Updated on 05.26.12

Handling (and Avoiding) Souvenirs and Tourist Traps

Trent Hamm

One of the things I really don’t like about vacations is the prevalence of gift shops and souvenir stands near every remotely popular attraction. I particularly don’t like it when you go through a museum exhibit or a tour of some sort, only to find yourself dumped into a gift shop.

The children are hungry and thirsty and often tired after such a trip (and, to be honest, I’m often feeling much the same). As we wander through the souvenir shop, the children inevitably spot something that they want and then the usual impasse occurs, which either ends with a hungry and thirsty and now upset child or with a minor souvenir being purchased.

This is absolutely my least favorite part of traveling and visiting new places. It’s often an expense. It’s always a hassle.

Thankfully, years of planning family vacations with a frugal mindset has helped me to avoid these traps more and more often. Here are some of the tactics we use to avoid souvenir and tourist expenses while still having an awesome vacation.

Do the research. Before you go on vacations, spend some time researching the places you’re considering visiting. Find out if these places force you through a gift shop or not, and use such techniques as a negative when considering whether to use that item as part of your vacation.

I understand that many places use gift shops as a revenue stream and a gift shop can often be the difference between keeping the doors open or not. However, a gift shop needs to be my option, not foisted upon me.

Find souvenirs and mementos outside of the gift shop. If you want souvenirs of your trip, don’t start by looking in gift shops.

Your first step should simply include digital photographs. If you want to remember something, take a picture so that you can look at it later. Similarly, recording your thoughts in a travel journal while going from place to place on a vacation can be wonderful.

I often look for natural souvenirs to bring home, such as unique rocks. We have stones from tne north shore of Lake Superior and from the Arbuckle Mountains in our yard. Other family members have bricks and baseballs found on vacations.

Plan ahead for hunger and thirst. There’s no reason not to have a quick snack for everyone in your traveling party. A quick drink and a handful of nuts can make a giant difference when you come out of a tour or an exhibit and find yourself (or your children) hungry and/or thirsty.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve went through a museum or something with one of my children, only to find them saying “I’m hungry” or “I’m thirsty” near the end of the exhibits. They’ll start eyeing the gift shop and hoping for a quick stop to quench their thirst or hunger. That trip into the shop will often lead to other requests and suggestions, ones that will often lead to unneeded spending.

If I can just pull a snack out of my pack, then the desire to go into the gift shop is halted. It’s a simple step, but an effective one.

Be well rested. This is always the best tip for avoiding temptation while on vacation.

Enjoy it. Get plenty of rest and sleep. If you find that you’re frazzled, spend a day taking it easy and not hitting many sites. Vacation is meant to be restful, and if you’re rested, you’re a lot less likely to spend unnecessarily.

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  1. Johanna says:

    This is what allowances are for. Your kid wants a souvenir? He can pay for it himself.

  2. Lucy says:

    I don’t understand why you can’t just budget for the minor souvenirs ahead of time. You’re know they’re going to be there. You know your kid is going to want them. It’s part of the vacation experience. Budget for it and make everybody that much happier. And if you can’t afford a $5-$10 trinket, maybe you shouldn’t be going on vacation just yet.

  3. Johanna says:

    Also: Leisure travel itself is “unneeded spending,” by definition. Vacations are supposed to be fun. If they’re not fun, stay home.

  4. kc says:

    “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve went through a museum…”


  5. kiki says:

    Ways to save money: have fewer kids.

  6. Donald says:


  7. Kate says:

    comments disappear–how many other people are trying to hang on?

  8. Joan says:

    I agree with the idea of taking pictures

  9. Joan says:

    The pictures tell a story

  10. Joan says:

    You can share many times with your children

  11. Joan says:

    One line at a time gets published, even if it is the same idea as the full paragraph.

  12. Joan says:

    #7 I’m hanging on, just not reading all the blogs.

  13. lurker carl says:

    This blog has become useless.

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