Why You Should Buy Souvenirs (and why you aren’t less of a traveller if you do)

by Brenna Holeman

Why You Should Collect Souvenirs 1

A few years ago, on my first visit to Nepal, I fell in love. No, not with a man… well, not with a human man. I fell in love with this pair of wooden dolls from a little souvenir shop in Pokhara; I loved them so much that I took a photo of them in the shop, just in case I never saw them again. Three days later, on my last day before returning to Kathmandu, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went into the shop, laid down the equivalent of $20, and walked out with my new purchases, clutching them to my chest.

And yes, I was backpacking at the time.

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My London flat!

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Some of my very favourite souvenirs, including ones from Myanmar, Mongolia, Russia, Hungary, Slovakia, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Guatemala, Nepal, Japan, Honduras, Bolivia, Italy, India, and Zambia. 

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Souvenirs from Chile, England, Wales, Indonesia, and Nepal, as well as my collection of found playing cards and a portion of my record collection.

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Art from Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Nicaragua

If you follow any major travel websites, blogs, or Pinterest boards, chances are you’ve heard something along the lines of “experiences, not possessions” or maybe you’ve read about people who never buy souvenirs, preferring to travel light or to save their money.

And while I appreciate all of those arguments – I’d much rather have plane tickets than a designer purse, for example – I am one of those people who ALWAYS buys souvenirs. In fact, I’ve bought souvenirs (sometimes multiple souvenirs) in every country I’ve been to, even if it’s something as small as a thimble or a postcard. I have lugged bags full of knick knacks all over the world, sent boxes full of treasures home even when I was nomadic and that “home” was my dad’s basement, and budgeted souvenir shopping into every trip I’ve taken. Some may call that materialistic, but I just call it sentimental.

Because the fact is, I LOVE looking at the souvenirs I’ve brought home from around the world. I love walking around my flat and picking them up. I love remembering where I was when I bought it, or who I bought it with, or who I bought it from. I love surrounding myself with little memories of my travels. Of course, I have photos and journals, too, but there’s something about having a little piece of a place to yourself.

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Souvenirs from Nicaragua, Russia, Jordan (a gift, I haven’t been there), and Japan. That wooden box was apparently made by a prisoner in Siberia almost a century ago – his initials are carved in the wood. 

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Art from Zambia, Portugal, Chile, and prints bought at the Tate Modern in London

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A doll from Peru, vase from Vietnam, print from Russia, paintings from Cambodia, wooden heart from Liechtenstein, and tchotchkes from Portugal, Russia, Japan, and Bolivia. My jewellery/makeup boxes do not close properly and it pains me every day. 

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Art from India, dolls from Nepal, Indonesia, and Bhutan, and chopsticks from Mongolia

Not only that, I believe that buying souvenirs is a great way to give back to a local culture and contribute to the economy. The trick to finding souvenirs that are actually made in a country? Do your research. Check out what’s commonly sold in the country you’re visiting online, and what materials that country might be known for (certain textiles, metals, jewellery, etc). If the souvenir in question is made of plastic or another cheap material (or, you know, says “Made in China” on the bottom… and you’re in Spain), chances are high that it was manufactured elsewhere. When in doubt, just ask the person selling it. They will most likely say it’s local no matter what, but having a short conversation with the person about it (“Where was it made? Is this a common souvenir in this country?” etc) can give you a few more clues.

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I even have souvenirs in my kitchen: painted cross from Guatemala, painting from Rome, pomegranate from Israel, enough pasta to feed a small army from Italy (food counts, right?!). Also my cookie jar is currently empty, which should be illegal.

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Glass fish from Cinque Terre, salt and pepper shakers from Botswana. I think I need to clean my kitchen.

And that’s the other beauty of buying souvenirs – you get to talk to people! I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with artists, salespeople, shopkeepers, and so on. That painting from Rome near my microwave? I bought that off a man on a little bridge; we talked for about half an hour about his life and what brought him to the city. Each painting I have on my walls, minus the prints of famous art? I’ve talked to each of those artists, learned a little bit about their style, their background, and so on. I was once invited to an art gallery opening in Porto because of my conversation with an artist. An artist I met in Colombia, Guillermo, inspired this post AND led to a friendship (hi Margaret!). I told a funny story about a painting I bought in Chile in a recent Facebook live video, and there are many more where that came from.

If nothing else, I recommend wandering around a local market and trying to look for even a tiny souvenir – a ring, or a small bag of spices, or a few postcards – to give you the chance to speak to some local people. In my experience, most people selling souvenirs will speak at least a little bit of English as they’re used to tourists, although it’s also a great opportunity for you to try out some of the local language; not only does learning a few phrases in the local language show respect, but it might convince someone to give you a small discount.

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 The real winner in this photo is the embossed “yak” skull (pretty sure it’s just a goat) that I bought on the streets of Kathmandu many years ago. Yes, I carried that in my backpack until I could ship it back to Canada, and yes, I then carried that in my suitcase from Canada to the UK. Hey, I’m not saying you have to have the same tastes as me… Also, The Rosie Project is one of the worst books I’ve ever read in my life and I don’t even know why it’s in my bookshelves – it was a desperate airport purchase – so if you’re sneaking a peek at my books, ignore that one. 

