What to buy:
I like buying souvenirs when I travel - for myself and others. However, I also do not like clutter, so I am pretty picky about what I buy. So, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite ideas that are not difficult to bring back even when your bag already seems full.
Food/candy/alcohol - I usually bring back some chocolate, some for me, my office, my family. I like interesting flavor combinations or I ask what would be the local favorite. I am especially excited if I can find a local chocolatier and go crazy in there. In Vienna I spent about $80 in one chocolate shop because everything sounded so delicious and I just could not decide. In Colombia, I bought 7 bags of coffee to bring back as gifts, drink at my office, and 1 or 2 to keep for myself. I also like buying spices and interesting salts (think lava salt from Iceland, paprika straight from Hungary). The spices are something you can research in advance as well while you investigate the local cuisine. I also appreciate edible items because they won’t clutter up a person’s home for too long. I’ve also almost always bought small bottles of the local spirits for people to try because it is always fun to get a taste of what liqueurs are popular. Black Balsam (Latvia), Birkir, Bjork, Floki whisky (Iceland, yes I went nuts there), Aguardiente (Colombia), Laphroaig (Scotland but bought at LHR) are all things I’ve brought back. Sometimes I buy a big bottle for myself but only in duty-free so I don’t have to worry about schlepping it around my entire trip. On occasion I make an exception to that rule though.
Jewelry - Buying jewelry for friends is always nice because it involves spending some time selecting a piece that will suit your friend or family member’s taste. I also try my hardest to find a local artisan to support. This place, was a favorite in Prague, and I’d go back for more pieces. I’ve bought some pretty amber pieces in the Baltics and a lovely porcelain ring in Prague. If this sounds like a good idea but you’re not good at selecting jewelery, I think a good choice for almost anyone who has pierced ears is a unique or dainty pair of studs.
Local artwork or craft - Whether it is a painting, drawing, small sculpture, whatever, supporting a local artist is an amazing way to remember your trip or share it with another. The most fun part of purchasing local artwork is talking to the artist - if you bought it directly from them. Or, if you’re a high roller, talking to the gallery employees/gallery owner you purchased it from.
Beauty products/locally made skincare/handmade soaps/candles - This might be one of my favorite categories. Just like food and drink, there is a shelf-life, so it won’t take up space forever. Meanwhile, you might just end up using something or lighting something everyday that brings you back to your trip and the moment you purchased it, whate lead you to that place, etc. I also like that packaging of locally made/handmade products often have extremely unique and beautiful packaging, like a pretty bottle that you could use as a vase later or refill with another soap, liquid, or oil so that that you can still admire the container long after the product is gone. I LOVE buying soaps too because there are always some unique scents and ingredients and they are super easy to pack because they do not take up a lot of space. Finally, even though Sephora is everywhere, I enjoy going into Sephora in other countries because there are always local beauty products and skincare (I’m more into the skincare than makeup, to be honest) that I can’t find at home.
Random clothing items - I do like pretty scarves, but I have had a self-imposed moratorium on buying scarves since about 5 years ago. Unless I saw something that I HAD to have, I’d pass it up. I usually travel with a few scarves anyway. I do keep an eye out for interesting hats or hair accessories though. I included this category because some people can still add to their scarf collection so this is a great idea that takes up almost zero space.
So, there you have it, my favorite things to buy for myself and others. Postcard packs always work too though because they’re usually easy to display and can be changed out when you tire of the photos.
Also, I’m pictured above from a trip last year after an afternoon of shopping in Le Marais in Paris, with a Diptyque candle bag. Yes, I bought one and yes, I know they’re kind of basic. But, I still love Feu de Bois and the John Galliano candles (even though he is awful). The only time I will allow myself to buy a Diptyque candle is when I am actually in Paris because they are expensive and my own personal travel treat.