There are plenty of cheap, mass-produced souvenirs for sale in touristy areas – one of my strongest memories of Paris is of constantly declining to buy anything from the guys draped with dozens of mini Eiffel Tower replica keychains – but every once in a while you come across a souvenir that truly connects to you. The perfect souvenir can come in many forms – the functional one that you use regularly for years to come, the sentimental kind that makes you smile fondly every time you glance at it, and the truly unique one that never fails to start a conversation. I asked a group of fellow bloggers from around the world to weigh in on the best souvenirs that they’ve purchased throughout their travels.
Christmas ornament from Germany
By Sage from Everyday Wanderer
As a kid, my father’s job caused us to move frequently. To patch our various destinations together, my mom collected souvenirs from the places we lived and turned them into Christmas ornaments — a starfish from Florida for the top of the tree, a pair of miniature wooden shoes from the Netherlands, a cable car from San Francisco. But my favorite of all was a wooden ornament of twins snuggled together in a crib from the Christkindlmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany.
Each Christmas when we decorated the tree, I sought out that ornament and made sure it was placed in a prominent spot. When it was time to take the tree down and put everything away, sometimes without knowing where we’d be celebrating the next Christmas, I made sure the wooden twins were safely tucked away.
Fast forward to years later when I celebrated my first Christmas as a mother. I hosted Christmas at my house in Kansas City, and my parents and sisters arrived from their southwestern, warmer weather states. My twins, Bo and Juliette, were just five months old, and any parent can attest to the added magic and joy of celebrating your first Christmas with your beautiful baby (or babies, in my case). As we gathered to decorate the tree, my mom handed me a small, wrapped box, encouraging me to open this gift early. As I pulled off the lid, my beloved Christmas ornament — the twins in their cradle — was nestled inside.
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Paintings from Guatemala
By Megan from Red Around the World
I’m not even sure how long I had been in Antigua, but I made myself a fixture at the hostel bar for an afternoon just hanging out with whoever came through and enjoying margaritas. Two people stick out: one, because I hung out with them later, two, because I got an awesome souvenir. An older guy came in and hunkered down at the bar next to me. In my broken Spanish and his broken English we managed some sort of conversation. He brought a sketchbook with him and was showing me some of his paintings and I loved them. I had been trying not to buy one on the street the whole time because I didn’t want destroy it in my backpack, but this was destiny, I guess. I told him they were wonderful and he asked if I wanted one, so I said sure! I picked one out, he ripped it out, and handed it to me. I noticed there were two and tried to give it back, but he just waved me off and let me keep both. I managed to keep both in one piece the rest of my trip and have vowed from the day I got home (three years ago) to get them framed soon.
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Massai Sandals from Tanzania
By Nina from Safari Junkie
Whenever I shop for souvenirs on trips I am always after something that I can use when I get back home. Mugs, a piece of nice handmade ethnic jewelry, exotic spices…something that will remind me of my trip whenever I use it. In Tanzania I came across beautiful leather beaded flip-flops, hand made by Massai women. The funny story behind this is that the lady who was selling them didn’t want to take my money, but she insisted we do an exchange. My sunglasses for one pair of sandals. I was happy to trade. Every time I wear these beautiful sandals at home I am carrying a peace of Africa with me.
Jade Cabbage from South Korea
By Kelly from Girl With the Passport
I have to say, I am a quirky traveler by nature, so I bring home a ton of random souvenirs that people raise their eyebrows at. But, my all-time favorite souvenir, and the one I got the oddest looks for, was this jade cabbage that I got from a department store in Seoul, South Korea.
Totally random right? Well, not really when you remember that Kimchi is a staple food of Korea. I mean this spicy, fermented cabbage dish is the one food that is most symbolic of Korea and that is served with pretty much every single meal there.
Plus, there is an ancient tradition in Korea that every year, when the cabbage is harvested in the spring, families come to together to prepare the Kimchi and store it for the winter.
So not only is cabbage a symbol of Korea but it is something that brings families and communities together. That and my mom totally looked at me like I had six heads when I brought this thing home since it was jade and therefore totally expensive. But the cabbage statue had to be made of jade since this stone is an iconic symbol of politeness and determination in Korea culture. So yes, this souvenir may be totally weird and random, but it truly is the best souvenir that I ever got, not just for the memories it brings me but for the hilarious look that my mom gave me when I brought it home.