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Despite the fact that I am not religious, I do like to collect religious icons. I somehow accumulated a collection of glow-in-the-dark figures from around the world. Again, I didn’t say my tastes were for everyone. 

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Assortment of tchotchkes (what a great word) from around the world, including a beer stein from Austria, a matchbox from Iceland, and knives from Nepal and Morocco. I once jokingly pointed out those knives to a date and… well, I’m single, aren’t I, so no need to tell you how he reacted. I also may need to dust.

In terms of how to find the best souvenir markets or shops in the place you’re visiting, again, the internet will be your friend, as will guidebooks. Most guidebooks will have sections in each chapter about where to buy the best souvenirs, but I find that speaking to the staff at my hotel or hostel about where to find good, authentic souvenirs is also a great way to source items. Again, saying that you are looking to buy genuine souvenirs is very helpful. Note that some cities or countries simply don’t have a lot of souvenirs for sale – for example, I only found one official souvenir market in Bhutan (although there were plenty of makeshift stalls at popular tourist spots, and many expensive souvenir shops in the bigger cities) – so doing your research ahead of time is vital.

It’s also crucial to suss out if any souvenirs are deemed illegal or unethical – for the love of all that is holy, steer clear of any endangered animal products – or if your country won’t allow those particular souvenirs into your home country (g’day, Australian readers!). When in doubt, avoid anything made of natural products, including wood or seeds. If possible, it’s also good to ask for receipts, especially if the souvenir in question is expensive. This isn’t always possible, especially at markets, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. My mum once had all of her souvenirs that she had collected in China, Mongolia, and Russia confiscated at the St. Petersburg airport because she didn’t have the proper receipts/documentation for them (whereas I got through with no issues).

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Art and other artefacts from France, Israel, Germany, Russia, India, Bhutan, Mexico, Botswana, and London (including that violin I scored for £5 at a local market). Crooked frames by me. Level, what level? I have eyes!! *cough*

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Phrenology head from Portobello Road Market in London, because I believe everyone should own a phrenology head. Opium pipe from Laos, see previous reason. Another fantastic souvenir idea? Vintage books or pamphlets. They are certainly heavier items, but I have bought a lot over the years, even in other languages – these ones are from Slovenia and England.

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Souvenirs from India, China, Wales, England, Croatia, Portugal, and my very first souvenir purchase ever – one of those cheesy Eiffel Towers I bought my first time in Paris at age 17. Worth every franc (yes, France still used francs when I first visited, let’s not dwell on it, OK?).

Something you may have encountered when travelling, specifically if you are on a tour, is the dreaded “And now we’re going to stop off at a local shop/market for you to browse”. Most likely, your tour guide will get a commission of any purchase you make at that shop. Also something to keep in mind is that you have probably been brought to a very expensive shop – I’ve often been taken to carpet shops, silver shops, and so on – and you will definitely be paying tourist prices. My advice? Don’t purchase anything from these shops, unless you’ve specifically discussed shopping for souvenirs with your tour guide at a prior time, or, of course, if you totally fall in love with something and feel it’s a reasonable price (I once bought bedding in India while on a tour… yes, bedding. I have a problem, all right?!). You may feel pressured to purchase something, but you are under no obligation to do so. I simply say something like, “The shop looks nice, but no thank you.”

The one exception I have to this is if I have spent time with a group of people/a group of people have helped me, and at the end of the day or the experience they present some souvenirs for sale. Off the top of my head, I remember this happening in Vietnam (when local Sapa women helped me and other tourists on a hiking trail) and Botswana (when local people took me and other tourists on dugout canoe rides in the Okavango Delta). In both cases, women sold either small baskets, purses, or jewellery at the end of the day, and I personally bought quite a few trinkets in each scenario. I understand that some people feel like they’re being ripped off – “I already paid for the experience, why do I have to feel pressure to pay more?!” – but honestly, I’d feel embarrassed not spending a few extra dollars in a situation like that.

Always remember: in your mind, you might be a broke backpacker or budget traveller, but if you’re travelling for pleasure, you’re one of the richest people in the world.

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When I was writing this post I suddenly had a realisation that, geez, I have a lot of weird stuff. Like, wait, doesn’t everyone have drawings of human teeth from Berlin and a creepy old photograph with a cow’s skull painted on top of it in their bedroom? No?? Also, that little fish dish is really for olives, and that little green thing is a massage tool, the only souvenir I bought in Brunei. My favourite souvenirs, however, are always items of jewellery, and I recommend taking a look at what local women are wearing in order to get the most authentic pieces, whether it’s silver, brass, beads, and so on.

Finally, how the hell do you know if you’re getting a fair price? Here’s the deal: if you’re happy with how much you’re paying, and you feel that the item is worth the money you’re spending, then that is a fair price. You will definitely encounter some ridiculous sales pitches when you shop for souvenirs, but I try not to barter too much; as I insinuated above, at the end of the day, an extra dollar or two won’t really affect my life that much, but it may affect the person selling me the souvenir. If it’s too expensive for me, I simply cut my losses and move on. The general rule, when bartering, is to ask for half of the initial offer and then go from there, but again, it’s really up to what you’re comfortable paying. I’m going to post an article on best bartering tactics very soon, but this post is all about trying to convince you to buy souvenirs in the first place. Is it working?! *perspires nervously* Edit: Here is the post on how to barter for souvenirs while travelling!

