Authentic souvenirs preserve our memories like no Chinese knick-knack ever could. Here are my tips to finding the most authentic souvenirs.
I have a collection of unique souvenirs from exotic cities I’ve visited.
There’s the tin of fish spices from Kaohsiung from my first trip to Asia. There are wooden giraffes from Johannesburg and pottery from Fayoum, all filling my bookshelves to remind me of my favorite trips.
But I hardly have any of the plastic magnets, t-shirts or other mass-produced souvenirs that are ultimately all made in China. I bought a few and shoved them away in some drawer, forgotten.
Because generic souvenirs may make us happy for a moment and give us that thrill of retail therapy.
But nothing can preserve our most cherished travel memories like a unique and authentic souvenir – made by local artisans and carrying the true spirit of the destination.
Finding unique keepsakes
How can you find authentic souvenirs when it seems like all the tourist markets just sell Chinese dupes and plastic made to break?
Here are my tips:
1. Skip the obvious options
Look beyond the stereotypes and invest in less obvious pieces that remind you of the place but aren’t always its best-selling keepsakes. If you’re visiting Giza, for example, skip the plastic pyramid figurines and invest in something outside the box, like a pyramid made of local alabaster or an old collection of antique postcards showing the ancient wonder at sunset.
2. Invest in handmade pieces
When you skip the Made in China keepsakes, you’re not just buying something more unique and personal. You’re also supporting local artists and craftsmen.
Traditional crafts around the world are slowly dying out – there’s no money in them anymore, and fewer young people want to spend years as apprentices in a trade that won’t pay the bills. Tourists flock to the iconic tourist attractions and buy souvenirs that are imported from elsewhere. In the meantime, local artisans suffer and their skills go to waste.
When you invest in a handmade piece, you pay a steeper price but you get quality that’s made to last. And you’ll be doing your part to keep authentic traditions and cultures alive, in a world where globalization sells us all the same gadgets.
3. Check out flea markets, antique shops and arts festivals
These can often be gold mines for unique pieces that come directly from the community.
4. Make your own keepsakes
Print and frame your travel photos, or gather flowers to press in a thick book and frame. Collect rocks and seashells, or paint a watercolor. If the place you want to remember isn’t very photogenic, then zoom in and photograph a few of the beautiful details.
5. Hit the grocery stores
Supermarkets are so underrated, but they’re treasure troves for authentic souvenirs. Think spices and delicacies, local magazines and soaps or beauty products the locals swear by.
6. Get practical
Buy local household items that you’ll actually use. Think throws or pillow cases, kitchen items and toiletries. They may not always last forever, but they won’t collect dust on the shelf.