Mexican ceramics

The best things we bring home from our travels aren’t things.  The treasures we acquire are greater understanding of ourselves and our world, the friends we meet along the way and the memories we bank up to enjoy in the future.  But what about the more tangible souvenirs? In my years of traveling, I’ve found some that there are some souvenirs I enjoyed for years, and others that don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.  So, what makes a good souvenir?

A Skill as a Souvenir

Knowing how to do something you didn’t before you left home rocks.  For the rest of your life you can think back on your trip and say that’s when I first learned how to ride a motorcycle, salsa dance, use chopsticks.  As far as I’m concerned the best thing you can learn is how to prepare all those delicious foods you’re eating. (Though I would put picking up a new languages as a close second.)  Many places now offer cooking classes.  Or you can just make a point of hanging out with local women, chatting up the cook in your favorite restaurants, and using the internet.  (I’m a veggie and was recently delighted to discover International Vegetarian Union Recipes Around the World.)


In theory, clothes should make great souvenirs.  After all, you probably have to wear something.  So why not something that reminds you of your travel.  But it never quite works out for me.  Here’s what happens: I’m in some rural place admiring the beautiful clothes the indigenous women wear.  I give myself permission to splurge and buy one of these beautiful shirts/skirts/shawls.  And then, I don’t wear it because it’s too nice and I don’t want it to get ruined.

This is dumb, but I keep doing it.  I even know when I’m doing it.  I say to myself, “Now look.  Those women are wearing those skirts out here in the dust heading goats, washing their skirts in the dirty river and hanging them on a barbed wire fence to dry.  There’s no reason you can’t wear one of those to work.” But then when I’m home, the place where I bought the skirts seems so far away.  I know I could never replace it, so I don’t risk it.  I have a great looking closet.


While clothes haven’t really worked out for me, jewelry has. Small, cheap, easy to carry – everything I look for in a souvenir.  I have a collection of inexpensive and yet wonderful earrings I picked up in China, a jade  necklace I made myself in New Zealand and a “power bracelet” with the Mayan symbols for the date of my birth that I bought in Chiapas.  The only down side is that things that are small are also easy to lose.  (An excuse to go back…)

A souvenir you can eat out of!

House Stuff

I’ve purchased a lot of house wares on my travels (hand painted ceramics are a favorite for me here in Mexico), and if I’d had more money, I would have purchased a lot more.  The trouble is, if you keep traveling, you might not actually have a home to put these things in.  Or if you do, you may not spend much time there.

Little Things

My travel partner and I played a lot of cards in China.  Somehow, we found ourselves hanging out in Tsingtao Brewery tasting room without a deck.  So we bought one.  Small, inexpensive, useful, and the fact they are now beer stained just makes them a better souvenir.

There are things I haven’t tried.  I imagine that a tattoo could be an excellent reminder of a great adventure.  Unless things went badly at the ended and you decided that you didn’t want to remember…

And the worst possible thing you could bring home from your travels? A disease, social or otherwise.

What’s the best souvenir you have ever brought home from your travels?

10 replies
  1. OCDemon
    OCDemon says:

    I used to collect those little mini liquor bottles, and since I’d get them while traveling, I had all sorts of obscure drinks from all over the world. I had 150 of them. Then I had to move and I got tired of them and off into the recycling bin they went. Oh well. Nowadays I only ever take souvenirs that someone gave me, or something I think is cool. Sadly, I left one in a hotel room one time. Darnit!

  2. Ryan Jennings
    Ryan Jennings says:

    Jade necklaces in New Zealand make a great gift for yourself or friends and family. They’re light to take with you, and give meaning to the wearing.

    Customers that go on our jade tours usually have a few questions, so we put together this guide covering the key 8 questions we get asked:

    Let us know whether you find this interesting. PS This comment has nothing to do with liquor Jennifer ;)

  3. Jennifer Choban
    Jennifer Choban says:

    Thanks, Ryan. I treasure my NZ jade necklace. When I was there in 2005 a jade carver named (I think) Gordon Wells was running a hostel. He’d let you pick a chunk of stone and the design you wanted and cut it out for you. Then we’d sit around in the evenings exchanging stories with other travelers as we sanded our pendants. (Sometimes drinking beer as we did this- which supports the liquor theory :)

  4. Judy
    Judy says:

    The best souvenier I ever brought home was my future husband who was the wine steward on a cruise I went on. So there’s that liquor theme again!

  5. Judy
    Judy says:

    Well, the other thing is when you feel obligated to bring back souvenirs for your staff, team mates, etc. I decided that with 15 folks I need to keep it under $1 per person. It is actually quite fun to look for little stuff and it mostly ends up being handcrafted by somebody in a market who is so excited and happy to sell 15 or 20 items even though the the total price is a couple of dollars. Maybe that’s their biggest sale of the day! Don’t understimate the value of your placing some money in the hands of someone who made what you bought. And I love to take a photo of the crafter to show to folks who receive the items. When they hear the story they really appreciate the small item.


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