When I studied abroad, one of my favorite things to do was shopping for travel souvenirs to bring home to the people I love. I studied abroad in the fall and would be home for Christmas, so I wanted to find the best gifts for each person in my life. It was a fun exercise in learning what was important to the places I visited, but I quickly realized that I needed to understand the significance of what I was bringing to people. While it’s true that you can appreciate the beauty of a particular object, I think it can be difficult to understand the significance of something to a place you haven’t been.
Tom and I didn’t travel much before we got married. We were too busy with work and he didn’t think he would enjoy traveling. In fact, it was a year and a half until we took our honeymoon. Once that trip was over, traveling became an important part of our lives together. (Thank goodness!) We’ve worked really hard to create a travel budget that works for us. That said, I knew from the time we were married that I wanted to find travel souvenirs that made sense for us as a couple. I didn’t want to fill our home with meaningless clutter, but I did want to find a way to remember our trip. On our mini-moon to Half Moon Bay, I purchased a beautiful vase from Light & Art. It’s still one of my favorite things I’ve purchased. But, how many vases does one person need?
Now you – what do you typically bring home as your travel souvenirs? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
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As far as “things” go for travel souvenirs, Christmas ornaments are my thing. Some people collect shot glasses, other people collect magnets, and I collect Christmas ornaments. I’ve always loved Christmas ornaments. When I was a kid, we would put the tree up on my birthday, so the Christmas tree has always held a special meaning for me. When I was in college, I continued that tradition in my little apartment. Now, however, I put the tree up earlier than ever. It’s not that I don’t love Thanksgiving (except I don’t), but Christmas trees bring me so much joy. I want to hold on to those feelings of joy for as long as possible. So, the tree goes up in November and comes down after Epiphany (or whenever I get around to it).
Where to Find Christmas Ornaments When Traveling
I love looking for Christmas ornaments to remember our travels. The more I travel outside of the United States, the more I realize that these travel souvenirs aren’t always easy to find, especially out of season. Outside of traveling during the holiday season and scavenging around the Christmas markets of Europe, I’ve learned to be become content with purchasing ornaments after our trips, if I see something that reminds me of our trip. I think Vienna and Salzburg Christmas markets have the best selection of Christmas ornaments. The Salzburg Christmas Store ships to the United States. They have a robust selection of Christmas ornaments in store and a limited selection online. (To be honest, I’m still mad at myself for not buying the Vienna ornaments that I fell in love with – they were so unique and I’ve never seen anything like them anywhere.)
Beyond Christmas markets, I tend to look for artisan shops to check out. You never know what you might find and I think their ornaments tend to be more beautiful than those that are mass produced in the travel souvenir shops that sell everything from t-shirts to shot glasses. I’ve also purchased several destination specific ornaments from Käthe Wohlfahrt. Most recently, in February, I purchased our Alsace ornament from Feerie de Noel when I couldn’t find one anywhere else. I do find that their selection in the stores is better than the selection online, and they do have regional ornaments that aren’t offered online. Barcelona and Alsace are two examples of why I’m glad that I visited the store!
Where to Shop for Christmas Ornaments at Home
Best Pyansky offers lovely hand-painted ornaments with various cityscapes. VT-Ornaments offers a number of mouth-blown ornaments from different cities and landmarks. I purchased a Ponte Vecchio for Tom’s birthday as part of an ongoing joke between us, and I was very pleased with the quality. And, this past Christmas, I found two of these at a Christmas market in Rome. We added a Colosseo and St. Peter’s Basilica to our tree when we returned. Neiman Marcus and Horchow occasionally have destination specific ornaments in December. I’m still kicking myself for not buying a beautiful Paris set that I saw a few years ago!
Frontgate is offering a beautiful Eiffel Tower ornament and a London set of ornaments this year, too!
Book a Photo Session
One of my favorite things that we do is book a photo session with a local photographer. While I love taking photos, I also want to make sure that we have more photos together. Selfies don’t count. They work, but they rarely capture where you are at that moment. We’ve booked photographers in Paris on our honeymoon, Venice on our anniversary, and Florence (because I love it). All of these photo sessions are some of my favorite travel souvenirs and they made Christmas cards really easy. I could order them in October when the discounts were the highest, too! Since we stopped doing these photo sessions, I stopped sending Christmas cards. It’s that simple. Even if you’re someone who constantly travels with family and/or friends, booking a local photographer is worth it for a lot of reasons.
Reasons to Book a Travel Photography Session
One, you’ll get your whole group together. Even when we travel with my mom, we end up taking turns pairing off for photos. Occasionally we’ll get a photo of the three of us, but those instances are pretty rare. When Tom and I travel together, we get pictures of just one of us, and it’s usually me taking pictures of Tom. He is not an instagram husband. When we book a photographer, we get (good) pictures of us together. It’s as simple as that.
Two, you can get a local’s perspective. When we were in Florence, we were contemplating throwing out the second part of our trip to Budapest–Vienna–Prague to stay in Florence. Cristiano asked what our plans were and, as soon as we mentioned Budapest, he started telling us how much he loved it. His excitement was palpable and we are were convinced to leave our itinerary as it was. He wasn’t wrong and we fell in love with Budapest. I can’t imagine skipping that part of itinerary now, but it’s because Cristiano was able to get us excited that we went. In Paris and Venice, we were able to get recommendations of things to do and eat that we wouldn’t have found on our own. One of our friends booked a session in Venice in July, and their guide was able to give them recommendations for places to escape both the heat and the crowds.
