Family Travel Tips

6 Essential Tips for Buying Souvenirs on Vacation

Souvenir shopping is a major part of traveling for many people. Our method of buying souvenirs (or even if we buy souvenirs at all) has evolved and we now do six essential things before we purchase anything on a trip and spend those hard-earned dollars*. Keep reading to see the 6 Essential Tips for Buying Souvenirs on Vacation.

*See one of our most popular posts on How to Save Money and Budget to Travel the World here!

Our First Major Souvenir Disaster

The first trip I can remember being beyond giddy about, was a trip to Hawaii when I was in elementary school. My parents did everything they could to get us excited and one of the biggest motivators was giving out extra jobs to help us earn some money for souvenirs. I saved and hoarded up that money like it was going out of style and when the time came to spend it, I turned around and blew through that cash in about 30 hot minutes. Actually, the entire family did. We came home will all sorts of crap. Boxes upon boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts to give to every person we knew and then some, stickers, stamps, what seemed like a gazillion shells, a Hawaiian hula dancer doll, random ukuleles, two Halloween costumes, stuffed animals, and waaay too many t-shirts.

Ain’t nobody be needing all of that stuff!!

When we got home, my mom couldn’t stand all of the junk laying around the house and most of what we had just purchased ended up in the trash or the Goodwill box. I didn’t notice for weeks that my Hawaiian doll was gone and then being all dramatic like I am, I had to make sure that I shed some tears for good measure. You know, just mourning my flea market finds.  

3 Souvenir Shopping Considerations

Instead of buying souvenirs just because I can, or because that is what every other tourist is doing, I have become very methodical and deliberate on what/if I buy and why. This has lead to better budgeting, more authentic experiences, and coming home with things that are meaningful and practical.

Here are three things to consider before your next trip.

  1. Souvenir costs add up

    In the U.S. alone there are 24,000 souvenir shops with a combined yearly revenue of about 18 billion dollars. That is a TON of money. Can you image all of the amazing vacations that could be taken with that money spent? Even when buying “cheap” souvenirs, the costs can add up fast. Typically souvenir vendors grab tourists by offering a deal that seems too good to be true. For example; 5 t-shirts for 20 dollars, 10 mini Eiffel Towers for 15, 20 magnets for 18 etc..

    I have even fallen prey to this tactic a couple of times. My first trip to Hawaii –  I thought that I was getting a screaming deal buying 5 keychains for 1.25 – did I really need 5 pineapple keychains? The answer is no, I couldn’t even drive! The problem is that once souvenir buying starts, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all. Then it is so easy to walk away with hundreds of dollars worth of stuff which doesn’t have a use or need.

  2. Where are the souvenirs from?

    Most souvenirs that are found in the typical tourist’ shops and stands are from factories in China(or Turkey, the Philippines, and India – let’s not give China all of the credit) and are not from that actual place that you are visiting. My favorite example of this is the street vendors which claim to be selling their own works of art around big cities which actually end up being mass produced copies.

    For the 2012 London Olympics, it was estimated that 91% of the souvenirs produced were made outside of the UK. I will never forget buying a little bobble head turtle in the Caribbean and being told that it was authentically made by little kids in an art class with all proceeds benefiting local schools, only to find the exact same bobble head turtle on an entirely different Caribbean island and this time the vendor had forgotten to take off the “made in China” sticker – The horror!
    *Speaking of China, see our Top 10 China here!

  3. Souvenirs take up space, which equates to money

    Trying to repack souvenirs into already tight luggage is not an easy feat – trust me. It is especially awful showing up to the airport at the end of trip and having to pay an overage fee because the bag ends up being too heavy. At least for me, I can not think of a bigger waste of money, when it comes to travel, than having to pay more baggage fees.

6 Essential Tips for Buying Souvenirs on Vacation

1. Decide beforehand what you want to purchase

This will help you avoid wandering around the souvenir shops and being lured into the 5 t-shirts for 25 dollars debacle. If you know what you want before you go, you won’t waste your money while you are there. When I went to China, I knew that I really wanted one of Mao’s Red Books and an old coin. And guess what, those were the only two things I came home with. If you are a huge Disney aficionado and are dying to have some Mickey Ears when you go to Disney Shanghai, go for it. But plan it out. Don’t impulsively buy something just because you can or just because you are somewhere other than home.

2. Buy things that you know that you will use

I have found that I really love a couple specific stores in Europe. Each time I travel to a major European city, I try and seek one of those retailers out. I know that I will wear the clothing when I get home. If you are in Thailand and are looking for some high-quality Thai spices – seek out the best local markets and shop specific. In other words, don’t go to the most touristy place in town.

3. Ask

If you want something specific ask your guides, concierges, and even your taxi drivers where the best place is to purchase those goods. Then ask the vendor if his/her goods are authentic. If it is applicable, you may also ask for a certificate of authenticity. Almost always, you will find a more rewarding experience in an authentic shop versus spending your time shopping at the more touristy areas.

4. Use your instincts

If you find that you are questioning the authenticity of something, really consider those feelings. I have found these instincts are almost always correct.

5. Choose something inexpensive or authentic to collect

My mom collects coins and she honestly has coins from all over the world and from countries that don’t even exist anymore. Seeking out these coins are some of the highlights of our trips because it leads us to the most interesting people. In turn, I try to send a postcard home from every place I go. Instead of writing a message to someone else (I am selfish that way) we send ourselves a postcard and we document our first thoughts about a location and what our favorite things have been. It is cheap, inexpensive and it serves as a family traveling journal with authentic postage from all over the world.

6. Do not buy anything that you suspect is being sold illegally or which has been produced unethically.

Fake designer bag – don’t do it. Not only is it against the law but usually they have some seriously shady practices in the supply chain. See this shocking article from Harper’s Bazaar – The Fight Against Fakes for more information and what you can do to stop some of these horrible practices.  

Do you have your own souvenir buying experience like mine? What are some of your souvenir shopping tips or your favorite trip mementos?  Let me know below!

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9 thoughts on “6 Essential Tips for Buying Souvenirs on Vacation

  1. These are great tips! I wish I had read your article before buying a ton of souvenirs from my last vacation. Fortunately, aside from the souvenirs that I gave to friends, I still have most of the items from the last vacation. However, I know some of them from previous trips have been given away too.

  2. Love the solid, common sense and practical advice here. So many people, particularly young people who may not have travelled much before, fall into the souvenir trap. My partner and I only purchase things we see of value that we have a use or place for. On our latest trip, which was to Northern Thailand, we really fell in love with a piece of furniture that we knew would go very nicely in our home – so we had it shipped back to us. Aside from that, we only bought a couple of gifts for my nephew and niece which were of quality and that I knew they would like, without adding massive space and weight in our bags. I always think about the future when it comes to souvenirs – before buying I ask myself: “Is this something of value that I would still love to have 10 years from now”? If the answer is yes, I am keen to buy it. Great post.

  3. Could agree more. I always got addicted into buying souvenirs wherever I go, especially with ‘Buy 5 for Price of 4. Because all of them seems so beautiful. Ended up no space to keep them at home

  4. I love the idea of collecting something from every place you visit. When I was little my dad would always bring me a handmade doll from a new country he visited. The collection I have now is not just cool, but a very sentimental and special! 🙂

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