The 6 Best Souvenirs You Can Bring Back From Your Travels

You know how it always goes...you pack light(ish) so you can collect all those tangible memories of your big trip, and you leave laden with purchases and a suitcase that may or may not have weighted itself into a “heavy baggage” fee, boat anchor, or reason why the plane went down. But here's the thing, most of those souvenirs that seemed so necessary whilst in the throes of vacation passion probably won't last very long on your shelf/cupboard/lawn because by the time you've come back to reality from that spending spree, they're mostly past their sell-by date. So stop speed dating your gifts, save a little dough, and give yourself (and your friends) the most long lasting gifts of your treasured trip. Here are our Top 6 souvenirs that won't break the bank or your back...

Learn the Cuisine

England’s staple…pie, pie, and pie

England’s staple…pie, pie, and pie

Perhaps the most long lasting and self satisfying gift, and one that's easily given away to friends and family, is learning to really get your head and heart around the local cuisine during your visit. Sure, you can follow a recipe for tortellini soup, but does it really taste right? Once you've had the real deal from Tony's Trattoria in Bologna though...well, now you really have something to aspire to. There isn't a recipe that will duplicate that taste. You must consume it, let it consume you, and then work hard to replicate it. And you'll probably never get to Tony's level but at least you know where your lodestar is. Plus you'll be that much closer to authentic Italian, not Olive Garden Italian.

Make a Few Local Friends

Funny thing about people everywhere, they're overwhelmingly pretty darned nice folk. I am always the foreigner wherever I roam, so I can attest that a few choice words and a smile go a long way toward opening others up and possibly making new friendships. The locals know exactly where to go to save money and get the best...whatever it is you're looking for. Locals love showing off their “hood,” and they're happy to tell you how to enjoy their area. We've never ever left a location without having made lifelong friendships to which we will return. What could be better? You get insider secrets, you save money, you have a reason to return, and you have a friend or two for life.

Listen to the Music

Not all music is as different and exotic to our ears as, say, Malian blues or Mongolian throat singing might be, but even music that sounds vaguely familiar will often be sung in a different language by different music stars, wildly popular in their native land. It's good to step off your own shores and into the vast ocean of music that exists beyond your home port. I've found myself completely and blissfully lost in Irish laments, Balkan rhythms, German pop, and Bhangra beats, and each of these takes me on a journey. Spotify and Pandora (sorry, US only) are quite prolific playlist curators, so if you don't actually know what you're looking for, start with a country name or a single artist you know from the genre and either of these services is happy to take you away to another land.

Incorporate the Language/Colloquialisms

I found “mate” to be a word that I picked up a while back, but I’ve also learned to incorporate a few other choice words and phrases to make my own expressions more colorful. And this has been done for thousands of years. Our own language is generously peppered with French, German, Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, and “everywhere” words that seem to better describe our situation than our own tongue. By learning a few colloquialisms, you broaden what you want to say and expand how you express yourself. I learned a little Dutch from a good friend of mine but the phrase I still use frequently says better what I want to say. It loosely translates to: “As if angels pissed on my tongue,” and when I taste an amazing wine or slurp a perfect soup...well, that's exactly what it tastes like, angels pissing on my tongue. Thanks, “The Dutch!”

Drink the Drinks You Remember Best (Or Collect the Drink Coasters)

If you can’t take the drink home, the coaster will do

If you can’t take the drink home, the coaster will do

Aperitivo's in Italy, Kölsch from Cologne, Yorkshire tea from...Yorkshire. These are all local treats that we enjoyed and can purchase back home or make to extend our memories of our visit. It's easy to be transported back from whence you came, and recall where you first had that drink you now have in your hand at home, or that beer foam now drooling down your chin, and the best news is you can do it as often as you want!  It's a perfect way to sit around and review vacation photos, reminisce with your fellow travelers about the trip, or share the local flavors you enjoyed with friends who've yet to go.  If you feel you can't recreate that special drink, you can always take one of the drink coasters which are mass produced, easy to carry back, and free! I usually collect one from every pub I enter (let's just say I collect a lot of coasters and leave it at that), and even in collecting those, I don't add more than perhaps 2 ounces to my backpack.

One Good Photograph Can Last Forever

Sometimes photos just take themselves…

Sometimes photos just take themselves…

I'm not talking about the picture of you pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. No, one or two really excellent photos of what you saw, without you in it, can be printed and hung in a special place in your home. I can't even tell you how many tales I've been able to tell just from someone seeing a photo I took from somewhere I've been, simply asking, “So where is this from?” What a great way to share your travels without a boring slideshow, and a wonderful way to remember your travels simply by looking up from your book.

Bulky, purchased items have a shelf life, and therefore don't usually sit on that shelf for long. But food, language, friendships...these gifts keep on giving. Spare yourself the excess baggage and bring back the smart gifts that can be shared with everyone. Happy travels!