’s time to come home, the map will make a great souvenir.
That could be a map of a country, a city, or even a specific resort or tourist attraction.
11. Local Toys
Whether you have children of your own or are a proud aunt or uncle, the children in your life will be eager to find out what gifts you brought them.
One awesome way to include them in your travels – while still enjoying a child-free vacation – is to surprise them with local-made toys.
This is one of the best travel gifts for kids.
Not only will they feel like you’ve thought about them while away, but local toys can spark their interest in other cultures and traditions.
12. Wallets and Purses
Most people’s wallets are a little lighter after returning from vacation, but don’t let this tidbit keep you from bringing home wallet souvenirs.
Even if it will take a while to replenish said wallet, they’re a great little keepsake that you can carry in your daily life. This also applies to purses.
To get the most bang for your buck, try to aim for small stores over large commercial shops.
For many, the value of unique, handmade goods is more special than a purse or wallet from a store that anyone can buy — even if it’s cheaper.
The beautiful thing about a world as busy and boisterous as ours is that every region has its strengths.
When it comes to cosmetics, what you can get overseas is often superior to what we produce here in the states.
Take a little time to sift through the various masks and serums, often made with natural, more potent ingredients, and you’ll be sure to delight any skin and beauty enthusiasts in your life.
14. Wine And Spirits
Even if you don’t often indulge in alcohol, the chance to bring home foreign wine and spirits can turn into a fun souvenir.
Because of its long shelf life, you can sip and indulge for years or months to come – whenever you need a little pick me up.
On our honeymoon, Day and I bought a bottle of special liquor from the Dominican Republic. Then we drank it on our first anniversary to celebrate!
Wine and spirits also make great gifts for friends and family.
15. Shot Glasses
Speaking of liquor, shot glasses are cool souvenirs for the average traveler.
They may be small, but they’re packed with character. In some cases, the shot glass is literally a character or landmark.
No matter which shot glass design you choose, just make sure to bring a little somethin’-somethin’ home with you to fill it with.
Fragrances are powerful.
As time passes, the memories from your travels may fade, but taking home some of the various smells and aromas that are unique to the area can help trigger those memories.
When it comes to creating long-term memories, our olfactory senses play a huge role.
Memories linked to strong, pleasant (or not so pleasant) aromas seem to be hardwired into our brain for years to come — a fact that scientists believe is connected to the way our limbic system processes smell.
If you venture past the trendy tourist attractions, deep into the cities and villages, you’ll find many unique little artifacts.
While not particularly exciting on the surface, you shouldn’t overlook local weavery such as baskets, placemats, and even small area rugs.
They’re often better quality than anything you could get in a Homegoods store, which means that the small investment is more than worth it.
Not to mention, weavery makes great gifts!
18. Plates and Cutlery
People have long taken silverware as keepsakes to mark big life events such as weddings or graduations — a decorative fork here, a teacup there.
When you travel to other countries, you may see plates and cutlery like you’ve never imagined. And when you’re sitting in front of beautiful ornate silverware — silverware better fit for a museum than a dinner table — the urge to keep a little piece of that luxury will probably be strong.
But stealing is bad. So offer to buy it, or find a shop that sells it.
Candles make good gifts for nearly every age group. But there’s something extra special about a candle given as a souvenir.
Due to diverse customs and practices, foreign-made candles often come in a wide range of scents and designs not available in the states.
When you return home, the candles can serve as visual and decorative reminders of your travels.
Tips For Transporting Souvenirs Safely And Legally
Now that you’re full of unique souvenir ideas, there’s one thing left to consider — how to transport your goods home legally.
Unfortunately, some souvenirs (like exotic and invasive animals, plants, and fossils) are not allowed past airport or border security.
While rules vary by destination, a good rule of thumb is that anything that could disrupt the natural habitat you’re returning to (or the natural habitat you’ve left) is not a good idea.
This also applies to some foods, which could introduce foreign parasites or other harmful things into another country.
When it comes to alcohol, you should know that U.S. airports dictate that you can’t bring any liquids larger than 3.4 oz onto your carry-on — unless you purchase it in the airport shops after security checkpoints.
For checked luggage, avoid anything with over 70 percent alcohol. And make sure to pack bottles carefully. Airport workers are notorious for throwing bags around.
If ever in doubt, read up on international and local laws online. Cool souvenirs won’t do you any good if they get confiscated by airport security.
Frequently Asked Questions
When souvenir hunting for someone, consider their personality and the things they like. For example, if they’re a foodie, bring them a traditional snack to try. Just remember that certain souvenirs like rocks and shells will be far less interesting for other people than they are for you.
The best souvenir ideas for friends depend on what your friends like. If they’re a big jewelry-wearer, find some local jewelry. If they have a boring house, buy them some cool art. If they like to party, grab them a bottle of the national liquor.
The most interesting souvenir depends on your definition of interesting. If by interesting you mean strange, you’ve got snake wine from Asia, canned fresh mountain air from Iceland, stuffed toads from Australia, animal dung coffee from Indonesia, and of course, bug-filled candy and chocolate bars.
The most common souvenirs vary by country. But in most countries, they include magnets, picture frames, wallets, toys, handmade clothes and blankets, art, license plates, jewelry, home decorations, handmade trinkets, and random pieces of nature — like rocks, seashells, wood, and leaves.
The cheapest souvenirs are objects from nature. This could be a special rock, shell, or piece of driftwood you find in a memorable spot during your vacation. Taking these from popular tourist destinations is frowned upon, but if you’re in the middle of nowhere, nobody’s going to miss a rock.
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered — where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
His advice has been featured in Forbes, USA Today, Yahoo, MSN, Reader’s Digest, Condé Nast Traveler, and more.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).