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Conch Shell from Turks and Caicos
By Kerry from The Petite Wanderer
Three years ago, I went to Turks and Caicos with my mom on a girls trip. We decided to give snorkeling a go because the island is known for having some of the best marine life in the Caribbean. We went on one of those typical glass-bottom boat snorkeling tours. The company was owned by a local family, who had lived on the island their entire lives. We hit it off with the owners and had a blast – dancing, drinking, and singing! After the tour was over, the owners proceeded to drop everyone off at their hotels, except for my mom and I. We ended up going back out to sea to have some freshly made conch ceviche (conch is a hugely popular dish in Turks and Caicos). After sailing for some time, the boat halted and one of the workers jumped into the water. A minute later, he emerged with a huge conch shell. This thing was bigger than my head! The captain ended up using the sea snail for his conch ceviche recipe. Definitely one of the more adventurous dishes I have tried during my travels!
Meanwhile, the youngest worker, who was my age, started chatting with me. Ten minutes into the conversation and he was asking me to come stay with him on the island and that we could get married!
Needless to say, I rejected his offer. But to this day, that encounter is pretty funny to look back on. The captain of the boat let me keep the conch shell. I still have it on display in my bedroom, and every time I look at it, it reminds me of the awesome adventure we had with Caribbean islanders!
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Postcards from around the world
By Odette from Omnivagant
On my first trip to Stockholm I had wandered through tons of souvenir places, but I couldn’t decide which one to pick. I bought some postcards to post to friends and family, but somehow forgot to send them! I chucked them in a box and didn’t think twice about them again. But a year later, I went backpacking around Europe, and when I found myself in the souvenir shop seeing some postcards, I got an idea. Instead of only sending them, why not use them as a travel souvenir? They are cheap, easy to carry around, and you can collect a hundred of them without it overflowing your backpack (I speak of experience)! And that is how my ultimate travel souvenir started. In every city, or every country I would head down to a souvenir shop and find myself the prettiest postcards. Now, 5 years later, I have collected postcards from 29 countries! After being abroad for a year, and coming home in 2016 I managed to arrange around 150 of them on my wall. The collection was made up of postcards from Europe, Southeast Asia and North America. I could stare at them for hours, remembering the city, the shop, or even the people I was with when I bought them! And every night I could fall asleep next to the postcards dreaming of where I would go find my next postcard.
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Music box from Italy
By Nicky from That Anxious Traveller
I love souvenirs which evoke the senses and remind me of a place in a way which is more than visual – with this in mind, one of my favorite souvenirs I’ve picked up from my travels is an inlaid wood music box, which I bought in Sorrento, Italy.
Sorrento has long been famous for its marquetry – they’ve been producing wooden crafts there since the early 19th century – and if you visit the town, you’ll see it in abundance. Walk down any of the sunny sidestreets, and you’ll find workshops where craftsmen design, make and sell beautiful furniture, chess sets, and (my personal favorite), music boxes.
My music box was bought from one of these workshops, and it’s so smooth to the touch! It glides open, the mechanism gently starts, and it plays “Torna A Surriento” – Return To Sorrento. I adore this sad yet lovely tune, and the lyrics strike the heart of anyone who has visited the town:
“Look at the sea of Surriento,
What a treasure it is!
Even who has travelled all over the world,
He has never seen a sea like this one”.
In the music box, I keep some Murano glass, and a cameo pendant from Bimonte, the oldest cameo workshop in Sorrento. As a total cat fanatic, I remember spotting it in their window, and knowing it was the perfect souvenir for me! The cameos are hand-carved from shells in the doorway of the shop; you can stand and watch them being made – it’s an amazing process, and very skillful. I ended up not only buying one, but exchanging cat photos with the owner: definitely a souvenir experience to remember!
