L ike 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 — 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.
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 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 here are 7 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 was 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.
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 Indigenous to the Area
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 can be examples of natural souvenirs indigenous to the regions where they are found. However, 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
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: It is a good 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. Greater than once, I have been told 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. 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.
6. 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. There is art work 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.
7. Ensure the Souvenir is What You Want
It makes no sense to bring back a souvenir with which you will not be happy — whether it is for aesthetic, spiritual or size reasons. Ensure that the souvenir has some sort of special meaning 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.
For additional thoughts and advice from other BoardingArea and Prior2Boarding “bloggers” on the topic of souvenirs, please refer to the following articles:
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.