I thought I would take a break from Japan (and blogging apparently), to talk about something a lot of travelers deal with: souvenirs. When you are visiting somewhere you obviously want to bring back part of it with you, while it is generally advised not to actually steal physical things of what you see, such as bits of the Great Wall, a special shell in Hawaii, and penguins in Australia (yes, people have attempted tha!t) but generally our eyes are aimed towards bigger things. As much as I would love to bring home that 4 foot painting or 6 foot tribal mask, when you have just a backpack or small suitcase, that just isn’t going to work, especially if taking a budget airline. While I am quite the master smuggler of over-sized items including a cool umbrella, large Venetian mask, and a lamp (yes, a lamp…) via a coat, sometimes I just have to say no and get something smaller. So here is my top 5 list of keepsakes any backpacker can get that will still remind you of your travels.
5. Key chains
Yep, the cliche of key chains, but to be honest these are a great way to remember your travels without the bulk. While this may be kitschy, you can actually get some cool looking pieces if you go past the typical airport souvenir shops. My sister collects key chains from everywhere she goes, things she sees, and I also collect them for her too, which she displays in shadow boxes. It’s a great reminder and great conversational piece when people visit!
Ok, this may seem lame to you, but I am such a sucker for fans. Seriously, any country remotely warm will have their own line of fans. I have collected some from Spain, Italy, Thailand, Japan, China, and Hong Kong (
where I actually put them is the thing…) You can find a lot of handmade and hand-painted fans, which I think tell a story. An elderly woman in Barelona told me she had been making these her whole life, a tradition passed down to her and something I will remember whenever I look at that fan. They are great when you are hot AND they look fantastic on a wall. Plus, they are extremely lightweight (unless you get a large, decorative Chinese fan) and can easily fit inside a purse or backpack.
This seems to be a huge thing amongst backpackers, especially guys for some reason. When they visit a country they buy a little embroidered flag and attach it to their backpacks. Most sew them on, so props to you guys knowing how to do that! While I have never been into getting the small flags (probably because I can’t sew) I have been known to get a giant flag…as in a six foot Swedish flag, but again these are very lightweight and fold up easily into any bag! Whichever you prefer, definitely easy to bring back.
2. Plates, Bowls, Cups, and more
I bet you weren’t expecting this one – probably thought I would go with a shot glass or magnets. However, it actually is quite easy to pack the aforementioned and you can find some amazing things that people make! You just wrap it up in your clothing and you are good to go. I am a sucker for markets and have a huge affinity for bowls. I have no idea why, but I see a cool hand-made bowl and I am like a kid in a candy store (if the bowl HAS candy in it, then I am in heaven!) I now have a mismatched collection of bowls from all over the world and again I think it tells a story.
Talk about the lightest and cheapest things you could ever buy while traveling. Postcards take up no room and are the best of the best when it comes to collecting things. I have visited around 30 countries so far and I have collected a postcard from every single place and almost every city. I tend to buy quite a few with intent to send them, but when it comes to choosing which one to part with, I can’t and keep them all to myself (sorry friends and family!). I laminate themand put them up in my room and probably will eventually put them in a giant scrapbook or photo album, but for now, I will stick with my Eiffel Tower made of Eiffel Tower postcards. Wherever I move, I always put this up!
So there you have it. Cheap and lightweight souvenirs any backpacker (or non-backpacker!) can have. Sure some of these may seem silly or kitschy, but these are things you will actually use or display for quite some time, whereas that “I <3 NY!” shirt and museum book will sit there and collect dust for eternity.
What are your must-have souvenirs when you travel? Share in the comments below!