Over the last couple of trips, I have found collecting souvenirs from my travels has gotten harder. Walking into most tourist shops, it is hard to find souvenirs that aren’t mass produced in places like China. I wouldn’t mind souvenirs made in China while I am in China but I don’t want to buy souvenirs in Colombia that are made in China. I have collected some amazing locally made travel souvenirs from my travels around the world. I asked several of my fellow travel bloggers to share their favorite unique souvenirs.
Eydis Boots from Iceland
~ Jennifer from Made all the Difference ~
I walked into a small farm restaurant near Lake Mývatn, Iceland. Due to it being winter, I was the only customer in the restaurant. It focused on local produce and dishes from the surrounding area. They also had a gift shop that featured only Icelandic made produces. My eye immediately caught on this amazing pair of boots. The boots are designed by Halldóra Eydís Jónsdóttir who is from Lake Mývatn. She takes inspiration from the Icelandic landscape and forces on using raw Icelandic materials.
I checked out the price tag and recoiled, but thought it doesn’t matter they will not have these boots in my size. I was SHOCKED when they did (any girl with above average feet know the difficulty of finding heels that fit). I tried the boots on and they were so comfortable. I closed my eyes and reached for my wallet. I had to have these boots.
Djembe Drum from Ghana
~ Patti from The Savvy Globetrotter ~
Although I am not musically inclined, I am the proud owner of an authentic djembe drum from Ghana. While traveling throughout Ghana, I appreciated the musicians skillfully playing the drums and thought the skin-covered hand drum would make a unique souvenir. I figured I would eventually pick up a little drum at a market somewhere, instead, a random series of events led to me owning an authentic musician-quality djembe drum of my own. I had asked about taking drum lessons where I was staying after seeing signs around town offering them and was introduced to one of the employee’s father.
It turned out his father was a talented musician who traveled the world playing drums in a group. When I mentioned during my drum lesson that I was planning on purchasing a drum as a souvenir, he insisted on helping me purchase an authentic one from the same place he bought his. We met the next morning and after negotiating, I was in possession of an authentic djembe drum. Even though I only had one lesson and don’t know how to properly play, I sometimes play the drum at home as a reminder of my trip.
Carved Chicken from Jamaica
~ Carole from Berkeley and Beyond ~
One of my favorite souvenirs is a carved chicken from Jamaica. I sort of collect chickens for my kitchen, but I am picky and actually buy very few. I had seen someone holding a carved chicken in an ad for Jamaica. So the seed was planted then. In Jamaica, we went to a local market, against the advice of our resort. Too iffy they said. Of course, we loved the market, and I was looking for something like that chicken.
I did find a stall where they displayed all kinds of carved animals, but no chickens. The vendor tried to interest me in his items, but I said no, I wanted a chicken. A chicken? he asked. “No problem.” He told me to come back in ten minutes. And in ten minutes he had rounded me up the chicken of my dreams. It wasn’t as fully painted as in my dreams, but I’ve grown used to its simple beauty and still enjoy seeing it every day.
Vintage Postcard from France
~ Sophie from Solo Sophie ~
I’m not a big ‘collector’. I never have been. However, when I first saw this postcard of the Eiffel Tower, from back when it was the highest man made structure in the world, I knew I had to buy it! This is a real life vintage postcard I purchased from the Flea Market at the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (the Saint-Ouen flea market)- which also happens to be the largest in the world of its’ kind- for just £1. It’s the first thing I bought when I moved to Paris for my year abroad and it sits on my desktop, reminding me of all the amazing things I’ve seen and done over the past year.
Colored Masks from Guatemala
~ Claire from Claire’s Footsteps ~
As you stroll down the streets of Guatemalan highland town Chichicastenango, which is the location of Central America’s largest market, you will be graced with stall after stall of brightly coloured masks. Some look eerily enticing, some seem plain scary, but they all seem to have a compelling story to tell.
These masks are still used by indigenous groups during festivals and pageants, and they are said to both drive away malevolent spirits and be a symbol of fertility or a plentiful harvest. They are widely found in indigenous villages, and as these are plentiful in the highlands of Guatemala masks can be purchased in many of the local markets as souvenirs.
They cost around 50 Quetzals ($6.50) and come in lots of sizes. So, if you’d like to bring some evil spirit-banishing magic back home with you, make sure to purchase one of these beautifully handcrafted masks!
Ostrich Egg Lamp from South Africa
~ Beth from Lifes Endless Adventures~
While traveling in Cape Town, South Africa, I came across many different street markets and souvenirs to buy. The two that stood out the most were an ostrich egg lamp with an elephant sketched onto the shell and holes which allows light to shine through and hand carved animals in a frame. The authenticity of these two items is what compelled me to purchase them. The egg came from a native animal and was crafted by a South African local, and the animals in the frame are all intricately hand carved. In the frame, there are five animals, lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros, all known as the ‘Big 5″ of Africa. Now whenever I look at them I think of all of the natives that make a living making these things and my unforgettable adventures in South Africa.
Tattoo from Nicaragua
~ Gemma and Craig from Two Scots Abroad ~
Forget postcards, fridge magnets, or pencils with names inscribed on them. We went for the most permanent form of souvenir – ink! Craig and I both endured an eight hour shift with a British tattooist in Leon, Nicaragua to get some work done. Granted not one of the most popular things to do in Leon but cheap none the less, well in comparison to other countries. For $60 USD, our tattooist needled a print of Canada’s Banff on to my left arm and completed Craig’s space inspired sleeve down to his knuckles. A souvenir we will never forget, and hopefully not regret!
