Making Souvenirs Meaningful

We all love to buy a little something when we travel. Something to remind us of the places we have been and the amazing memories we have made. It can be something big or small, something that you wear, or admire on a shelf or mantle, or it can be something you use in everyday life. While everyone has different taste and preference when it comes to travel souvenirs, there are a few things that every mindful traveller can do to make buying travel souvenirs meaningful and impactful.

Do your Research

Before travelling to a new destination, do some research to understand the history and culture of the area. Find out what kinds of traditions and customs they have. Identify what kinds of items are significant to the region or country you are visiting. For example, when visiting Russia, I learned that centuries old traditions of creating beautiful artwork on miniature paper mâché boxes is an important part of their culture and history, along with Matryoshkas or Russian Nesting Dolls. This helped me focus my efforts on finding one of these items to bring home with me to commemorate my time in St. Petersburg. While there is nothing wrong with buying shot glasses and other trinkets, I personally get much more gratification having items that represent the local culture. 

Buy Local

Once you have identified the types of items that are represent the local culture of the place you are visiting, it is equally important to ensure that you are buying local. The benefits of supporting local businesses and artists are two-fold – one, you are getting a quality handmade product from the country you are visiting and two, you are helping to support the local people. A good example of this is, again when visiting Russia, many of the Matryoshkas (Nesting Dolls) were made in China so it was important for me to go to local markets and artisans that sell authentic dolls that were made and hand-painted in Russia.  

Start a Personal Collection

This is one that I have definitely adopted throughout my travels, and I have met others who do the same. I personally love to buy paintings from local artists, that depict some of the places I have visited. I am able to hang these pictures on my walls and it makes my home beautiful and full of meaningful memories. The first one I ever bought was a watercolour from an artist at the Flower Market in Nice, France; since then I have collected equally beautiful paintings from Peru, Vietnam, Paris, Belgium, Russia and Sweden.  

Be Mindful of the Environment

Many souvenirs we buy are made up of some sort of material that is a natural resource (e.g., wood, metal, stones, etc.). One of the aspects I consider when buy a souvenir is the material it is made up of. I ask questions like, is this material finite or rare? Is there a negative environmental impact? Was it sustainably produced? This mindset can be particularly important when visiting places where shells and other pieces of nature are used as souvenirs for travellers. While it might be nice to take a piece of the place you visited home with you, it is often better to leave the natural environment as you found it. 

Adhere to Local Customs

Not all places you visit will have the same cultural traditions, in some palaces bartering is commonplace and in others it is not. Be sure to understand the local customs and adhere to them whenever possible. Remember when bartering, it is important to remember that often the people you are buying from need the extra few dollars more than you do so be mindful of this, and be sure not to barter in places where it would be unacceptable or even disrespectful to do so. 

Overall, souvenirs can be such a wonderful thing and an amazing way to support local artists and businesses, while bringing something meaningful home to remember your travels. If you have your own collection from places around the world, I would love to hear about it as well as any other tips for buying meaningful souvenirs abroad. 

See the World, Make it Better.

~ Earthly Traveller

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