And one more thing: buying souvenirs doesn’t make you any less of a traveller. We can’t all be some weathered adventurer carrying only his leather journal and a spare t-shirt. There can be a lot of snobbery in the travel world sometimes (see: “I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveller”, “people who go on cruise ships/stay at all-inclusive resorts aren’t actually travelling”, “people who count countries are superficial”, “Oh, you only went to the Moroccan Sahara? Well, that’s not really the Sahara” – for real, someone said that to me – and so on, and so on, until UGH) but honestly, if you want to fill your house with souvenirs, go ahead and do it. It’s YOUR money, so you can do whatever the hell you want with it (well, as long as it’s legal). For all of the souvenirs I’ve purchased over the years, I could have bought a bunch of flights instead, but I LOVE the things I’ve collected from around the world. They make me happy, and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

To reiterate: buying local souvenirs means I support the economy, get a chance to speak with lots of different people, get to own a beautiful item that brings back memories whenever I see it, and validates the fact that I have a goat’s skull displayed in my bookshelves. I mean, C’MON. Buying souvenirs is awesome.

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Do you know how happy walking into this flat makes me? Fun fact: I’m sitting on that couch right now as I write this, how very Twilight Zone. Oh, and those flowers have since died.

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And look who stands on my desk… 

Why You Should Buy Souvenirs

If you enjoyed this post, make sure to check out Cheap and Easy Souvenirs to Collect, where I showcase some of my favourite collections (coins and corks and vintage photographs, oh my!).

Do you buy souvenirs? Why or why not? What is your favourite souvenir you’ve purchased?

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Cate February 23, 2017 - 2:22 am

I loved how you really distinguished how just because you buy souvenirs it doesn’t make you any less of a traveler! I personally love to get a postcard from everywhere I go, and put the date on the back and then put them in a picture book when I get home and flip through them and remember all the places I’ve been. Your apartment is so cute, I love it!

Brenna Holeman February 23, 2017 - 10:27 am

Aw, that’s such a great idea, Cate! My mum does something similar – I should have been more diligent about collecting postcards. I have quite a few but not from every place I’ve been. 🙂

Jolene February 23, 2017 - 3:28 am

I love buying souvenirs, it doesn’t seem to matter what it is, unless it was a tshirt with your face photoshopped next to Avril Lavigne when you were 12 but even then it’s funny looking back on that trip to Disney with my family. I love souvenirs that I can see where I can take a small glance and remember a moment from a trip!
I love what you’ve done with the flat! The art souvenirs are seriously amazing!

Brenna Holeman February 23, 2017 - 10:26 am

Ha ha ha that t-shirt sounds amazing!! And yes, those kinds of things can still be really sentimental/funny. Thanks for your comment, Jolene!

S February 23, 2017 - 4:23 am

Yes! I love having little things to remember my travels by, although my taste trends away from random decorative tchotchkes and towards useful items, items I would have bought at home just the same. Some of my favorite souvenirs are things that don’t scream souvenir, but everytime I use them I remember where I bought them. A necklace from a nice jewelry store in Maine, a pint glass from that great Irish pub (purchased at the beer store next door, not stolen like my Irish coworker tried to convince me to do!), lots of tea from China, a scarf from a street vendor in Italy, a small dish with a Mucha(-style) print from Belgium. I also try to get at least 1 postcard from everywhere I go, and have them pinned up in my office behind my computer.

Brenna Holeman February 23, 2017 - 10:25 am

Yes, exactly! Souvenirs don’t have to be limited to keychains and fridge magnets. All of yours sound lovely – and I love the idea of the postcard wall to look at while working!

Ashley February 23, 2017 - 7:06 am

I absolutely love your taste! I love souvenirs too (I have a vast pottery collection that I started when I was 16), but after reading this post I’m realizing I need to buy more paintings.

Brenna Holeman February 23, 2017 - 10:24 am

Aw, thank you Ashley! I’m sure your pottery is amazing. And yeah, paintings are very often quite cheap and easy to carry home (if they’re unframed, of course)!

anjci February 23, 2017 - 10:16 am

I do love buying souvenirs too : ) my favourites though are fabrics rather than art. I also collect figurines of pigs and have about 60 from all over the world. I try to make sure they represent the place (e.g. the one from Chile is lapis lazuli, the Taiwanese one is jade, etc. I should write about my piggies!

By the way, I have seen plenty of souvenir shops in Bhutan. There are quite a lot indeed, especially in Paro but you can also find them in villages along the main roads.

Brenna Holeman February 23, 2017 - 10:20 am

I have collected a bit of fabric over the years, I’m wondering what to do with it! And wow, those pigs sound awesome. 🙂

In my experience in Bhutan, I only found exactly as you said – souvenir shops (which were all very expensive) or makeshift stalls along the road/at major landmarks, so I had no way to know if or when they’d be there. As I wrote, I wanted to find an official souvenir market, and was only able to find one in my time in Bhutan (in Thimphu). I just edited the post to add the bit about the shops, though, so thanks for pointing that out 😀

Kim February 23, 2017 - 9:43 pm

Make yourself some fabulous scarfs & pillows!!

