Whether you’re in search of unique gifts for friends and family back home or a special keepsake to remind yourself of your trip, the desire for an authentic souvenir is sure to strike you at some point on your vacation. It’s easy, however, to get sucked into a tourist trap and sent home with an overpriced, dime-a-dozen piece of junk. Lucky for you, it’s just as easy to put in a little extra legwork and find a true treasure.
Okay, so homework doesn’t sound like the best thing to add to your vacation, but the more you know about your destination, the better your chances of avoiding tourist-oriented scams. Take the time to learn about your destination’s history and what kinds of souvenirs you should look for there. If you know something about the traditions of the region, you can steer clear of misplaced items, like Venetian glass being sold in Tuscany or Bavarian lederhosen in Berlin. If it’s not authentic to the place, there’s a strong possibility of the piece in question being an absolute rip-off. The only way to arm yourself against a disreputable salesperson is with knowledge.
Get Off the Beaten Path
The closer you are to main streets and squares anchored by major tourist attractions, the less likely you are to find something valuable. Walk at least a few blocks away from busy thoroughfares and find specialty shops, if you can. If you’re in a shop overflowing with plastic shot glasses, t-shirts, and tote bags, you can pretty much guarantee that the store’s entire inventory is mass produced and probably imported, no matter what the labels say. Instead of picking up a bottle of Austrian schnapps at a cluttered general souvenir store, head to the Alt Wiener Schnapsmuseum. For real Moroccan argan oil, search for a cosmetic store. You’ll find higher quality items, better deals, and a more enjoyable experience if you seek out quieter side streets and specialty shops.
If you’re buying a piece of art or a handcraft, buy the item directly from its maker whenever possible. Not only will you fetch a more competitive price by cutting out the middlemen, but you will likely also learn more about the work and the local culture by speaking with a true artisan. Studios, craft markets, and art festivals are all great ways to find local artisans. Browse a market in Peru and strike up a conversation with one of the weavers, track down a blacksmith in Kyoto for a set of Japanese knives, or seek out the studio of a Bohemian glassblower in Prague. The more effort you put in and the deeper connections you make, the more meaningful and authentic your take-home prize will be.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Put your pre-trip studying to the test: when you’re interested in a piece, talk to the artisan or salesperson. Find out who made the piece and how, or take the opportunity to learn more about a craft’s general history. If you’re looking at something bulky or fragile, like a porcelain vase from China, find out whether they can ship your purchase home. Chances are the salesperson will be excited to meet a traveler so interested in their country’s traditions and eager to help you make a good purchase.
Taking these extra steps to purchase holiday mementos won’t just ensure your money goes well spent – it will add tenfold to the memories and friendships you stack up along the way, and those are the best souvenirs.