Slow Travel,  Travel

6 Ways To Find Authentic Souvenirs

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.

For more tips on authentic and mindful travel, read What is slow travel?

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6 Ways to Find Unique Souvenirs

49 Comments

  • Tina Schell

    What an interesting idea and so true. Personally we are more focused on right sizing and paring back our “things”. As a photographer I frame things that are among my favorites locally so I guess that qualified ?. Excellent post!

    • Dee

      Thank you, Tina! I’m definitely going for quality and not quantity myself lately.. Framing photos and other local things is a great idea, and so personal too.

  • Peta

    Oh how lovely, you have quite the collection of souvenirs! I have a postcard from the places I have been with my other half. We write about our time in that place on the back and frame them. 🙂

    • Dee

      Thank you, Peta! I love the idea of the postcards with the descriptions on the back.. They’re not only great souvenirs, but also don’t take up any luggage space.

  • Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To Go

    Love the Arizona pillow. When we traveled full-time for 3 years, space was limited in our luggage but handwoven bags with ties and zippers were perfect as unique ‘packing cubes’ and helped us organize. Whenever we grab our suitcases now, those little bags still come in useful and remind us of other countries and past travels. Anita

    • Dee

      You must have an incredible collection, Anita! I love anything handwoven, though I haven’t tried out the ‘packing cubes’ concept yet.. Little baggies that are handmade are always so local, unique and very practical too if you’re a frequent traveller.

  • Wind Kisses

    Great post. Keepsakes? For me it has become photos. The only thing that really captures the exact moment in time is a photo. That said, sometimes a frame from a particular stop will hold a photo. The funnest collection I had was rocks. I love gardening. During our travels around the country I would collect large rocks (maybe 10lbs) as decorations for my garden. When I would do my gardening, memories from those places would pop into my mind.

    • Dee

      Thank you! I love photography too, though it’s not always easy to remember to get photos printed out and framed these days.. And I do the same with shells and beach pebbles! Then, when I’m home, I spread them out in my plant pots. I read somewhere that helps to retain moisture, which is great because I often forget to water my plants.

  • Esther Pulcipher

    I really enjoyed this post and the thoughtfulness behind remembering those places you came from. I’m so used to finding items that remind me of travels, but haven’t thought of incorporating items that remind me of where I’ve come from. But I have realized that I am more intentional now about capturing places with pictures and taking the time to print those pictures.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Esther! I’ve never really thought about it either, but then living abroad for many years – and only going home for the holidays – has really made me appreciate the southwest.. Your photos of California are gorgeous, and they’d look incredible framed!

  • lastyearsgirl

    Such a lovely post! I guess my journals and my photographs are souvenirs of home for me, in a sense. But then, the same part of Scotland has always been “home” for me. It’s hard to think what I would take with me to remember it by, when I don’t plan much on leaving it – but it would probably, mostly, be food!

    Lis / last year’s girl x

    • Dee

      Thank you! Scotland has such amazing landscapes, and all that purple heather, that photos would be gorgeous.. If I ever went, I’d probably pick up some vintage prints or old books. I mostly associate Scotland with its literary tradition.

  • tamaraobrien1840

    What a gorgeous blog post and i love the style of your blog. Thanks for the recent like on my page too I’m new to blogging so really appreciate the engagement, would be wonderful if you might follow me and I’ve just started to follow you also. Have a lovely weekend, Tamara

  • thewonderer86

    So true. At home we sink into the familiar, routine and the mundane too easily. It’s good to remember where we came from. I have a screensaver of my home town on the computer – an old print, from way before I was born, but I love it, and it brings me back ‘to my beginning’ everyday.

    • Dee

      I think it’s a constant struggle to not give in to routine! That screensaver sounds wonderful.. I have a print of my home town on my desk.

  • Green Global Trek

    What a lovely post which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Sometimes it is hard to know which little things we buy are the ones we will appreciate later. Your recommendations for the selection process are right on! I would way rather get one special handmade artisanal piece than a bunch of stuff which in its mass becomes less unique. A prayer bowl from India and a Guatemalan wedding shirt from the market are among those keepsakes I enjoy over and over again. Spcialty foods while short lived are always a treat!

    Peta

  • Shona Silverman

    This is a new perspective that looks at travel from a different angle.
    Great writing.

    “…gather up flowers or leaves to press and frame”
    Yes, a lovely idea.

    x

  • Gail

    I left my home in New England to marry a military man; wandering all around the world made me nostalgic for “home” so I made my own souvenir–a cross-stitch sampler of all the things I treasured about New England: Clam Chowder, fall leaves, Rockport, Boston…It gives me a warm feeling every time I pass it on my wall.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Gail! Homesickness is – I think – the only downside of travel. Your cross stitch sounds lovely! I’d love to visit that part of the US someday.

  • kagould17

    Totally agree. Who needs another T-shirt you will only wear to mow the lawn. If we are in the stores looking at local souvenirs, we shun anything not made in the country we are in. We look for special things where we can find them, a hand made Aran cable knit sweater from Ireland, an original pallete-knife art piece from Montmartre or my photos of the painted old doors and windows in Old Quebec that I put together into my own framed piece. I also agree that we seldom appreciate what we have at home. Sometimes it is good just to revisit where we came from and realize it is not all that boring or bad. Great post.

    • Dee

      Thank you! I love buying local, handmade souvenirs. Not only are they more authentic, but their purchase often supports the local artisans and helps to preserve their craft. A lot of that is unfortunately dying out in Egypt as many tourists opt for trinkets that are made in China.

      • nikkidiscovers

        Yes it’s very important to support ethical business when it comes to any kind of purchasing. I also love buying from small local businesses to support the local economy. Great piece I look forward to reading more.

  • Pinoy tourism

    Souvenirs are like the gifts which you can’t get from a person but have to buy, but it has more importance. I visited many places and my eyes always look for the Souvenirs. your blog was really amazing especially how you show the pictures.

    • Dee

      Thank you for the kind words, and that’s such a great way to look at souvenirs! I always love hunting them down as well when I’m travelling.

  • CP

    While overall a good article, I must disagree with this statement in #4. “gather up flowers or leaves to press and frame, collect rocks and seashells”. Please do not encourage activities that is some cases – like our national parks and public lands are actually illegal.

    • Dee

      The article doesn’t mention national parks or suggest in any way that readers should break the law. I’m sorry you got that impression.

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