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 6:58 pm

Good idea 🙂

Victoria February 23, 2017 - 2:03 pm

I’m currently in Glasgow for the semester so there’s not really any “souvenirs” that aren’t touristy, so I’m just buying books from secondhand shops (and occasionally Waterstones shhh) and writing where/when I bought them.

Also, I totally spent this entire post looking at your bookshelves and adding them to my goodreads list. A cool video idea would be a “what’s on my shelves” tour! I’m always dying for good book recommendations. 🙂

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 12:16 pm

Yes! I do that, too – whenever I finish a book I write my name, the date, and where I read it. Great souvenirs to have. 🙂

I’m going to do more posts about what I’m reading! 😉

Marlee February 23, 2017 - 2:16 pm

I couldn’t agree more, I try to bring home something from each country I visit. I aim for art, but if all else fails, I’ve managed to find a number of trinkets that make gorgeous Christmas ornaments (that’s art too, right?). I love an eclectic tree and it makes me so happy to unpack them each year that I’m with my family for Christmas. Bonus: They’re so small and easy to carry around in a backpack. Thanks for the glimpse into your beautiful flat and all of your special souvenirs!

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 12:18 pm

Yes! My mum collects Christmas ornaments from around the world, too, it’s such a lovely idea. Thanks for your comment, Marlee!

Katie February 23, 2017 - 2:54 pm

How cute is your flat! I mostly only buy food/wine and I have a little bit of art (paintings, prints, or pottery) as souvenirs. I very rarely buy knick knacks — not due to some holier-than-thou-I’m-no-tourist b.s. but because the thought of dusting them gives me an eye twitch. I’m a bit of a minimalist that way.

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 12:17 pm

Ha ha – yes, this advice does not apply to minimalists! I do love buying food when I travel, though, although sometimes I buy something that I really DO NOT know how to eat when I get home (a certain spice, etc). Oh well, my pantry looks cool for a little while, at least!

Alison February 23, 2017 - 3:28 pm

I love souvenirs! I have all kinds of fabric stuff too from Hong Kong, Thailand, lamps from Vietnam, stuff that was supposed to be alpaca but blatantly isn’t from Peru, etc etc! I also collect fridge magnets. Cheesy but makes me smile. You could have someone make the fabric into a patchwork quilt – my mum did this recently with fabric from her time living in Africa and it’s wonderful. BTW, if you are passing Cumbria on your way north to Scotland, look me up! Oh and maybe we’ll coincide in Jordan – I’m going in April! (and I loved the Rosie Project – oops!!!)

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 6:59 pm

Ha ha – the blatantly non-alpaca 🙂

I was thinking of making the fabric into pillows but the quilt also sounds great! I’m headed up to Scotland on the train, so no stops until Edinburgh. And no shame for liking the book – we all have different tastes! 😀 I’m the one with a goat skull after all…

Megan | Red Around The World February 23, 2017 - 3:36 pm

I loved this! I don’t have tons of souvenirs, but I have a few random things. I found this metal floral cap thing in Slovenia that was a little rusty that I brought home. Turns out it was from a cemetery lantern thing. I always make shadowboxes with tickets and pictures when I come home, too.

I love how your apartment looks with all the souvenirs though, it has so much more character!

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:00 pm

The shadowboxes sound lovely! What a good idea. And thank you very much 🙂

Jill February 23, 2017 - 3:46 pm

I love buying souvenirs! I like to get prints by local artists. And scarfs. I love them and they’re easy to pack to bring home. Another thing is magnets. They’re cheap and small and it’s just a little reminder of where I have been in the world. I will never understand the judgement some have of others for the way they travel/what they buy/where they go. Makes no sense to me. Life is short. Do your thing!

PS. I love that print with the teeth! lol

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:01 pm

Isn’t getting local art so great? It’s definitely my favourite thing to purchase! I’ve run out of wall space…

And that print was from a little market in Berlin, I’m so glad I got it! 🙂

Stacy February 23, 2017 - 4:09 pm

Your souvenirs are much more creative than mine! I have a magnet collection on my fridge–it makes me happy to be reminded of the places I’ve traveled every time I’m in the kitchen. I also try to find unique/handcrafted Christmas ornaments (or something that can be repurposed into a Christmas ornament, like a little figurine).

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:02 pm

I used to collect magnets, too, but I’ve found fridges aren’t magnetic anymore?! And Christmas ornaments is such a great idea, my mum does that!

Laurie February 23, 2017 - 4:12 pm

Love your flat! Mine is pretty small so I can’t put out everything I have picked up traveling over the years so I recycle and store the “resting ones” in a couple of bins. My walls are full of prints or photos I have picked up or had my own pictures enlarged. I have the world’s largest coaster collection which tends to be a conversation piece. I can’t resist buying earrings at local markets. Oh and I think we’ve discussed the food thing…more spices at Spice Mountain in Borough Market earlier this month that I will probably never use but I had to have, more tea to add to my cupboard full and coffee beans. Oh yes and the mango marmalade from Seville I picked up last month – it’s now sitting beside the black butter from Jersey and pumpkin butter from West Virginia last summer. None have been opened yet..but they will be. It all makes me happy!