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Tea cups from South Korea
By Stephanie from Road Unraveled
Perhaps the single best part of traveling is the connections you make with others, and nothing reminds me of that fact more than two porcelain tea cups that serve as my souvenirs from a trip to Seoul. I saved the last morning of my trip to visit the Beautiful Tea Museum. As an avid tea drinker, the idea of spending an hour or two learning about tea in South Korea sounded like the perfect way to wrap up my trip. I arrived to find the door open but the museum closed; somehow, I had timed my visit for a morning when the museum was closed. As I turned to leave, I heard a voice ask me if I spoke English. When I said yes, I did, a woman appeared and invited me to join her and her friends—one of whom owned the Beautiful Tea Museum—for a traditional Korean tea service. I gratefully accepted the invitation, and I spent the next two hours learning, laughing, and sipping tea.
When the time came for me to leave, the museum’s owner asked me to wait for her as she dashed out of the room. When she returned, she brought a small, wrapped package, the contents of which were to help me remember my new friends and my time in Seoul. I didn’t open the package until I arrived at the airport, but when I did I discovered the two white tea cups. It has been years since I received those beautiful souvenirs, but to this day they are tangible proof and a constant reminder that adventure and friendship can be found in all corners of the world.
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Dress from Morocco
By Lola from Miss Filatelista
Besides the boyfriend that I picked up in Spain, my favorite souvenirs have always been those that are wearable local handicrafts. My career prior to traveling full-time was in fashion in New York City. My fascination with textiles and costumes fuels the majority of my purchases while traveling. From beaded necklaces in Borneo to vintage Bollywood outfits in India, I collect something wearable from local artisans everywhere I go. My most meaningful purchase was a hand-embroidered dress that was custom made for me by a nonprofit that I spent nearly two weeks with in the Moroccan Sahara Desert near Merzouga. One of the programs of the Khamlia Association is teaching female villagers how to craft traditional textiles and providing them a sales outlet to earn their own income. During my visit, I was shown the tedious process of making a Moroccan rug. My beloved dress was also made by beneficiaries of the charity and boasts vibrant traditional symbols and neon pom poms.
Attar from India
By Tania from Azure Sky Follows
The city of Hyderabad in India has gained shining popularity owing to the mouth-watering Biryani it serves. But, there is another specialty of Hyderabad which the world still doesn’t know about. There are people in Hyderabad who manufacture and sell ‘attar’. Attar is a kind of perfume made out of rose petals. The attar makers of Hyderabad are continuing this business for more than four generations. It obviously makes them special.
During my time in Hyderabad, I walked through narrow lanes, crowded streets and dump-zones searching for the neighborhood which has attar shops. I found one such shop and the friendly owner let me go through his wide range of attars!
I got myself a particular kind of attar and the little bottle today sits proudly on the shelf of my home. I am proud of this souvenir. It smells of Hyderabad. It has sweet memories attached. I am too fond of it to use it.
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Mask from Italy
By Rashmi and Chalukya from Go Beyond Bounds
There are only a few countable items we have ever bought back as souvenirs from the destinations we visit. For us, the pictures we take of the places and the experiences make for great memories. We have a few collector chocolate boxes from Switzerland and couple of magnets from Budapest – those were the ones that touched our hearts instantly – and one other souvenir which is close to our heart is the Venetian Mask a souvenir from the city of canals Venice. When exploring the city of Venice you will find plenty of them in shops and stalls along the alleys and in squares in a varied assortment of colors, designs and sizes in a range of prices from one or two euros to as high as 100 Euros. We were so very fascinated by the show of dazzling colors and pretty designs that one of them had to make to our small collections of favorite possessions.
Traditionally the Venetian masks were originally made of leather or glass bedecked with gold, silver, and precious gems and were wore by people to hide their identity and expressions in public. In Venice, this traditional art of making and wearing the Venetian masks is celebrated in Venice during the ‘Carnival of Venice’ which is an annual fest. The street parade with people wearing colorful and stunning masks is a sight to behold. Today the masks are fancier and embellished with feathers, lace, and ornate painting which make for a great souvenir to take back home.
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Sand art from Cambodia
By Sapna from My Simple Sojourn
My most interesting souvenir is one I had bought from Siem Reap in Cambodia. One evening I was walking in the evening market near the pub street and I noticed a guy was doing something under a bulb on the table. On closer look, I noticed that he was pouring sand into a bottle and making sand art in it. He had ready bottles for selling and was also making customized designs. I bought a ready bottle with a colorful design and Cambodia written with sand. There were small and large bottles and price varied from 8 to 13 USD. He even made a customized bottle with customer’s name written with sand inside a big bottle in front of me.
