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Finding the Right Souvenir
Traveling Light and Packing Souvenirs
Why We Buy Dumb Souvenirs
Finding the Right Souvenir

Crete, Greece


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

As much as I hate to admit it, I spend a significant portion of my family vacation shopping for unique mementos. I love touring local markets and visiting craft shops. And no matter where I travel, I also check out the supermarket. While the premise may be curiosity, I'm secretly hoping to stumble on a great find.

Select a souvenir that reminds you of your trip
While it may be pointless to buy ten sarong on trip to Bali simply because they are 50 cents cheaper than in the stores at home, you don't have to buy something big or expensive for it to be a meaningful souvenir. Wind chimes may be small but their sound may take you back to the Indonesian countryside. Leather sandals with tire treads soles, purses made from bottle tops, and baskets made out of recycled telephone wire are unique and functional African souvenirs. But before you purchase that brightly colored canvas from a street vendor in Rio de Janeiro ask yourself, truthfully, if you will actually hang the painting on a wall in your house.

A souvenir need not be avant-garde to be original. Size or shape may be enough to make a German cut glass vase unique. Yet if you intend to make a specific purchase on holiday it is wise to begin your search at home. Check availability and price (don't forget to factor in the cost of shipping) at virtual stores and neighborhood shops before you depart. There's nothing worse than returning from a trip to find that you paid significantly more for your coveted memento or that your neighbor just purchased the same object online.

When and where to buy
My husband prefers to purchase souvenirs on the first shopping trip. While further searching may uncover better deals, for him, after a hundred shops the novelty has slipped away and the souvenir has lost all appeal. For me, there's nothing worse than returning home empty handed. So we compromise. We buy 'conventional' souvenirs such as beaded sandals and leather belts on the first or second day but keep an eye out for unique mementos throughout the trip.

Families intent on making a significant purchase on holiday, be it a leather jacket or work of art, should begin their search in a licensed shop. Once you've learned to distinguish quality - hand painted and machine printed batiks are not the same - take your search to the street. But don't be surprised if you find yourself returning to a boutique. Goods hawked at local markets are rarely for the intending eye.

Consider how you will get your mementos home
The hand painted dishes characteristic of Vietri, Italy may prove hard to pass up. But let's face it, shipping a place setting for twelve halfway round the world may radically change the economics of a new set of tableware. What's more, recent hand luggage restrictions have reduced the amount each passenger can carry on board. More often than not, odd shaped souvenirs are relegated to the hold. So before you purchase a bulky yet fragile souvenir consider how you will get it home.

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