Knife from Slovenia
~ Jaillan from Savoir There ~
Tire Rubber from Australia
~ Tom from The Travelling Tom ~
Leather Bag with Kilim from Morocco
~ Monika from Be Wildered in Morocco ~
I am a massive fan of big bags! I fell in love with those traditional leather bags since I moved to Morocco in 2013. I’ve always wanted to buy it but, not knowing why, I always postponed it. Finally, a week before I left Morocco, I went to Tetouan (in the north of Morocco) with a friend of mine and found this one. It called my name! I told myself I’d buy it regardless the price. To my surprise, it wasn’t as expensive as it is in the south. This kind of bag is handmade of leather and traditional Moroccan kilims from different regions of the country. It’s usually foreigners who appreciate and buy them, but I know some Moroccans who love accessories with kilims too.
Grass Horse from Vietnam
~ Monika from Tapir Tales ~
Sometimes, the greatest adventures take you by surprise. We met Mao, a Hmong guide, in the streets of Sapa Town (Vietnam). She proposed to take us to her house in the rice fields of Hua Thao. We spent the next 3 days living like a local, in an authentic homestay. Every day, Mao took us for endless hikes. On one of those trips, she took 2 blades of grass and folded them into these horses. I can’t think of greater souvenirs. In a way they are worthless, yet, they mean the world to me.
Woven Bag with Worry Dolls from Mexico
~ Gia from Mismatched Passports ~
Oaxaca, Mexico is known for its various artisan markets. While there are plenty of items to choose from, a colourful woven bag instantly caught my eye during our visit. The bag was handmade and the weaving was impeccable. The real highlight apart from its already bright colours was the set of several little dolls lined up across the bag. A while ago my boyfriend and I watched Hamish and Andy Gap Year South America and we saw similar dolls like these which are called “worry dolls”. Worry dolls are said to help children in Mexico and Guatemala with their worries. Children tell their doll about their sorrows and worries then hide it under a pillow. The next day, all sorrows are said to be taken away by the doll.
I really liked the design of the woven bag from Oaxaca and I never found it anywhere else, even in Guatemala. I didn’t really try to share the dolls any of my worries though. Apart from the beautiful coloured textile of the handmade bag, the dolls dressed in traditional Mayan style really added a great look to it. Bright, colourful and filled with history – the bag was a great way to remember Mexico.
Rug from China
~ Shara from SKJ Travel ~
In two subsequent years, I spent time living in a tiny peasant village, Dang Jia Shan, in Shaanxi Province, China, in order to document its traditions before the village would be inevitably abandoned as younger generations moved away to cities. The first year that I came with a volunteer documenting team, we were the first Westerners to visit the area, and many locals had never seen a white person.
We tried to support villagers by buying some of their crafts. Normally this weaver sells her rugs to customers in a very small geographical area, so what’s extra cool about this souvenir is that the weaver was so excited to have a Westerner buy her rug — she felt it was a great honor. I tried to explain to her where I lived on the other side of the planet so she would know where it would end up, but she was unfamiliar with the concepts of continents and maps; she was thrilled simply to know it was going very far away to be enjoyed by a foreigner. I keep it on the floor at the foot of one of my favorite chairs. I also bought one for my friend who has Bazaar velvet rugs in her home because I thought she would enjoy a nice quirky rug too, and she did!
Wallet from Thailand
~ Jub from Tiki Touring Kiwi ~
Having lived in a few counties, my wallet was bulging with various cards. Some were used once a year. Nobody likes the feel of a stuffed wallet in their jeans so I needed a different wallet, one that would force me not to hoard my cards.
While walking around the Chiang Mai markets one night, I came across these little pouches, they were like a mini purse. They could be perfect for a new wallet (man purse). I purchased one, with elephant patterns.
My next visit saw my pick up six to put in my bag. The purse lasts 3-4 months of everyday use. They can fit three cards, a dozen notes and a few coins comfortable and always make for a good conversation starter.
Each time I return to Chiang Mai I pick up a bunch more! They also make the perfect souvenir for Couchsurfing hosts. They don’t need to know they cost less than 50 cents each!
I don’t buy souvenirs often, but when they’re practical, it’s a winner.
Leather Keyrings from Morocco
~ Monika from Be Wildered in Morocco ~
I love keyrings. I always hunt for the most extraordinary pieces wherever I go. I was wandering in the tiny streets of Guelmim with a friend of mine who is a local there, when I saw this keyring. Each pattern was available in just one piece, exposed on a grass plate by a local artist. I bought three, the only three the vendor had. The keyrings are recycled, made of ropes, pieces of camel leather, the most popular meat and fabric in the region. The keyrings are painted and covered with a scotch, amateur style you can’t hide! Yet, I love them.
Trekking Staff from Rwanda
~ Jennifer from Made all the Difference ~
I couldn’t stop bouncing up and down. I was so excited for this trek on my African Safari. I couldn’t believe that in less than an hour, I would be heading up into the Virunga Mountains to see the Mountain Gorillas. As we started the trek, the guide handed out hand carved trekking poles for use to use. They were exquisitely carved with gorillas in the handle. I couldn’t help but admire these amazing works of art. The next day, I was trekking to see the Golden Monkeys. Before the trek started, I had some time to explore the local shops and meet a local artist who does the carving for the trekking poles as well as run a local shop. I got to talk to him for a few minutes and then bought myself one of those amazing trekking poles once I learned the came apart into three pieces.
What is your favorite unique souvenir or souvenirs from your travels?