I came to know that he takes 1.00 to 1.30 Hour to make one bottle of sand art. He was using fine quality sand in different colors. He was pouring sand into the bottle with a long tail funnel with a thin opening and then adjusting the sand with a knitting needle kind of stick to create a design in the bottle. The sand art in the finished bottle was very tightly packed. He closed the bottle with a cork and tied a small square cloth on it and the whole thing looked beautiful.
I shook a finished bottle and there was no effect on design. It was an intricate and unique gift I got from Cambodia.
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Cataplana from Portugal
By Jemma from Portugalist
God bless the copper trend, because it means my Algarvian cataplana dish has suddenly become fashionable. This spaceship-looking cooking pot opens and closes like a clam-shell, with hinges to keep it sealed as the food steams inside. It’s ideal for cooking one-pot wonders, especially the rich seafood stew named after it.
When most people think of the Algarve, they think of raucous bars and busy beaches. My experience of the region is totally different. I spend a lot of time inland visiting family in the medieval town of Silves, which is probably why I think of its rugged hillsides peppered with wild strawberry bushes, dilapidated pick-up trucks loaded with ripe oranges, and dusty café bars with weathered men sitting outside, sipping brandy at 10am.
Nothing evokes ‘Algarve’ to me more than sitting in a traditional marisqueira, watching the fishing boats come in, as a steaming cataplana dish is plopped in front of me – flipped open and releasing its rich aroma, packed with chunks of ocean fish and various shellfish.
I bought my cataplana dish at Silves’ San Martinho fair, a market that takes place at the beginning of November. The stalls sell a crazy mix of earthenwear pots, farm tools and knock-off sportswear. The smell of roasted chestnuts and fried dough hangs heavily in the air, while people chew on octopus jerky.
Cooking is one of my big passions in life, and I love this pot because no matter where I am in the world, I’m immediately taken back to the Portuguese coast whenever I open the lid. It’s also multi-functional – I’ve cooked everything in it, from zingy Thai green currys and fiery Indian karahis to Mexican chillis and Italian stews.
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Leather heels from Italy
By Natalie from The Educational Tourist
My all-time favorite souvenir is a colorful pair of leather heels I bought in Rome. It was the first international trip for the whole family including the kids.
That evening was the first night my husband and I had alone and we passed a leather shoe store with the most gorgeous heels in the window. Even though Italy is known for leather goods I thought it would be more practical to get a handbag or some shoes in a basic color, but nothing called my name like these fantastic shoes. They were bright and sky high and like nothing I had ever worn before and I loved them. They were like shoes a movie star would wear, someone amazing and glamorous. Could that someone be…..me?
My husband encouraged me to try them on. They were even more fabulous on than they were in the window!! We bought them and even though they took up way too much room in the suitcase and are WAY too high to actually wear, they occupy a place of ‘art’ in my bookshelf and in my heart. I smile every time I see them. These glorious shoes remind me that travel and exploration and fabulous shoes are for everyone!!
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Money from around the world
By Petro from World Mission 196
I travel to many countries so it is very tricky to collect souvenirs. I started off with postcards, magnets, and currency. It has been reduced to only currency now. I now have a large stack of money from all over the world. My idea would be to either auction it once I have been to every country or make a decoupage with all the notes. Everyone always enjoys to go through the notes and look at the differences between currencies. Once I met someone from Taiwan and she was impressed that I had a note from Taiwan. It is also a simple souvenir to keep with you. I just make sure to keep one note but at times I have managed to have notes remaining worth a fair bit still but I still refuse to exchange it.
Cheburaska from Russia
By Enikő from Travel Hacker Girl
My first solo trip was to Russia when I was 19 years old. I spent 3 months in the country as an au pair. I loved my time in Russia. I lived with a host family and looked after a 10-year-old girl. I improved my Russian a lot during this time, which was part of the reason I wanted to go to Russia. I also got to know some amazing people, the culture and cuisine. One day I came across this teddy bear Cheburaska in a bookstore. If you don’t know Cheburashka it is a famous Russian cartoon character. It was love at first sight! I decided to buy it. This was over 4 years ago. I have been travelling with Cheburashka ever since. We have visited 12 countries since. I make sure to take a picture of my travel buddy in each country. I have quite a collection by now on my blog! My little teddy reminds me of the best decision of my life, to go and travel after finishing high school. Many people thought I was crazy to travel by myself and spend 3 months in Siberia. In fact, I had a great time and that trip motivated me to go and explore even more places.
