Should I Buy Souvenirs When I Travel?

This is a question I often ask myself when we travel. Usually, when our friends come back from a trip abroad they bring back a bunch of souvenirs to distribute amongst the group. Truth is, we don’t always use those items or finish the snacks (sorry, guys!). Our first couple of vacations together, I felt these gifts must be reciprocated. There was always the pressure of finding the right souvenir and space for it in our luggage.

Well, these days I am trying to live a more minimalist lifestyle. And that means buying less and making the most with what we already have. Although I don’t wish to impose any type of philosophy on others, I would highly encourage everyone to consume less. And part of that is cutting out souvenirs in most circumstances, or at least being more selective.

While packing for a trip, I always make some room for possible souvenirs. I also avoid overpacking in that way. It’s not uncommon for travelers to come back with an extra luggage they bought while vacationing. I prefer not to have too many pieces of luggage at home – only one carry-on and one check-in bag max, per person. Chances are, that is all I need when I go abroad and any extra piece of luggage at home is just taking up storage space. Moreover, I feel that buying an extra suitcase actually encourages you to spend more because you want to fill it up! Not to mention, many airlines charge an additional fee if you have more than one checked-in bag.

So what kind of souvenirs do I get, if any? These days I avoid magnets, shot glasses or keychains like the plague. If someone were to visit your home city and could only leave with one item to commemorate their trip, is that really what you want them to remember it for? Personally, I feel they hold no sentimental value, but we definitely have friends who specifically ask for these things because they’ve amassed a small collection. I myself am guilty of collecting pressed pennies, which are arguably pretty useless, too. At least they all fit inside my tiny collector’s album, but I should really stop once it’s filled up…

Of all souvenirs, I feel that consumables are the most well-received. Specifically chocolate, speaking from experience. Whenever I bring them into the office, they’re gone in a day or two (individually-packaged ones are the best as they are great for sharing and don’t melt as easily!). Go with the safe choices; dried durian may not appeal to most people’s palates.

Aside from consumables, I consider a souvenir’s practicality and how often it is likely to be used. Recently I got my mom a kitchen knife from Osaka because hers dulled easily and the ones in Osaka are quite renowned for their quality craftsmanship. It was expensive, but it was a worthy investment that I would buy for myself even if I was not visiting another country. I also frequently stock up on art supplies from Japan, as they have a huge selection. I use them quite often for my lettering projects and can write them off as a business expense.

Now what about things that are cheaper in other countries because you don’t have to pay an import tax? Our female friends buy face masks in bulk whenever they visit Korea, and these are also considered perishables since they expire after a year or two. If they’re not being used up fast enough, our friends usually start giving them away to others and we all benefit! Again, individually-packaged goods are da bomb. Either way, they will eventually be put to use so this souvenir gets a thumbs up in my book.

And then there are things that are technically “cheaper” abroad, but if they cost ten grand to begin with, it’s still $8k with a two grand discount! I’m talking about handbags, which many women flock to Europe to swoop up. Look, if you absolutely love handbags, who am I to tell you not to nab that LV? I just feel like people tend to forget that when a really expensive item goes on sale, chances are it’s still expensive! But I’m not here to provide financial advice. Do note that many countries only allow you to bring back a limited number of designer bags per person.

Of course, not all souvenirs have to be 100% practical. Maybe you have some empty walls at home that could use some flavor. I can’t think of anything better than to support the local artists and purchase something from a flea market, boutique or gallery visit. It could be a truly unique souvenir that is not only beautiful but also a good reflection of the country’s culture. For example, Venice is known for gorgeous paper marbling and glass artwork.

These are just my own souvenir-buying tips. Recently I’ve been spending more money on food than other physical items. Whatever is top priority for you! Nothing wrong with window-shopping either. 😉

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