Tips for successful souvenir shopping

It’s natural to want to bring home a souvenir from every trip, but how do you decide what to buy and what to leave behind? We have some tips garnered over 15 years of world travels and countless purchases—both beloved and forgotten. Here's our guide to making the most of your souvenir shopping.

1. Plan ahead

(© Jaime Morrison Curtis)

Before you embark on your journey, research the traditional handiworks of your destination and seek out a place to make your purchase in advance.

In San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the central highlands of the Mexican state of Chiapas, traditional weaving is both beautiful and culturally significant, so I knew I wanted to bring home a piece of this art to hang in my home. I walked the city streets hunting for Sna Jolobil, the shop of an organization made up of 800 women weavers from Tzotzil- and Tzeltal-speaking indigenous communities from the highlands surrounding San Cristo, to find my prize. The women formed this business with the objective of preserving and revitalizing Mayan art through the study and recreation of ancient textiles, natural dyeing methods, and ancestral weaving techniques. The profits from the business go directly back into the communities of Chiapas, making it a meaningful tourism experience on both sides—the women in the shop were so inspiring to meet.

Now, when I look at my wall hanging, I see more than a souvenir; it’s reminder of the friendship and adventure I experienced on this trip.

2. Follow your gut

(© Jaime Morrison Curtis)

Listen to your instincts when you feel that pang of desire for a special find while traveling. Back home, you have the luxury of leaving the store and returning later if you decide you need something. On the road, you might not have that chance.

When traveling through Jordan with my family, I saw plenty of items that enticed, but the guide insisted I not burden our load—that we would have the chance to purchase them all at the end of the trip. I took his advice, and while I did manage to score a few stunning Bedouin rugs and a camel skin pouf (pictured, below) in Amman, no two rugs are the same—there were a few from Dana, Madaba, and Aqaba that I wish I had bought when I had the chance.

3. Start a collection

If you’re a collector, you understand the urge to continually add to your assortment and the meaning it gives to your object of choice. If you haven’t started a collection yet, consider the value of combining a passion you have with the travel you do. If you decide to collect something small or flat, you can pack it easily and keep a record of your travels on a single shelf or wall at home.

(© Jaime Morrison Curtis)

Some ideas for traveler collections: Purchase a small animal figurine from every country you visit. Collect woven baskets (I have a selection from Arizona, Venezuela, and Mexico) and hang them on a wall. Buy a postcard or take a matchbook from each city you visit to create ever-expanding wall art. Buy a teacup and saucer and display them—or drink from them—to remind you of your journey.

Remember these tips the next time you're souvenir shopping on vacation.

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