10 Tips on Purchasing Souvenirs

As with photographs and videos, souvenirs are the most cherished items which evoke memories of a trip — reminders of the activities you did and the sights you saw which you will most likely never forget.

Souvenirs are also a way to take a piece of the place where you visited home with you as a reminder of that faraway land every time you look at it — whether it is a work of arts and crafts; a natural object such as a rock or a sea shell; an item which is considered unusual in the region where you are based; or perhaps a few notes and coins of the currency of the country itself…

10 Tips on Purchasing Souvenirs

…but that prized item you brought home with you can become tarnished — literally and figuratively — when you realize that it was an object cheaply manufactured in a land hundreds or thousands of miles away. No one typically wants to purchase crystal in the Bavaria area of the Czech republic which was actually manufactured in China or India.

What can you do to ensure that your souvenirs are genuine to the destination where you visited? There is no sure-fire way to tell 100 percent of the time that the article you want to purchase as your souvenir is indeed genuine; but in no real particular order, here are 10 tips on purchasing souvenirs will help to at least increase the chances that the item you are purchasing is actually authentic:

1. Visit a Facility with Actual Working Local Craftspeople

There is nothing like purchasing an item which was created right before your eyes by a local craftsperson — whether it is made of cloth, wood, glass or metal. This is the single best way to ensure that your souvenir is authentic and was actually created in the country or region where you visited, as I have found in such countries as Liechtenstein or Côte d’Ivoire.

As an added touch upon request, sometimes the craftsperson will sign the object; other times he or she will agree to pose in a photograph with the item which he or she created.

Additionally, a local craftsperson will usually be someone who is born and raised in the country you are visiting — or, at least, has lived there for a long time — and will typically know the significance of the unique symbolism behind the items which represent the country. Do not be surprised if that person who creates your item is more than happy to explain to you some interesting information about the country in which you are currently visiting — and also gives you some advice pertaining to how you may better enjoy your visit.

Best of all, handcrafted items usually will not break the bank or strain your wallet, depending on what you purchase — there is no sense in paying too much for a souvenir in the first place — and you know that you will simultaneously be supporting the local economy directly.

2. Take a Natural Item Which is Indigenous to the Area — But…

A small black lava rock from Mount Etna in Sicily; a small piece of limestone from the sands near the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt; or a smooth rock from the “beach” near the birthplace of Aphrodite in Cyprus are only three of many examples of natural souvenirs indigenous to the regions where they are found — and they usually will cost you nothing.

As a precaution, first ensure that you not only have permission to take your chosen souvenir; but that you are also allowed to bring it into the country or region where you are based, as you do not want to break any laws or violate any rules. Natural found items based on plant or animal materials are usually not a good idea to take as souvenirs.

3. Check the Label Carefully

Many items are marked with the origin from where they are manufactured. If you are visiting Norway and the object is made in Malaysia, chances are that you do not want it — unless, of course, you really, really do want it.

Hint: You can bet that plastic refrigerator magnets with I ♥ Spain embossed on them in flashy colors are not made on the plains of Spain in the rain. In other words, stay away from items which are obviously touristy.

4. Research — and Ask

This is such a simple action which can save you so much time and effort in the long run — time and effort which you do not want to waste during your trip. A good place to start is to research via the Internet as to what items are either indigenous or manufactured in the area where you intend to visit; and if you can find a place which is recommended by others, that is even better.

Once you arrive, the concierge or employee behind the front desk at the hotel at which you are staying as a guest can be of assistance, as he or she is likely to be based in that country or region. I have been told multiple times by hotel staff in places such as Botswana not to patronize a place which was recommended by others, as they often know the most authentic places on where to purchase the souvenirs you want.

Believe it or not, honesty can be practiced by a merchant who only stands to benefit from lying. When I was at a souq in Bahrain, the proprietor — who had many nice items in his store for sale — was honest when he was asked if any of the items were indeed manufactured in Bahrain. “No — most of them were made in India”, he replied.

Still, practice due diligence pertaining to ensuring authenticity before purchasing souvenirs — and sometimes that could mean simply relying on a gut feeling.

5. Compare Prices and Condition of the Item Prior to Purchase

This tip is especially pertinent if you find yourself shopping in an area where multiple merchants are selling similar items. Look around first before you commit to a purchase, as prices can vary.

You really do not want to experience that sinking feeling of purchasing a souvenir — only to find a similar item moments later at a significantly reduced price.

You especially may not want to purchase an item which has an unwanted defect — only to find a similar item elsewhere which is in better condition.

6. Consider the Purpose of Your Souvenir

Purchasing a souvenir can be nice — but what do you plan on doing with it? If your answer is to hide it in a drawer or closet somewhere — especially if all it does is contribute to clutter — then what is the point of purchasing a souvenir in the first place?