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:17 pm

Ha ha ha – it sounds like we’re the same person! I always buy way too many teas and spices… and earrings… and other things… so that most of my stuff is in storage, too! I have a whole basement’s worth in Canada, I swear… Once I go back I’ll slowly rotate it all so everything gets its day! 🙂

Zoey February 23, 2017 - 4:56 pm

This is my favourite post of yours of late—so good! Thanks for sharing all your treasures. I couldn’t help thinking they’d make a great little picture book: a photo of each piece and the story of where/how/why you bought it.

My travelling has been limited. Mostly it’s between Canada & the States with my roller derby team or with my partner for work. I’m still figuring out my souvenir style, and this post was helpful. My first trip to NYC, I was so overwhelmed, but I managed to get a couple things that fit my budget and taste: an art deco-style print (sold at a bookstore as fancy wrapping paper=$5 art!), and 3 pairs of drug store earrings that made me feel vaguely local for some reason. In Portland, I went in every bike shop I could find and finally stumbled across a gem: a booking about cycling as a women written by a local author. Score! From LA, I’ve mostly brought back matchbooks from cocktail places I enjoyed.

I really appreciate the suggestions for finding local markets. I’ll apply this to upcoming trips, even though they’re also to metro areas of the States.

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:20 pm

Wow, your souvenirs sound awesome! And good find on the both the wrapping paper and the book, you never know when you’ll score. 😀

So glad that you liked the post, and that’s a very cool suggestion! 🙂

Anne February 23, 2017 - 5:14 pm

Love that you included not to buy endangered animal products (should be a no-brained but still). I’m also so terrible at bargaining because I don’t really know how to do it and I feel awkward. My biggest success story for haggling was by accident, I was just admiring a carved stone elephant at a market in South Africa because it was beautiful but way out of my price range. The merchant asked what I was willing to pay, so I said essentially the amount of money I had left on me (a little more than 1/3 the marked price) and the merchant accepted it! So I got a deal by spending all the rest of my money earlier that day.

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:23 pm

I said I was going to post something on bartering today – whoops – but it will be up soon, I promise! And yes, sometimes it’s easier than you think 😉

Thanks for the comment, Anne!

Laura February 23, 2017 - 6:04 pm

LOVE this. I always buy souvenirs and like you mentioned, I ship them all back to my parents basement where they still sit right now! haha I love collecting paintings from different countries. I used to work at an art gallery and the people who owned it really inspired me with all of the art they collected when they traveled – 10 years later and I still think of them when I’m in a market!! Hopefully one day I’ll have a place to display them 🙂

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:24 pm

It’s SO gratifying when you finally get to display everything! Thank you so much for your comment, Laura, I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

Kendell K February 23, 2017 - 6:20 pm

I love to pick up both rings and bowls as souvenirs. It’s always fun when you have people over and your chips, salsa, etc. are all served in different quirky bowls. Similarly, it always feels great to wear a ring that you know can’t be bought at the mall down the street. It has so much more meaning. I absolutely loved reading this post, I can definitely relate to feeling like less of a traveller at times because I’ve decided to purchase a souvenir (especially if it happens to be something that is somewhat popular in that city, town or region).

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:26 pm

Yes, I totally feel the same way! Those are both great collections. I’m so glad you liked the post, Kendall, thank you for commenting!

Barb February 23, 2017 - 6:40 pm

I’m with you- I buy them BUT only buy art-type things that can be displayed, or Christmas tree ornaments. Those are some of my favorites, I have them from everywhere I’ve traveled 🙂

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 12:21 pm

Sounds wonderful! I bet your home is lovely. 🙂

veena February 23, 2017 - 9:00 pm

I am not a huge souvenir person, but I do always try to bring back some small trinket from each place I visit, and I am very much with you on trying to purchase items from local vendors. One of my favorite recent purchases is a painting from Siem Reap — my friend and I had a great conversation with the artist who painted it, and it felt great to purchase something I loved that also supported a local artisan. Regardless of what other trinkets I pick up, I make sure to always grab a postcard for myself and a magnet for my mother from every destination I visit. I have a friend who sends herself a postcard from every place she visits with a little note to herself about what she wants to remember from that place, which I thought was a great idea and is one I’m going to use on my next trip!

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:28 pm

That is such a good idea! When my mum and I travel together we always send each other a postcard… and I do send my family quite a few… but I should send myself one or two as well! 😉

And yes, I totally agree re: meeting artists and chatting to people. It makes the souvenir that much more special. Thanks for your comment, Veena!

Kim February 23, 2017 - 9:38 pm

You have no idea how very happy this post has made me 🙂 smiling thru every word and staring at your souvenirs. I don’t know your journey with them but it reminded me of every single shot glass from my twenties, every post card, every painting, every “shelf piece”, and my treasured jewelry from every trip I have ever taken over 20 years. I too LOVE them, each piece has a story, a history, a special memory of being bought, or the journey to get them home via backpack in one piece!!! The struggle is real!!! Haha. Hand carrying those Venetian masks from Italy, UK and back to Canada was iffy lol. The Jade teapot from Cambodia, the stein from Germany, the pottery from Greece and on and on……a glance brings back dozen memories, faces & conversations and that is priceless. Thx for the post
PS I think that Eiffel Tower is a rite of passage, there’s one collecting dust on my shelf too ????

