What’s the stupidest thing you ever bought or took home as a souvenir? Popular souvenirs that makes you roll your eyes now, or you possibly have already thrown away. For me, it’s this little Vietnamese doll key chain. It’s too big to use, and yet, I still have it!
My view of souvenirs has changed as my travel experiences change. On my first international trip I bought things because I saw them in a lot of stores and thought buying one would help me remember that place better. This is false, by the way.
What I’ve learned is that the best souvenirs are either 1. functional or 2. carry an emotional attachment. If I will use something in my every day life, it becomes a functional reminder of that trip, a happy memory to brighten my day when I use it.
But there are some travel souvenirs you love and will keep forever!
Popular Souvenirs To Bring Home
I’ve finally decided that I don’t need to collect everyone’s currency anymore. I will usually have a little left over anyway, if I think I need to save some to look at later. But really, I’m not doing educational tours, displaying what other people’s money looks like, and I’m definitely not using it to buy anything here. So it sits in a box in my drawer, perhaps awaiting the day that I return to said places and want to buy a stick of gum. Not one of the best souvenirs to bring home!
Photo books and prints are also fun souvenirs because they serve as conversation starters and carry personal connections. They are great because there’s no need to fill out a customs declaration when you return to the United States! You can opt to buy a coffee table photo book at the location you are visiting, or make your own with your beautiful vacation pics!
Art can be one of the best souvenirs to bring home – if it’s not big or bulky! Small paintings or statues are excellent. They’ll remind you of the trip of a lifetime every day when you display them in your home!
If we want to talk function, I have to mention the things you buy that you use on the trip. Umbrellas when it rains. Sunglasses when it glares. Shot glasses when you, well, have a shot! Fancy food to tickle your tongue. Just remember, bringing home food products can be problematic, especially when entering the United States!
Fruits and vegetables are off limits in many countries. Check the rules and regulations before you buy that tasty fruit for your family back home! It’s functional meets memory making meets memory triggering when you return home.
Oven gloves or dish towels are easy on your luggage and a great item to use back home! And while we’re on the topic of souvenirs, I’m just going to say this one time: Be kind to the sellers. Bartering is part of the fun and the culture, but don’t be rude. This is someone’s livelihood also.
Reasons to be picky about souvenirs
1. Unless you want to pay shipping, you have to carry them around until you get home.
That means heavy and bulky things should be considered critically. Think twice before you buy a hammock or a chair.
2. They cost money and usually the advertised souvenirs are not cheap.
This can be managed in two ways: 1 – I buy local things, like chocolates and children’s books. 2 – I include souvenirs in my travel budget. That said, every frivolous thing you buy adds to your trip expense, so choose wisely.
3. You have to put it somewhere when you get home.
In this minimalistic day-in-age, less is more. This is especially true for souvenirs. I prefer to buy one thing I will use often versus four things to store in a memory box. I love to go through my every day life and run into something I bought elsewhere. For example, I bought a children’s book in Spain that I read with my Spanish speaking students. Nearly every time I use it I remember the day I bought it with my sisters while exploring in Barcelona.
4. This is not your last chance to buy it.
Travel doesn’t have to be once in a lifetime anymore. Airlines have transitioned from luxury liners to public transportation of the skies. And you have (hopefully) many, many years to live. The choices that led you to this trip will likely lead you to another. You don’t have to buy all your souvenirs in the first place you go.
Which leads me back to my original question: what’s the stupidest thing you ever bought or took home as a souvenir?
Bonus questions: Do you have any souvenirs that you collect from every place? And, how do you decide if something makes the cut? Or are you someone always looking for the best travel tattoos to take home as a souvenir?
Do You Have To Declare Souvenirs At Customs?
Now here’s an important question! The answer depends entirely on the country you are returning to, but let’s take the United States as an example. When you enter the United States, you have to declare every single item you purchased abroad. Didn’t have it on you when you left? Write it down on your customs forms. Customs questions include the value of every item, so it’s helpful to keep the receipts after you purchased your travel souvenirs.
Customs and border patrol will allow you $ 800 USD worth of merchandise purchased abroad when you return to the United States. If you are traveling with expensive, foreign made items you can register them at a customs and border patrol office near you before you leave, so it won’t cause any problems upon your return.
Let’s chat about items you purchase in duty free shops real quick.
Duty free means that you won’t have to pay taxes or duties on the item in the country you purchased it. That does not mean these items are duty free exemptions in the United States.
Monetary instruments – a big word that basically means anything that works as a form of payment (except credit cards). Cash, check, money order, traveler’s checks, you name it. You can carry up to $ 10,000 USD in money orders or monetary instruments, but that’s it! Unless you really have to, don’t carry more than that or you’ll be stuck filling out even more customs declarations.
One last thing – prohibited items.
I mentioned above that fruit and vegetables are off limits. As much as you want to bring home that most beautiful papaya you ever saw as a travel souvenir, don’t do it. Food products in general can be problematic. Customs and border protection don’t take kindly to this. And they have good reasons to prohibit some items. What else? Firearms, drugs, meat products, seeds, plants, even some cultural artifacts are a no no.
Stick with the travel souvenirs that are legal to bring home to avoid trouble. If you are uncertain about something you intend to buy, check the customs and border patrol list of prohibited or restricted items!
What To Do With Souvenirs
Before you buy it, take a moment to ask yourself: what will I do with this when I get home? There’s no point buying something you’ll put in a drawer and forget about. Buy souvenirs that are practical, like the ones mentioned above, or find a good way to display them at home. A shadow box is a great way to display trinkets, and it’s an excellent conversation starter.
Use your vacation pictures to create a coffee table book that’ll make you smile every time you look at it. You could also print the pictures you took, frame them, and display them around your home. Art is one of the best souvenirs to bring home, because it’s easy to display, and will brighten up your living space. There are many great ways to keep those memories at the forefront of your mind!
I am a full-time speech therapist and a part time traveler. I grew up in the Midwest, spent a semester in Honduras, and 4 years in Brooklyn, New York, before moving to Pennsylvania. I tend to be a little type A in that I like lists and planning but city living and globe traipsing have taught me a lot about flexibility and resilience. You can read more of my travel tips and inspirations on apanueloworld.com.