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7 Tips to Finding the Perfect Meaningful Souvenir

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7 Tips to Finding the Perfect Meaningful Souvenir

Joseph Hostetler7 Tips to Finding the Perfect Meaningful SouvenirMillion Mile Secrets Team

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A great souvenir transports you across oceans, above mountains, down valleys, through time. It saturates your brain with sappy memories as though they were acquired yesterday.

A great souvenir will not simply become another obstacle for your Swiffer multi-surface duster.

For some adventurers, a scenic postcard is a sufficient travel keepsake. But there are a few principles you can follow to find something that will rekindle deeper, more definitive images. Here are seven tips to finding the perfect souvenir.

There is no shortage of souvenir shops — but to find a meaningful memento, think outside the box. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

8 Tips for Finding a Meaningful Souvenir

1. Buy Something Connected to a Memory

Travel fridge magnets make me cringe. Their purpose is to advertise to houseguests the number of times you’ve left your hometown. If they awaken any memory at all, it’s probably of an airport duty-free shop or a touristy outlet drenched floor to ceiling in garish primary colors.

When looking for a good souvenir, think more along the lines of SMELL and SOUND and TASTE. Things that won’t just remind you of where you went, but specific memories along the way.

Don’t commemorate your trip to India by purchasing a shot glass with “Mumbai” embossed on the side. Buy local spices that incite memories of that mouthwatering dive near your hotel. You’ll receive vivid flashes of your adventure every time you cook with them.

During a trip to South Africa, my hotel played soothing Tibetan music. I Shazammed a song and bought the album. Every listen evokes memories of Johannesburg.

2. Buy Something You’ll Actually Use

Cookware, rugs, fluffy towels, perfume. As long as you’ll use it often, it’s a great souvenir.

Clothing is my preference. Here are a few things I’ve brought home to remember my travels:

  • Cable-knit sweater from Ireland
  • Emirates jersey from Dubai
  • Flip-flops and Hebrew-inscribed ring from Israel
  • Glaring Nike knockoffs from the Philippines
  • Allegedly handmade bracelet from Peru
  • Straw fedora from Mexico

Some purchases were out of necessity. Most were because I didn’t want to ever forget a day or a location. Every time I pull my sweater over my head or lace up my knockoff shoes, I relive good times.

3. Bring Only What You Have Room For

That six-inch hula dashboard bobble from Maui may have only cost you $3, but if there’s no room in your bag and you have to check it, or if it causes overweight baggage fees, its final cost may be closer to $70.

One thing I love to collect (and always have room for) is foreign currency. I’ve got notes from several different countries in my wallet, and I pull them out every so often.

I brought this back from my trip to Maui. Hawaiian money depicts the busts of deceased leaders and dignitaries. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

4. Buy Something You’re Allowed to Bring Home

Remember that guy who tried to bring a missile launcher home as a souvenir? You can’t do that. There are lots of other common things that also aren’t allowed. Be sure you know the rules outlined by US customs or you may be leaving a souvenir at the airport.

Example: You know the mangoes you buy from the store that are pre-cut into cubes? Those are largely poor excuses for mangoes. The mangoes in the northwest region of Puerto Rico are like sloppy joes. You can’t cut and package them, they won’t hold their shape. Your front teeth have never been filled with so many juicy fibers; they’re an absolutely ideal gift to bring back home.

But you can’t. You aren’t allowed to bring mangoes from Puerto Rico to the US. To taste them, you’ll have to buy a ticket to Puerto Rico.

5. Some of the Best Souvenirs Are Free

A few of my most cherished souvenirs cost me zero dollars. Things like shells from various tropical beaches or a rock from Petra in Jordan.

Even the recipe for local cocktail is a good souvenir. At a hotel in Mexico, the bartender served my wife and me his own creation, which he called “Lola’s Dream.” He told us how to make it and it’s a taste that will always provide us with wonderful (and very specific) memories.

What better souvenir from the stone fortress of Petra than a rock from one of its caves? (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

6. Try to Buy Nothing Fragile

Ceramic Russian nesting dolls seemed like a good idea at the time, until you caught a glimpse of the baggage handler treating your luggage like it cat called his wife.

I rolled the dice during my honeymoon and brought back six bottles of alcohol in a checked bag. My wife wrapped them in clothing and they arrived without a scratch. Your checked items will probably survive the trip, but you don’t want your delicate souvenirs to depend on the lower back of a fatigued airline employee.

7. Disregard This List

If you like something, get it. Don’t let anyone tell you which souvenir will or will not make you happy. They don’t know you! If a refrigerator magnet sets your heart ablaze, buy it. So long as you’re happy, you can tell me to kiss your grits.

Let me know your souvenir-purchasing tactics! And subscribe to our newsletter for more info and travel tips delivered once a day to your inbox.

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Anyone collects those Starbucks mugs from different places?

You were lucky you didn’t get caught with that rock from Petra. It’s generally illegal to remove anything from ancient archaeological sites. And also depending on what country you are returning to, it’s illegal to bring in any dirt, soil, rocks, pepples etc from anywhere. That’s the laws in the United States and other countries.

If everyone who has and who will visit Petra would take a rock, there would be no Petra!

I always try to go to a grocery store and buy local candy which makes for a great souvenir and is easy to give out upon return.

I take issue with your fridge magnet comment. I love bringing them home, both for myself, and my grandmother who cannot travel, but loves to show off where her granddaughter goes.
I love hunting for a unique magnet that reminds me of my time there. They are cheap, easy to carry, and never have me worrying about bag fees. Can they be a little cheezy, yes, but they are also fun and bring back great memories of my time there.
I have never seen it as showing off, but more that I see my fridge every day and I love to have a reminder of my adventures when I am making lunch, cooking dinner, or doing the dishes. I think they are one of the most perfect souvenirs you can bring home.

I usually bring back food:

Foie gras from France
White truffles from Italy
canned fish and Ginja (Sour cherry liqueur) from Portugal
Olive oil from Greece
Cheese from Belgium, etc…

When bringing food you just have to be mindful that not everything is allowed back in. Like the salami that everyone wants to bring back from Italy. Those beagles you see at the airport aren’t there to sniff out drugs or the like, they are the salami patrol. Nothing gets past them. LOL

In general, canned meats are allowed through.