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:31 pm

Aw, I’m so glad you liked the post, Kim! And yes, the struggle is definitely real, ha ha. It sounds like you have some fabulous souvenirs in your collection! 😀

Tana Henry February 23, 2017 - 9:44 pm

Yes! I really love my small souvenirs and how when I look at them they remind me of my adventures. I always get an ornament for my Christmas tree, even if nothing else and they provide such great memories!

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 12:20 pm

My mum does the same! It’s such a great way to collect souvenirs. Thanks for your comment, Tana! 🙂

Marg February 23, 2017 - 10:02 pm

I also like to pick up something small, locally made is a must !! Love to support the locals..

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 12:18 pm

I know, isn’t it great? 🙂

Federica February 23, 2017 - 11:25 pm

I loved this post so much! I’ve been travelling for the past year and haven’t bought anything cause I literally have no room in my backpack, and from time to time it makes me sad to think that I don’t have anything from the places I’ve been to. Your souvenirs make your apartment so personal and unique. I think I’m gonna start collecting little things cause I’d love to have a place that looks like that one day, I’d love to look around in my house and seeing all those little souvenirs reminding me of my trips. Thanks for sharing this.

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:33 pm

I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Federica! Yes, you can definitely collect small things that don’t take up much space/weight – check out that picture with the little cabinet full of tiny objects that I have. 🙂 But wow – what an adventure you must be having!

Jennifer February 24, 2017 - 12:14 am

I’m such a bad minimalist because I have two addictions: books and artwork. Seriously though, I buy a piece of art from every city/country I visit. I try to buy them at farmer’s markets or small shops because I love finding something that no one else will ever have. These decorate my walls and bring me so much joy. On my bookcases, which are always stuffed, I have little trinkets I bought during my travels. There is something special about telling someone the story behind the item them are holding. Treasure hoarders forever <3

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 12:20 pm

I totally agree with you, Jennifer. I am a horrible minimalist as well! 😀

Paige February 24, 2017 - 2:59 am

I love your decorating style, your flat looks lovely! On the USA/Canada road trips I took with my parents and sister growing up, picking out souvenirs, especially at arts and crafts shows, was always a big part of things. Christmas with my family in particular is a ton of fun because the tree ornaments are from all over. Of *my* stuff, one of my favorite things is a set of nesting dolls I bought in Estonia as a fifteen-year-old, on my first big European adventure with my dad. I really held back on souvenirs on my most recent trip to the U.K. and Ireland but I saved all my ticket stubs, brochures, and little info maps–this post inspired me to look through them tonight as they’ve been sitting in a ziplock bag on my desk! Now if only I could get around to figuring out how to arrange and frame them…

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:36 pm

Aw, thank you very much, Paige! It definitely feels like home. 🙂 I agree, buying souvenirs is such a fun/big part of the journey for me, and I always make time to do some souvenir shopping on every trip I go on. I have a few journals/collage books where I’ve pasted things, perhaps that’s an idea?

Anne February 24, 2017 - 4:09 am

I love your flat and love all your souvenirs. I always buy/collect souvenirs – sometimes they’re typical, but often I’ll buy something like a piece of kitchen equipment so I can think of my travels when I’m using it. I also have a penchant for picking up rocks and bones on my walks. Yep, rocks are heavy and yep, people get a little perturbed when they see my yard full of skulls, but it makes me happy.

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 12:19 pm

Thank you so much, Anne! And yes, kitchen utensils are great souvenirs, I have some spoons, bowls, and other objects that I love using when at home. And hey, if it makes you happy, that’s what counts! 🙂

Elina February 24, 2017 - 4:47 am

Oh my gosh, I think I’m in love with your apartment. It even looks like it’s got a method to the madness (madness being all those trinkets) – must be the black and white colour scheme. That’s so awesome.

I completely agree with you! I like owning things, and I don’t think there’s anything bad about it. It’s sorta weird really how minimalistic the travel style today seems to be, after all the original explorers all pretty much travelled with multiple heavy boxes and happily loaded them up with strange things from strange countries. At least that was the image I had when I was a kid and dreamt about travelling, haha.

Personally, I like to browse a little bit so that when I see something rarer, I’ll know to buy it. Last year in Myanmar I saw so much cool jewellery but it all looked the same, until I found a woman selling dragon rings that I had so far seen in no other stall. And yea, I probably paid more for it than I should have, but like you said – if it makes me happy, right?

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:39 pm

I like to think there’s a method to the madness! 😀 Thank you for the kind words and for your comment, Elina, I’m so glad that you liked the post! And yes, that’s totally how I think of the original travellers, too – lots and lots of trunks.

And that’s a great tip… I always try to find something that stands out a bit, too, or that looks unique! 🙂

Sarah February 24, 2017 - 3:08 pm

I bought some beautiful chopsticks in Japan last year – too beautiful to use, so they’ve been sat in a drawer. After reading this I’ve put them on display on my book shelf!

