A picture might be worth a thousand words, but sometimes you just want something tangible to take home with you to remember an incredible trip. But space in your suitcase is prime real estate, so whatever it is you plan on lugging home better be worth the extra weight. These 9 easy-to-follow tips will help you determine what’s worth hauling home and what’s better left behind.
1. Cultivate your personal style. Traveling is a great way to build on your personal style. Look at the pieces in your closet that truly speak to your personality — an arsenal of amazing hats, colorful, eye-catching prints or vintage bags — and use these as inspiration for your getaway buys. Your new pieces will add sentimental value to your wardrobe and they’re sure to get a LOT of wear.
2. Do a little research before you leave. One of the best parts of traveling is the opportunity to discover new cultures and ways of thinking. To make the most out of your trip and bring back awesome, authentic goods to remember it by, it’s best to know your stuff before boarding the plane. Do a little research about the country and the regions you’ll be visiting beforehand and find out about the area’s history, culture and if they specialize in certain types of cuisine or artisanal skills. Learning a bit about the local culture can also help you figure out what you might want to pass on as well, like anything made from exotic animals or plants — both of which can be illegal and will be met with a lot of questions when you go through customs.
3. Ask the right questions. You can score some seriously great stuff at local markets. But, there are also a fair number of people out there peddling junk. How do you know that what you’re buying is authentic to the region? Be sure to ask the right questions: who made the item, where, how and with what materials. That little bit of research you did about the area should help you snuff out whether the items you’re interested in are the real deal or imitation goods. And don’t forget to read up on market culture to ensure you’re conducting yourself in a manner that’s both polite and sensitive to local customs.
4. Avoid chain stores. If you’re looking for a souvenir that won’t get dusty sitting on a shelf, clothing isn’t a bad bet. It’s great because you’ll actually be able to use it and the pieces will bring back fun memories every time you wear them. That being said, you’re better off passing on shops that you can find at home — we’re talking H&M, Zara and the like. Not only will you end up paying more for those products because of higher taxes in other countries, but you won’t find anything that isn’t already carried stateside. Support small local businesses instead by seeking out local designers and boutiques and take home a more one-of-a-kind creation that will give your wardrobe a unique, personalized flair.
5. Seek out local makers. One of our favorite things about visiting a new place? Discovering the artists and makers that really give the place local flavor. But how do you go about finding them? Markets aren’t a bad place to start. You’re likely to find at least a few members of the crafty crew selling their wares there, but independent boutiques are a pretty good bet too. If you follow any bloggers based in the area, check out if they have any recommendations or favorite local haunts, or use Etsy to scope out artisans in the area. And if you are part of the Couchsurfing network, be sure to ask locals if they know of any must-visit shops.
6. Counterfeits are out of the question. In many European countries, counterfeiting is kind of a big deal and you definitely don’t want to get caught buying any of these fake designer items. They can lead to some serious fines that will put a damper on your vacation. And while most people are under the impression that authorities only penalize people who plan to use the counterfeits commercially, more and more they’re cracking down on individuals who purchase them for personal use as well. (via Wired UK)
7. No space? No dice (sometimes). You’ve fallen in love with a stunning tapestry, a one-of-a-kind piece of art or a pair of impeccably handcrafted shoes, but there’s just one problem: There’s no space in your suitcase. As a general rule, you should skip anything that you don’t have room for in your bag. Not only will this make you think more carefully about how you spend your money during your trip, but you won’t have to deal with that last-minute scramble to find an extra carry-on bag. If you do go a bit overboard, ask the shop if they offer shipping. If they don’t, you can always ship the item yourself via Fedex, DHL or a similar shipping company that is reliable and allows you to easily track your package. You can also enlist the help of your hotel’s concierge service too.
8. Skip the souvenir shops. Want to bring back a few mementos for your family and friends? Ditch the kitschy doodads and “I Love X” t-shirts (unless that’s totally their thing) for something that isn’t destined for the dump or the back of the junk drawer. Besides, most of that stuff is manufactured in some factory thousands of miles away anyway. You don’t have to throw down mad cash for rare jewels and the like, but finding something that reflects the place you’re visiting and that the recipient will actually enjoy is a way better way to spend that hard-earned cash.
9. Make a budget. Because you still need to eat and pay rent when you get back home, it’s not a bad idea to make a vacation budget. In addition to things like dining out, museums, transportation and the like, you should also decide how much you’re willing to spend on gifts or souvenirs. Figure out who you want to buy for and what they might like, then estimate how much the items will cost and try not to go over that amount. And if you don’t feel like dropping a lot of dough, go for something more sentimental in nature like a nice card or cool prints from a local artist. Remember, it’s the thought that counts!
What’s the best thing you’ve ever bought on vacation? Have you had any less-than-perfect shopping experiences abroad? Tell us in the comments!