The Souvenir Debate

After an offhand mention of souvenirs recently, several people commented on the topic, indluding Cyde Weys, who left this one:

And as for souvenirs while traveling, my solution is simple: I don’t buy them, period. Souvenirs are synonymous with schlock in my mind. I can return from a trip with the memory card in my digital camera full of pictures and have more than enough to remember the trip by. I don’t need a physical item to remind me of somewhere I’ve been; my memory is good enough.

I guess the question really is what value are souvenirs – or what are souvenirs – for the frugal traveler. For example, my idea of souvenir isn’t a snow globe or a t-shirt at all (although I do sometimes buy shot glasses for my father, who has an enormous collection). Typically, I don’t buy souvenirs for myself (I’m content with memories and pictures), but for others. Because of that, and because of my own lack of interest in the items, I don’t buy the usual souvenir junk.

I try to look for the following:

Distinctive postcards If I have time when traveling, I try to send a distinctive postcard to people I care about. It takes a few minutes and only a dollar or two, and it always raises a smile, as it’s a reminder that the human connection between the two of you is valuable. You were willing to stop on your trip and take the time to send them a quick note and a visual reminder.

Items that aren’t native to where I’m from The further I travel from home, the more unusual the fare becomes. Thus, I usually try to look for items that aren’t native to where I’m from, but aren’t tourist schlock, either. On one trip, I picked up some salmon that had been smoked overnight, flew home with it, and gave it to my father in the evening – he utterly loved it. That, to me, is a great souvenir, not some schlocky t-shirt.

An item the recipient will genuinely enjoy When I travel, I try as hard as I can to find a local chocolatier to get local chocolates for my wife. Sometimes I am successful – I found some incredible spicy chocolates on one trip – but other times, I end up with regional brands that aren’t particularly special but aren’t found in our local area either.

In short, I attempt to find things that have value outside of the context of the trip itself. I try to find things that would bring genuine enjoyment to the people that would receive it, like the simple and personal touch of a postcard or some distinctive chocolate for my wife. If it becomes an unwanted item, gathering dust or being only worn on weekends while cleaning the house, there’s no reason to bother.

In the end, souvenirs are in the same boat as any gift-giving situation: is it something that the recipient actually would enjoy and value? If you’re not sure of that answer, the souvenir should probably stay on the shelf.