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 4:46 pm

I’m all about showing those souvenirs off! 😀

Ella February 24, 2017 - 4:49 pm

I love buying souvenirs while abroad! I look forward to the moment when I see a cute shop or market where I can buy, or at least browse all of the trinkets. One of my biggest regrets concerning souvenir buying was not getting a jewellery box when I was at the Maasai Market in Nairobi. I don’t wear jewellery so I thought it would be an impractical purchase. But it was so beautiful and I deeply regret it. It was in the shape of Africa and the country of Kenya what the key that popped out when you wanted to open it. It’s been 2 years and I still think about the box! haha.
What I do get on every trip though, is a postcard. I write myself a message on the back to commemorate my experiences and then I store it away for later. My goal is to frame each one with different frames and create a gallery wall in my future home. I think buying souvenirs are perfect for those who love both travel & interior design 🙂

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:40 pm

Aw, there are a few souvenirs I regret not buying, too. I’m sure you’ll find it again one day, life is funny like that! And your postcard idea is wonderful, I should have done that over the years. I’ve collected a few and/or sent a couple to myself, but definitely wasn’t consistent with it.

Thanks for your comment, Ella! 🙂

Jessica February 24, 2017 - 7:31 pm

Your souvenirs are great, they really add a lot of personality to your flat.

I have a shadowbox with a small figurine or trinket from every country that I visited. My parents have two huge ones and do the same, and as a kid I loved just standing there and staring at the little symbols of all the different places in the world they’ve been. I think that might have actually been what sparked my wanderlust.

I also buy whatever catches my eye in the local markets. My husband and I had a bunch of stuff shipped back from Turkey and it arrived about a month later in a giant crate that we had to pry open with a crowbar. It was a fun surprise.

Brenna Holeman February 24, 2017 - 7:41 pm

Thank you very much, Jessica! Those shadow boxes sound amazing, what a great idea. And wow – that must have been the best gift ever! I have felt the same after shipping boxes home, it’s so much fun to go through them again. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

Tanja February 25, 2017 - 10:12 am

I always buy souvenirs too:)

Brenna Holeman February 25, 2017 - 2:05 pm

I love it! 😀

Christy February 25, 2017 - 10:06 pm

Wow, thats some collection you have. I love it! I always try to pick up a little something from each place I’ve been. If I visit in winter I buy a bauble from the local Christmas market – I actually cried when I smashed my Paris bauble decorating the tree 2 years ago 🙁

Brenna Holeman February 27, 2017 - 12:43 am

Aw, I can imagine that would feel like a loss! I’d definitely cry if I lost/broke some of my favourite souvenirs. I guess you just have to go back to Paris now 😉

Emily Bitz February 27, 2017 - 3:27 am

I love your flat, it’s so cute! But my favorite is definitely the bookshelf. I can see Big Magic sitting there! 🙂

Kaitlyn February 27, 2017 - 3:36 am

I loved this article! I totally agree! Also, I bought an unreal amount of textiles on a tour in India too! Lol! By the end of the tour everyone would turn expectantly waiting for me to put my hand up Whenever our guide mentioned the shopping outings.
I’m an unapologetic shopper on my travels, and I never understood why other travelers felt the need to judge.

Fned February 27, 2017 - 4:35 pm

Loved this post and your flat looks amazing ! Really love how how each item has a story to tell and that is what gives it its TRUE value – more than any $$ you may have spent. I used to collect items from my travels (I love trinket boxes and always brought one home) .. for some reason I’ve stopped and only buy souvenirs if I see something I truly love when I’m on the road (but not always).

HOWEVER, what I have ALWAYS done, from my very first trip (15+ years and 67+ countries ago) is buy a post card, buy a local stamp and send it tonmyself back home with a few lines scribbled about my thoughts and experiences in those moments. Sometimes I send myself more than one post card during a trip but always at least one. Over the years I have collected a fair lump and I love to pull them out every now and then, look at the images, the stamps (some are little work of arts themselves!), the words I was thinking and feeling, even the home addresses of where I lived at the time being me back memories …. one day I may pull them all out, scan them into a single work and publish a nice coffee table book for myself 😉

Zalie Holeman February 27, 2017 - 5:32 pm

I LOVED looking at all your souvenirs! Just imagine when you have everything back in one place! It is going to feel soooooo good, trust me! I don’t think I could ever go to a country and not buy something, even if it was just something small 🙂

Brenna Holeman February 27, 2017 - 7:24 pm

Aw, thanks Zalie! Yes, I can only imagine what it feels like. Maybe someday soon. 😉 I love that you, me, and mum all have the same idea when it comes to souvenirs!! xoxo

Sarah February 28, 2017 - 1:46 pm

You know I’ve genuinely never enjoyed a peek at someones apartment as much as this, its so slick and interesting and I can just tell that if I walked in I could spend 3 and a half hours asking about all the trinkets and art and eclectic taste going on. Super cool. I also love souvenirs so this is a quality post!

Brenna Holeman February 28, 2017 - 2:44 pm

Aw, thank you very much, Sarah! That’s very kind of you. And how awesome that you love souvenirs, too! 🙂

Mary B March 1, 2017 - 8:20 pm

I love your apartment full of trinkets! I am TERRIBLE at buying souvenirs. I’m indecisive, cheap, and have a minimalist streak. If I can’t figure out where I would put it in my home (which is really hard if you don’t even have a set home to go back to…) then I usually won’t get it. And then I come home and completely regret not having reminders of my journey all around me.

The one exception was Turkey, where I became completely obsessed with the textiles. I bought two suzani (which eventually I will hopefully use as bed covers), and an embarrassing number of peshtamels. I gave some away as gifts, but I also use them every day at home and they make me unbelievably happy.

