I have to start with a confession: I hate souvenirs. When I see a Dutch ceramic shoe or a Chinese plastic warrior, all I can imagine is having to wipe the dust off them for the rest of my life.
Here are some alternatives to the classic overpriced tourist souvenirs that could work as warm vacation reminders for you and your friends.
A recipe for a local delicacy
You can’t bring that amazing pasta you tried in a restaurant in Florence home with you. But you could introduce yourself to the cook and ask for the recipe, then cook it yourself at home (or invite friends over and share the treat with them). Not every cook is willing to share their recipes, but it’s worth trying (and smiling while you ask really helps).
Cooking courses are another good idea, although personally I prefer getting invited to a local’s home for dinner and then helping to prepare the food. I explain how much I’d like to see [insert amazing food here] being cooked and learn how to make it myself – people are usually flattered that you like their country’s cuisine and will happily teach you.
My way: On my last trip, I saw the mother of the owner of the hostel I stayed at preparing a meal, and although we had no common language (she was Chinese), a few genuine smiles and curious looks over her shoulder got me an invitation to the kitchen. Before I knew it, I was helping her cook a delicious meal!
Don’t worry if you fail with all these ideas: you always have the option of finding a recipe online.
I love listening to local hits when I’m abroad, and I’ve discovered that music can make for an unexpected and rewarding souvenir to take back home.
Knowing your friends like the back of your hand will help you discover new artists to introduce them to after your trip. Once you return home, add your contribution to the playlist for their next trip. Find a whole album by one artist, or make a compilation of songs by local artists.
A postcard (including one to yourself)
I love receiving photos from my friends’ trips in my email inbox, but there’s nothing quite like real paper postcards in my real mailbox. More often than not the postcards arrive after they’ve returned from their trip, but who cares! It’s the thought that counts.
My way: I have a tradition to always send a card to myself to remind me of an interesting thought that crossed my mind during the trip. It’s funny how I never remember what I wanted to share with myself and I’m excited to read it once the postcard has arrived.
Any random item you discover, especially if there’s a story behind it
Seashells (be careful, there are many areas where you’re not allowed to take them from the beach), pressed leaves (they make for fabulous wall art or cards), oddly-shaped rocks – all of these can be good gifts for friends who don’t need much to be happy. Add a small printed card with the story behind the object and maybe a loving message to let your friend know you’re thinking of them.
My way: I have a pinecone garland at home that contains more stories, sunrises, forest trails and happy moments than anything else in my home. Every time I go on a trip where pinecones can be found, I bring one home and attach it to the ever-growing garland.
Tea, coffee, chocolates, wine – yes, but from a local market
I have a rule – if a box of coffee or chocolates has a photo of the place and an inscription in English, don’t buy it. A wiser alternative is to shop for food and drinks only from local supermarkets or open-air markets, where prices are reasonable and you can uncover some fascinating local products.
My way: I like challenging my friends and family, especially the more conservative among them. From my last trip to Thailand and Cambodia, I brought home packages of dried silkworms and crickets – a local delicacy. To be honest, I had underestimated my friendship circle, because almost everybody dared to taste them and actually liked them, although some chewed with their eyes closed and were ready to spit.
Long ago, people used to print every single photo they took. Now vacation photos get buried in a pile of everyday digital shots and we miss out on the opportunity to reminisce on our happy travel moments. Personally I have found that the photos I love looking at most are the weird and silly ones rather than the posed ones.
My way: I print one photo per trip (sometimes from my Instagram account) and pin it to a photo ‘clothes-line’.
Bonus idea: seeds
Although I haven’t really succeeded in planting many foreign flowers and vegetables from my travels, I always pay a visit at the local store or market where I get a handful of packs with seeds for anything I think I might like growing. My best achievement so far are Thai beans and unknown Brazilian flowers.
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