Three, you’ll explore the city from a different perspective. While traveling, you hit a lot of landmarks. You visit museums. The well-traveled route is established and most of us follow that. By engaging with a local photographer, however, you’ll see a city in a different way. You’ll learn about places that you might not find on your own, cross town on a bus filled with locals, and venture down less-traveled streets in search of the perfect shot that suggests you have the city to yourself. I can’t tell you how many beautiful places we’ve found by experiencing a city by way of someone who lives there outside of a traditional tour.
Local Food and Wine as Travel Souvenirs
Disclaimer: You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the import rules for your country before doing this. For example, you generally can’t bring meats, fruits, or vegetables back to the United States. That said, there are some places that you can purchase things that are perfectly packaged and within code for the US, so make sure to ask if there’s something you really want to bring back. I’m reminded of the cheesemaker in Pienza who perfectly packed Tom’s pecorino so that he could enjoy it when we got home. In other instances, I’m reminded of throwing out my favorite Italian cold cuts at customs and immigration because they weren’t packaged for entry into the United States. Either way, I’m not someone who says to skirt the rules on this stuff. Find out what the rules are and/or ship things home because others know what the rules are.
Local Products to Bring Home
There is a store in Paris that sells the most delicious food items, including olive oil, balsamic vinegars, sweets, etc. Every single time we go to Paris, we stop at Maison Bremond. The flavored balsamic vinegars make for great salad dressings. (I particularly love the white balsamic vinegar on fruit, too.) The truffle beads are a delicious addition to pasta. After doing a balsamic vinegar tasting in Modena, we brought home a couple bottles for ourselves and for friends. In other instances, we’ve brought home Italian cookies and candies that I can’t find anywhere in Dallas. These are ordinary treats found in the Italian grocery store. They are inexpensive, but I prefer them to anything I’ve ever had in the United States.
We’ve hosted a few gatherings at home with charcuterie boards, and it’s always fun to bring out these products that we can’t find the United States or that would be cost prohibitive to purchase for a single event. This past August, we celebrated my mom and sister’s birthdays with a number of delicious products – it was like being abroad in our own living room! In other instances, I purchase some of these travel souvenirs as gifts because I know someone will love them as much as I do. (I actually have several things to mail after our most recent trip to the Alsace.)
Bringing Wine Home
We don’t typically buy wine at home, preferring to save it as a special occasion when we travel. Wine tastings have become one of things we do when we travel. The import and retail mark up on wine is truly incredible. It doesn’t help that there are some tariffs that were introduced by this administration that seem to be adversely affecting wine producers abroad. We learned more about this when we were in Spain. They had to work really hard to make sure that they selected bottles that wouldn’t be subjected to the additional tariffs. My mom shipped 12 bottles home from Spain that we purchased from Vini Vinateca. This was great because she was able to mix and match different bottles, blends, etc. to create gift baskets for her friends. (These Sagrada glasses pair beautifully with Spanish wine.) Outside of that, we have shipped wine (and olive oil) home from Italy a few times, and it’s arrived safely and securely.
Most recently, during our trip to the Alsace, we brought two bottles of Alsatian wine home, after finding out that our local grocery store only stocks one bottle of Alsatian wine and it’s expensive. We wrapped the bottles in socks and put them in our checked luggage. It was the first time that Tom said that we should consider buying some wine skins that my mom uses when she travels. How ever you choose to bring wine back, I think it’s extra special to be able to pop open a bottle and relive your travels. Just make sure to ask how long you need to let a bottle settle after shipping or flying. The changing of temperatures and locals can affect the taste. (#TheMoreYouKnow)
My biggest regret? Not bringing wine home from the Meneghetti Wine Resort in Croatia.
I have to admit that I’m grossly behind on my photo books, but they are one of my very favorite souvenirs. I use Blurb to create large coffee table books. (Use my link and Blurb promo code UNIQUEFORTY to save 40% off your first book!) The quality is absolutely incredible, and one of my favorite things to do is to curl up on the couch with Tom and go back through them. It forces us to remember our adventures and we talk about what we loved most about the trips and where we want to again. It’s truly very special and we need to do more of that. Similarly, when a friend asks where they should go, I can pull out the book and it might be more compelling than anything they could read in a book or online. You know – a photo is worth 1,000 words.
I also make them for my mom when she travels with her. Regardless of when I show up with the book complete, she’s always really excited to have it. I’m a couple of trips behind, which is problematic because I did promise her a book for her birthday last year. Maybe this post will be the impetus I need to get started.
Blurb offers great Black Friday sales, and I tend to try and update that post when I see a Blurb coupon that I can’t refuse. Believe it or not, it’s one of my highest performing posts during the holiday season. But, don’t just want until the holidays to start your books. Do it January when it’s too cold to do anything else.
Recipes from Cooking Classes
Taking cooking classes when traveling is, without a doubt, one of my favorite souvenirs. Whether it was learning to make strudel in Salzburg, pesto in Cinque Terre or pasta and pizza in Florence, these delicious classes have introduced us to local cuisine and provided us recipes to bring back to the United States. In some instances, they have influenced the cooking classes I have taken in the United States. Before tasting all the flavors of Barcelona, I don’t know that I would have booked a Spanish cooking class.
I typically use the recipes I’ve learned for holidays and special occasions. After taking two pasta classes in Florence over Thanksgiving, my mom even bought us the pasta maker attachment and accessories for my Kitchenaid for Christmas. Making these foods is a great way to relive your adventures and also share them with friends and family. I can’t wait to take an empanada class when we go to South America!