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 5:41 pm

Aw, I’m sure those souvenirs are lovely, Mary! And thanks for the nice comments about my flat 🙂

Caroline Eubanks March 9, 2017 - 12:02 am

Love this and also that is the cutest microwave ever.

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 5:40 pm

Aw, thanks! Microwave is from Amazon 🙂

Cassidy @ Jetplane Jean March 20, 2017 - 2:27 am

This. Is. Everything. I am constantly scouring the local markets for something to bring home. I get the, “collect memories not objects” is great for some people. But as someone that likes to walk around her apartment and touch her travel treasures from time to time, I loved this post. You honestly have such a great & bizarre collection of objects which I can definitely appreciate as my friends/family can never understand my need to purchase random little figurines or creepy (love that teeth print by the way) art.

Definitely can’t wait for your post on bartering, I always have the hardest time with this as I don’t want to be offensive, but also know it’s pretty acceptable in most situations.

Brenna Holeman March 20, 2017 - 9:22 pm

Aw, thanks a lot, Cassidy! I will try to put up the bartering post in the next couple of weeks. 🙂 So glad you liked the post and my weird souvenirs!

kevin Ngoc March 21, 2017 - 9:34 am

I love this post. =))). Your pictures’re so cute. <3

Brenna Holeman March 21, 2017 - 12:42 pm


How to Barter for Souvenirs While Travelling March 27, 2017 - 6:56 pm

[…] month, I wrote a post on why you should buy souvenirs, and why you’re not any less of a traveller if you do so. Trust me – I buy a LOT of […]

Mo April 3, 2017 - 5:33 am

I personally have always loved buying souveniors, although I can’t boast the collection that you have! Back in the day when smoking was everywhere I used to collect matchbooks from restaurants when I traveled. Now my favorite thing is clothing and jewelery. I even love it when I run out of toiletries mid-trip and am “forced” to try the local shampoo/soap/whatever!

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[…] came slowly, yet the past month has gone by in a blur. This is the very last post I will write from this beloved flat, and I am devastated to leave it. A number of factors influenced this choice (the lack of a […]

nosogirl June 3, 2017 - 12:00 am

I always bring something back from each of my travels.

My top ones are artwork and Christmas ornaments. I have the artwork throughout my house and each one makes me smile – watercolors from Florence, pen and ink drawing from China, watercolors from Paris, original photography from New Mexico, etc. I buy what speaks to me and am willing, when necessary, to spend good money on it. The Christmas ornaments might be cheesy, but when I pull them out each year to decorate the tree, again, they make me happy and make me smile.

One other thing I always do is make a photo book of each trip. Normally it’s pictures my travel buddy has taken, because she is usually the official photographer. But I enjoy designing the books and including all the commentary so I can look back and remember each and every thing we’ve seen.

Miranda November 24, 2017 - 8:07 pm

I love this post Brenna! So good! I think having souvenirs is so nice because they give you something to remember your trip by for years and years to come! And shopping for them can also be a lot of fun that I think some travelers miss out on. But I like your point that everyone travels differently and it’s okay if you buy or not, you’re still a traveler!

I like practical things like a scarf I got in Liverpool, a pair of wool gloves in Germany, a bracelet in Barcelona, a journal in Verona. But I also enjoy little figurines or things that can be used later for Christmas ornaments! My favourite of which is a tiny hand-carved wooden camel from Morocco. But one things I always try to buy in each place is a pin (like a hat pin).

I have a large set of cork board squares that I display them on (which is currently packed up in my parent’s attic). These are especially great when backpacking because they’re tiny!

Alexandra July 6, 2018 - 3:49 pm

I love this, and I totally agree. If buying souvenirs makes you happy, by all means, buy them. Personally, I enjoy buying “typical” souvenirs that are often overpriced like magnets and mugs, but it makes me happy to see them on my fridge every day, or drink out of a mug decorated with the South African flag, for example. In terms of supporting local artists, I find it’s super fun to shop for handmade jewellery; they hardly take up space in your bag, and you can wear them for the rest of your trip!

Windy January 9, 2019 - 2:41 pm

I just discovered your website last week and have so enjoyed your writing! I just wanted to say thank you so much for this article! You have put into words my feelings on buying souvenirs on my trips. I love walking through the house and catching a glimpse of, say, the small globe I bought on the side of the road for $5 at the equator sign in Kenya. Because it reminds me of the fantastic trip I took with my 70 year old father who had only been out of the US once (when he was stationed in Vietnam) and remembering how much he enjoyed the trip. And how much I enjoyed sharing that experience with him. I love sitting on the couch, watching TV, and throwing a glance at the two cat statues we bought in the market in Egypt, remembering how awed I was, how dusty it was and so full of people, and me trying my hand at bartering for the first time. It is even the very small things. Like the sunscreen we bought in Rome because we had forgotten to bring some. It is our backup sunscreen in the car now (almost empty) but every time I ask my husband if he put on sunscreen and he says no, I get to pull that tube out and remember gelato and pasta and demonstrations and Pink Floyd. It is not having a possession, it is the joy of having a memory trigger and I don’t regret any single one of them!

Sam February 19, 2020 - 4:05 pm

Hi Brenna!
I’m a student at Ohio State University and working on a student project dealing with millennial travel and souvenirs and was wondering if I could ask you or anyone on this forum more questions about the topic?


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