3 Rules of Travel Souvenirs (or How to Avoid Bringing Home Junk)

updated Jun 6, 2019
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(Image credit: Sandra Rojo)

One of my very favorite parts of travel is bringing that experience back with me and enjoying it in my home. Sometimes we need a dose of a different destination (i.e., to imagine life outside of crying toddlers or sticky kitchens), when getting on a plane isn’t in the cards. That’s why every time I travel I set aside part of my trip budget for a special find that triggers memories whenever I need to be transported (even for a second).

It might be an occasional thing, like when I wear my sandals made by a cobbler I stumbled onto on the island of Capri. But what I really love is when the places I’ve been in the world make their way into my daily routine. Every morning, for example, I make myself a cup (or two) of cafe con crema with the Moka Pot I bought in Rome. With every sip, I swear I’m transported back there for a hot minute. Or there’s the perfume I discovered in Tulum; it’s become my signature scent because it makes me feel like I’m walking on a beach (even when I’m changing diapers).

To ensure the goods I gather abroad are worth lugging across the world to my home base, I steer clear of tchotchkes in tourist shops and focus on souvenirs with sentimental value, usefulness, a sense-of-place appeal — or all of the above!

1. Let the treasure find you.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned while sourcing souvenirs abroad is not to spend my precious vacation hours scouring town for the perfect take-home treasure. Instead, I let the treasure find me. This is how I found those Capri Sandals in Italy and my signature scent in Tulum. It also led me to pick up leather poufs while strolling a market in Essaouira, Morocco. Keep an open mind and don’t force the find.

2. Start a tradition.

Another souvenir strategy is to buy the same thing in every destination: wooden spoons, cute magnets, or, in my case, cool destination T-shirts for my son. Is this more sentimental than useful? Yes. But I love the idea of handing him a heap of travel Ts one day, which correspond to his age at the time of our visit. So far, a few of my favorites are his baby-sized Aloha Shirt from Hawaii and his toddler-sized Pope Francis top from Rome.

A tradition of mine from my pre-kid days? Bringing back my hotel room keycards. One day I want to create an art installation that amalgamates all my trips in one place.

3. There’s always room for recipes.

If your suitcase is tight on space, there’s always room for recipes. Two easy ways to source recipes abroad are to buy a local chef’s cookbook (order it on Amazon and it’ll be waiting for you by the time you get home!), or take a cooking class and ask the teacher to email you the recipes.

When I can’t find the recipe for a dish I tasted abroad, I “DIY-it” and take an evening or weekend to recreate the palate-pleaser at home. My first attempt at this was a simple and summery goat cheese-prosciutto pizza topped with local pears and arugula I tasted in Halifax, Canada — who knew Halifax was a hotbed for pizza?!? I’ve perfected it to the level of serving it to guests. Bonus: They always ask ME for the recipe.

More on Souvenirs

Do you have a souvenir you always bring home with you from your travels?