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Goshuincho from Japan
By Mae-Gene from The Wandering Suitcase
My all-time favorite souvenir I’ve brought home is the Goshuincho from the three months I spent in Japan. The name Goshuincho translates to “honorable red stamp book” in Japanese. Traditionally, a Goshuincho is a book that pilgrims use as proof to their dedication and to record the Temples or Shrines that they visit in Japan. These days, Goshuincho is not only used by pilgrims. It is fashionable for young Japanese to collect Goshuin (red stamps) now and you may even spot the odd tourist collecting Goshuin as a souvenir.
When in Japan, I loved seeking out the counter to collect my Goshuin at each Temple or Shrine I visited. In an age where everything is digitized, and travel memories are often in the form of digital photos, there was an element of novelty that came from collecting physical stamps from each temple I visited. Once you hand over your Goshuincho book, the monk will stamp your book and will also write in your book with a calligraphy pen. It’s beautiful seeing the effortlessness involved in creating such a beautiful page, which is unique to each temple or shrine. Now that I have arrived home, I love to pull out my Goshuincho to remember the beautiful shrines and temples I visited while in Japan.
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Komodo dragon statue from Indonesia
By Umiko from Two Worlds Treasures
No doubt the Komodo Dragon wooden statue I bought from our trip to Flores, Indonesia last summer was the best. I bought it when our boat anchored near the Komodo Island for the night from the villager who came to our boat. Too bad I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but it was a good price compared to the same one in the souvenir shop by the airport. The story after I bought the statue is what made this souvenir so special.
After island hopping we continued with overland tour all the way to the east part of Flores Island. Because we only brought a small suitcase with us and it was packed, the komodo statue had to sit on my lap for the next 5 days! It didn’t come with packaging at all, so I was afraid it would break. When we took a plane to the other island, I opened the tray in front of me and sat the statue on it. My lap needed a break. The stewardess was shocked when she was about to distribute snack boxes to our row. She thought it was a real Komodo. It was hilarious when I saw her gasp!
And it was even hilarious after we arrived home in Texas. I took the statue picture and posted it on my Facebook. Apparently, my explanation made family and friends think I brought a real Komodo dragon home. “How could you bring it home? Don’t you have to quarantine it? Yikes! I want one, too! How big is it going to be?” and so on. My husband and I had a big laugh reading all the comments. Now Flores (my son named it after the island) sits on the desk in my husband’s classroom.
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What’s your favorite souvenir ever? Let us know in the comments!
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I have paintings from Guatemala too!
I love this! I try to collect something that represents each country I go to 🙂 When you don’t travel full time I think it’s important to surround yourself with memories!
What a great insight! We are a fan of the Christmas Decoration too – the very first one on your list. After breaking a couple in transit through we always go for the sturdiest and tackiest we can find! I brought moose pyjamas back from Canada…useful and even clumsy me can’t break a pair of pjs. Maybe this will become my new tradition – pyjamas from around the world!
This is so fun! I bought some really cool textiles when I was in Turkey several years ago and have them all over my house.
So nice to read what other people bring home! I’ve started bringing back practical homey things… the latest is a wine stopper from Italy, that reminds me of the many many bottles of great wine consumed on that trip 🙂
I’m in LOVE with that postcard display!!! I collect postcards too (for exactly the same reasons) and then put them in a huge book when I get home. My absolute favourite souvenir wasn’t something I bought – I did a Navajo guided tour in Monument Valley which is still one of my favourite experiences. Our guide had some beautiful beaded jewellery around his neck with a little piece hanging down from it, and I commented on how nice it was. He took off the little attachment and handed it to me!! Such an incredible gift, it’s now one of my most treasured possessions. 🙂
I like the ideas. Happy that you liked Attar from India. It’s quite strong and not everyone likes it