You might want to decorate an item for the holidays with your collection of souvenirs — such as ornaments for a Christmas tree as one of many examples. Perhaps you have a room in your home which is dedicated to artifacts collected from your travels. Maybe you will actually want to use your souvenirs for a legitimate purpose — such as a working clock from Switzerland to inform you of the correct time; an article of clothing or jewelry which you intend to wear; or a toy for a special child with which he or she can play.

7. Ensure the Souvenir is What You Want

Bringing back a souvenir with which you will not be happy makes no sense — whether the reasons are aesthetic, spiritual or based on size — so ensure that the souvenir has some sort of special meaning, purpose or use to you before you decide to purchase it; and determine whether or not there is room in your home for it.

Also — unless you are willing to ship it separately — try not to attempt to take back a souvenir which is too large or too fragile to transport.

8. Negotiate For Your Bargain

More often than not, the list price should not be the final price which you pay. You have nothing to lose by offering the merchant a lower price than what is written on the sticker or tag — in some countries, they do not expect to sell items at the listed price — and ensure that your first offer is not what you would settle on paying. For example, if the item lists for five dollars and you want to pay four dollars, offer to pay three dollars as a start and negotiate your way towards that four dollar bargain if your initial offer is rejected.

If a merchant will not agree to your initial offer, do not hesitate to politely thank him or her and walk away. At best, the merchant might call for your attention as you leave and offer you a deal or accept your offer; and at worst, you realize that you cannot find a better souvenir anywhere else and you return to purchase the item which you originally wanted at full price.

Because credit cards add an extra cost to a merchant every time he or she accepts one, offer to pay for your item in cash at a lower price.

Merchants will often sweeten the deal for you if you bundle two or more items as part of the purchase.

9. Currency — If All Else Fails; or If You Are a Collector

Did you know that approximately 50 percent of the countries of the world outsource their currency? According to this article written by Brian Palmer for Slate, “Smaller countries outsource their printing needs for economic and technical reasons. Bank note production is a niche business, and the machines required to make modern currency are both expensive and rare. The smallest and cheapest printing systems available today can produce around a billion notes per year, so if a country needs fewer than that — and many do — they’d be wasting their investment.”

Whether or not the currency is manufactured in a particular country, virtually all of its citizens use it. Currency is usually an official part of the identity and culture of a country or independent state. Art work and words in the official language are printed or stamped on it; it usually is colorful; and it typically has value — if it has not been phased out like the French franc, of course. You typically have a choice of paper or coin; and currency does not use up much room in your baggage.

10. Create Your Own Souvenir

If in the unlikely event you might find that it is virtually impossible to find items created in the country or region in which you are visiting, consider creating your own — especially if you are talented enough to do so.

For example, you can create an object on which photographs you took of the place where you visited can be adhered to its surface — creating a one-of-a-kind souvenir which is certain to evoke memories of your trip.

If you have a family, have them all assist in creating the souvenirs with their own personal touches.

Give yourself worthless bonus points if you are able to create your souvenir while you are still in that country or region. You can then proudly proclaim that your souvenir was indeed made in that country — and it will be unique, as no one will likely be able to find another one like it.


Because souvenirs are highly subjective and personal, the main focus of this article is purchasing souvenirs for yourself and not as gifts for someone else — although some of the same tips may apply. I personally prefer for my souvenirs to be small, simple and inexpensive; yet are authentic, manufactured in the countries where I purchased them, are rather unique, and fairly represent their origins.

Regardless of how I feel, souvenirs should have a special meaning to you in every aspect — and the tips which are included in this article should help you get the most out of the souvenirs which you purchase.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

3 thoughts on “10 Tips on Purchasing Souvenirs”

  1. Billy Bob says:

    We buy fridge magnets of the places we’ve been to but we’re a special case: we have a few different fridges here and there. It’s helps my wife remember all the places we’ve been. I used to buy coffee cups long ago when they were cheap and not so easy to find but then they went way up: no thanks. We’ve also bought pricey made-there items (art and clever knick-knacks) but those things accumulate and they just sit where you put them. The fridge magnets are viewed daily and the cups were used regularly. We never bought the cheap-os but instead tried to find somewhat tasteful ones that would fit the decor of whichever residence they ended up in.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      May I offer a suggestion to possibly improve a good idea, Billy Bob?

      How about purchasing a souvenir of the place to which you have been that was actually made there — but small enough to take home and glue a magnet on the back of it to adhere to your refrigerator?

      Voilà — you not only have an authentic souvenir which was made where you visited that will still help your wife remember that place to which you both have been; but it also becomes something more unique once you attach that magnet.

  2. Kitty says:

    I try to support local artisans; my favorite purchase is handmade Jewelry which I always enjoy wearing ; it brings Back The memory of my experience with the artist. I’m not talking high end gemstone gold. I’m talking for example a beautiful necklace and earrings made of buttons from Porto. It’s a win win win purchase!

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