Traveling is a magical experience, and I’ve always believed that finding the perfect thing to take home is a part of that…in particular, I love souvenirs that are *useful*. And I generally avoid the more cheesy or tacky ones (though totally cool if that’s your thing).
Over the years I’ve found some of the best travel souvenir ideas that are truly meaningful, useful, or just special, and I wanted to share some of those to inspire your next trip!
Translations of books you love
I’m starting the list with something a little more unorthodox, but as a book lover it’s something I adore. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and years ago on a whim I decided to pick up a beautiful copy of one of the books in Ireland.
And so began a habit of picking them up in different countries, to round out the series…I have copies in Turkish, Norwegian, Hebrew, Spanish, and more. If you love a particular author or series, this is one special souvenir idea I’d recommend!
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Textiles / materials
Some places are well-known for beautiful or unique textiles or other materials, whether Turkish cotton, Irish wool, Harris tweed, or Italian leather. If your research turns up that your destination is known for this, I’d recommend picking up a quality souvenir that you’ll actually use…a tablecloth, a belt, a towel, whatever.
I picked up a beautiful purse made of cork in Portugal (they’re known for cork exports) at a little market outside a medieval Gothic convent. What’s not to love??
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This is one of my most frequent travel souvenirs, partly because I LOVE FOOD and also because it’s pretty easy to transport and doesn’t go bad fast.
I tend to love local honeys and jams, olive oil, and coffee beans in particular. For instance, I found espresso pods at Caffe Sant’Eustachio in Rome that would fit my Nespresso machine…so once I got home it was like having a little piece of Rome every morning!
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Somehow accidentally over the years I started picking up beautiful and unique pint glasses at bars or breweries I visited, just here and there.
That’s led to an awesome and diverse collection of glasses, so every time I open the cupboard to get a drink of water I get transported back to a time and place.
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In a very similar vein, I started collecting coffee and tea mugs as I traveled many years ago, and my giant collection of beautiful ceramic makes me so happy!
The biggest challenge (in Europe in particular) is that it’s hard to find big enough mugs for my tastes, as I really like more of a coffee BOWL 🙂 This beautiful ceramic mug was one of my first and is possibly my all-time favorite…a handmade cup I got at Oktoberfest in Florence, Italy, from a Hungarian vendor!
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I am a noted lover of wine and spirits touring…so it follows that bringing home samples or bottles would be a fun way to both build my collection and also transport me back to amazing experiences.
In particular I love bringing home local wine when I’ve been doing winery tours, though packing it can be a bit trickier (you can’t do carry-on, for one thing). I swear by these sealable protective wine pouches to make sure there aren’t any mishaps in my luggage.
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Going back to the idea of super useful souvenir ideas, pieces of jewelry are a great way to remind yourself of fun travels AND look fancy.
This can be simple, affordable pieces that are fun and unique (like the polished cow horn earrings below in Jamaica), or a unique style or stone that a place is known for (like the garnet ring I bought in Prague a billion years ago and wore every day for over a decade, below in my perfume pic).
The biggest thing is not to get sucked into jewelry tourist traps just because they’re there. For instance, you don’t need to buy gold in Venice. But if a place is known for it (like Prague and garnets, or the American Southwest and turquoise), OR you just see a piece you like, go for it!
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Ceramics / dishes
Y’all, who knew I’d be a total sucker for ceramics?? Certainly not me! But on my first visit to Istanbul several years ago, I absolutely fell in love with their vibrant hand-painted ceramic dishes.
This kicked off a habit of picking up beautiful and interesting pieces here and there, so I now have a really cool collection of serving bowls, platters, trivets, and more. For instance, I happened upon the local craft market in Aberdeen, Scotland, below when my flight was canceled, and picked up a unique serving bowl.
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Whether it’s a unique print, a painting by a local artist, or even I suppose your own pencil caricature if that’s how you roll, artwork makes an awesome travel souvenir.
I picked up some coasters with prints like the below, some small paintings and prints in Italy, and a really cool die-cut map in Dublin.
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Items of clothing
This one is a bit harder for me because the fit of actual pieces of clothing is really challenging in other countries, but this can include things like scarves too (like the one I got in Jordan below). And actually being able to wear your travel souvenir and tell a cool story is so much fun.
I did pick up a really unique cat print sweater from a boutique in Notting Hill on a trip to London a few years ago, and I swear that is the piece of clothing I get the most compliments on out of my entire wardrobe…like strangers stop me in the grocery store!
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Essential oils or perfume
If you’re visiting a place known for certain essential oils, consider picking up some high-quality ones if that’s your thing. For instance, parts of northern Croatia are well-known for lavender and so I got some lovely essential oils and scent sachets.
I’ve also talked more in-depth in my post on souvenirs to buy in Istanbul about how I discovered my own signature perfume at the market there, and now I buy it in bulk and go back every few years to get more!
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I never used to be into the idea of knickknacks as travel souvenirs, and I still don’t just buy tchotchkes just for the sake of it. But on rare occasions here and there I now will pick up a special little something if it speaks to me.
Whether that’s the gorgeous turquoise ceramic pomegranate from Turkey, a lava rock cat I grabbed from Mount Etna in college, or a green Venetian glass hedgehog, those little things make me smile.
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Photos / Experiences
The fact is, an epic experience is its own kind of souvenir, but if you don’t have photos then did it really happen?? 🙂
Making sure you get a few good photos of the experience that really transport you back can become your own amazing souvenir. That might mean paying for a photo package in some cases, like my skydiving adventure below.
Unique recipes are actually a very cool way to tell stories of your travels or transport yourself back, and they can make a really special souvenir.
I still use the recipe for Ligurian pesto from my host mom when I studied abroad in Italy in college. My red lentil corba soup recipe takes me back to having dinner with a Kurdish family in Istanbul. And this Swedish vanilla cardamom bread instantly puts me back on a sailboat in the Gothenburg archipelago, with a steaming cup of coffee and cardamom bun.
As I’ve shown here, travel souvenirs don’t have to just be cheesy magnets and t-shirts. Hopefully these souvenir ideas have inspired you to find something truly unique on your next adventure!
Other trip planning tips you’ll love:
- How to Choose the Perfect Hotel or Rental Every Time
- 11 Of My Best Travel Tips for ANY Trip
- A Guide To Finding The Right Flight Every Single Time
- Trip Planning Tips: How to Make Every Itinerary Epic
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