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Geography Travel & Auto

How to Decide Which Souvenir to Purchase on Vacation

souvenir shop

Travelers frequently enjoy collecting mementos that will remind them of their fun travels, otherwise known as souvenirs.

When traveling, many individuals will make a point to stop at a shop at their destination that sells knickknacks bearing the location’s image or name. These items usually don’t serve an actual purpose; rather, they are for display in a person’s home, or to gift to unfortunate souls who weren’t lucky enough to make the travels with you. Other travelers will find something in nature from their travels to bring home, be it a seashell, pinecone, or cave stalactite. Again, these items will almost certainly adorn a mantle for all eternity.

These senior travelers spent too much on junky souvenirs

Marv Levinson and his wife Carolyn spent their summer vacation at a rental cabin in the Black Hills of South Dakota. On the second-to-last day of the trip, the senior couple stumbled into a tourist trap souvenir shop in Custer, where they intended to throw away their money on some doodads they could take home to remember their trip.

Carolyn fell in love with a porcelain raccoon that sat atop a tree; she intended to purchase that for herself. Marv looked long and hard at a silly trucker’s hat with the image of the presidents on Mount Rushmore mooning onlookers, but settled on a fairly expensive coffee table book about the history of mining in the area. For their eight grandkids, Carolyn meticulously spun through the rotating keychain stand, attempting to find a South Dakota license plate keychain with each of their names, though she struck out big time trying to find one for Caden; she would have to get one that said Carmen instead.

She also purchased a handful of random polished rocks, a deck of Crazy Horse playing cards, a clearance set of buffalo coasters, and a whole shitload of postcards—some wildly outdated. At the last minute, Carolyn snatched a t-shirt that said “Don’t Bother Me—It’s Wine Time!” It didn’t even have anything to do with South Dakota or the Black Hills! The bill at the souvenir shop? $179.22.

“Jesus Christ,” grumbled Marv. “Over a hundred damn dollars for a bag full of absolute crap. No one’s gonna want this junk! We should have just picked up some dirt off the ground in the Rushmore parking lot and put it in Ziploc bags and called it president shit; would have at least made for a better story.” He wasn’t wrong. While some of the grandkids no doubt would be amused for a day or two with their Chinese-made keychains, some of the other grandkids lived far away and never even knew the grandparents were on a trip. The actual cost to produce the crap the Levinsons purchased was under $20. The shop made out like bandits.

How to decide on what souvenir you should buy on vacation

First off, don’t feel like you have to get a souvenir every time you go on a trip. But if you’re inclined to do so, follow these tips to get something you won’t just not regret, but may actually cherish.

  • Consider how much money you want to allocate for souvenirs before entering a souvenir shop. This will prevent you from spending too much money on crap like laniards, snow globes, and stuffed animals.
  • There’s a very high probability that most things in a souvenir shop bearing the name of the destination were made overseas in bulk and purchased by the shop for pennies. Theoretically you could just order a magnet with a bear in sunglasses that says the name of any place and claim you were there! Perhaps look for something locally made instead.
  • If you do go the locally-made route and buy a turquoise necklace from Arizona or a authentic Alaskan moccasins that of course don’t bear the name of the place you visited, then everyone will just assume it’s just another piece of your wardrobe! As long as you know where it came from and it makes you happy, go for it.
  • Conversely, if you buy a t-shirt, sweatshirt, cap, or any other wearable that does bear the name of your vacation destination, think about how long you’ll be comfortable wearing it after the trip is over. “Oh, hey Marv, nice South Dakota shirt! Did you just get back from a trip?” “No, that was in 1995. I need to throw this damn thing away.”
  • Kids tend to enjoy buying something from a souvenir shop that they could literally get anywhere and has nothing to do with the vacation. But, if a stuffed frog reminds them of the time they went to Calgary, so be it.
  • Consider starting a collection, getting the same type of souvenir every time you go on a trip. Magnets, shot glasses, and those ornamental spoons are perfect for the collector.
  • Many people like to buy souvenirs that they may actually use on a regular basis. Such items include beer koozies, coffee mugs, and bottle openers. So what if your koozie says Daytona Beach on it? It makes for a great conversation starter!
  • Rather than shopping at a “souvenir shop”, consider buying something from any of your stops on the trip that you enjoyed. Restaurants, breweries, sports stadiums, theaters, etc. generally sell higher quality merchandise than a run-of-the-mill general souvenir shop.
  • Short on cash? Grab something off the ground! If you’re at the beach, snag a seashell or fill a bag up with sand. In the mountains? Pick up some rocks, or nab a branch off a tree. What says you were in South Dakota better than an actual piece of South Dakota?
  • Above all, make sure you can actually get the souvenir home in one piece. Buying some delicate wine glasses and then jamming them in a suitcase is a recipe for disaster. Make sure you have room for whatever you buy, and that you can transport it home properly. If you do splurge and buy a giant vase or something, pay to have it shipped to you.

In the end, perhaps the very best souvenir is whatever you are drawn to in the moment. But really, you probably get the best bang-for-your-buck with a coffee mug that says where you went on it.

My Hot Take

Some of the souvenirs I have in my home include a pinecone from Seattle, a magnet from Berlin featuring a real piece of the Berlin Wall, and a tiny kaleidoscope from the Black Hills. That kaleidoscope, like I mentioned above, has nothing to do with the Black Hills, yet I’ve had it for 27 years and I know precisely where I got it and it does in fact remind me of the family trip! Generally, though, I really try to avoid buying anything—I’d prefer to just take a lot of pictures.

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