The word “souvenir” is actually borrowed from the French language. It means “to remember.” The word was adopted in the 18th century, which has its origins from the Latin meaning, ‘occur to the mind.’
So why on want typical, smelly, eerie souvenir shops to “occur to our mind” when “remembering” the sweet memories of our vacations?
I’m not an adorning fan of the “typical” souvenir. Normally imported from China or Indonesia, slapdash and somewhat useless, they don’t normally represent my time abroad. I try to buy something local to both support the local economy, but also serve as a memento I bring home from the country I visited.
However, I’m not completely against the “typical” souvenirs… in fact, I have a growing key chain collection that’s surpassed 30 countries, from Kenya to Iceland, Fiji to Brazil. Friends, family and I have all contributed to the collection; I love to lay them out and have a look a few times each year. I also buy shot glasses for one of my sisters.
However, when it comes to gifts to both myself (treat ‘yo self!) and my family and friends, I take great care in purchasing something that represents the city, culture and country, in addition to the person receiving the gift.
Most cities have markets of some fashion, and it’s always a great place to start. When I was recently in Porto, Portugal, I found beautiful hand-made jewelry, aprons, magnets, blankets, artwork, and more. Small boutique shops are also good places to go, since they often buy their items from road shows or local(ish) suppliers.
Just look for that “made in –” sticker. I can usually even find the key chain and shot glass made somewhere in the country of purchase. It just takes a little digging. It’s one of many ways I’ve chosen to be a conscious, sustainable tourist.
Look for things that are practical: that you (or whoever the recipient) would actually want and use, even if it didn’t come from a foreign country. That’s my only test: will I use this? Will I still like this when the novelty and memories have faded?
I do this by identifying personality traits, interests and hobbies of myself and those receiving the items. Personally, I have a lot of artwork on my walls, so I’ve enjoyed picking up items to add to my walls.
I love my collections I’ve gathered through my travels, from my Italian leather sandals and heaps of Canadian chocolate bars, to the fun collections I share with friends and family.
Two years ago when my niece was born, I decided to start buying her age-appropriate books from the countries I visit. When she’s older, she’ll have a collection from around the world, in different languages, that have grown up with her. While somewhat heavy (after all, I only have 50 lbs), I’ve loved shopping in local book stores, and it’s always something I look forward to purchasing abroad.
No matter the person or occasion, I urge you to reconsider the souvenirs you collect, instead of the ones that collect dust. While shot glasses, key chains and stickers are fun, try to also expand, shop local and find meaningful items that are one of a kind.