Low-to-No-Cost Souvenirs

May 4, 2012 by

The dressing on this salad is made from my only souvenir from The Epic Road Trip of 2011. And it's epic-awesome!

I don’t buy souvenirs.  I hate clutter, so little figurines of stingrays made out of soapstone or Day of the Dead statues do not appeal to me.  I don’t wear t-shirts ever–they look terrible one me.  Same thing goes for hats, sweatshirts, and other various souvenir-garb.  And to be perfectly honest, I’d rather save my money to go on another trip than spend it shopping on the trip I’m currently enjoying.

But there is a way to spend little-to-no-money on a trip and still return with something that will last your whole life through.  Here are my top three tips for no-cost souvenirs, followed by one suggestion for that person that just has to spend money to be content…

Take Photos

This photo, taken in New Orleans, is my current iPhone wallpaper. A zero-dollar souvenir I enjoy daily!

My favorite souvenir from each trip I’ve taken has been a photo.  I love the photo of my husband and myself on the beach in Prince Edward Island.  I love the photo I took of myself reflected in a bar window in New Orleans–in fact, that’s my current Facebook header pic.  I love the photo I took behind my back of my husband on a Segway, the photo of the beach at Tulum, and the photo of sunflowers in front of an art studio on Monhegan Island, Maine.

In fact, that last photo is hanging on my office wall as I type this–along with a photo of one of the Flowerpot Rocks in the Bay of Fundy, Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, the fountain at Trafalger Square, London, the Bloomenmarket in Amsterdam and Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.  Yes, I paid to have them printed out, but that cost me pennies worth of ink.  If you want a truly no-cost option, use your photos as computer or phone wallpaper, or set your screensaver to display an album of your favorite shots.

Learn Something

Whether you take a free walking tour that teaches you the history of a town or city, visit a museum, or take a salsa dancing class, the things you learn while traveling will stay with you forever.  For example, after my trip last summer, I now know how to shuck an oyster.  I don’t know how often that skill will come in handy, but surely it is more practical than, say, and Anne of Green Gables magnet.

A tip for this tip:  if you want to remember the things you’ve learned for longer than a day or so, I strongly suggest taking notes.  If you want to remember them forever, I even more strongly suggest keeping a travel journal.  Or, even better, a blog like this one!

Replicate Meals

This one is kind of tied in with the above ‘learn something’ suggestion, but it takes it a step further–you actually have to teach yourself something and then use it.  When I visit new cities or towns, I always seek out new and interesting food.  I then come home and try to replicated that meal in my own kitchen.  I’ve had some great successes–a bolognese sauce that was the only good thing I ate in Paris–and some great failures–chorizo stuffed dates that, when prepared by the chef at Portland’s Bresca were plump, juicy, and flavorful but when prepared by me were dense, chewy, and cloyingly sweet.  But at least I try.

And don’t worry if you’re not a great–or even passable–cook.  Some of the great ‘recipe’ ideas I’ve gained during my travels have been less ‘recipes’ and more ‘ideas’.  For example, prior to my visit to a gastropub in Halifax, I never would have thought to put honey on triple creme cheese.  Now I can’t imagine living my life without that salty-sweet combination every now and then.

One Low-Cost Tip

Finally, if you must buy something, consider buying food products.  This may sound strange, but a really amazing jam picked up at a little roadside stand somewhere in Amish country will surely bring you joy far more often than a much more expensive handmade doll that will eventually just become a dust-collector.  And the jam will cost far less.  The photo in the header of this post is a photo of the lunch I made for myself today–arugula, tomatoes, and grilled chicken dressed with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar I purchased in Charlottetown this past summer.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I run out, but it may involve a return trip to Prince Edward Island!


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  1. So agree! I am so over trinkets and such. And I always bring back treats and food for myself (and friends) because at least you know it will get used instead of sit around collecting dust.

    Before I left Australia, I stopped by a local supermarket and bought like 15 packages of TimTams for like $2/each. The check-out girl was like, “Going home?” How did she guess?!:-) Seriously, was the best gift I brought everyone.

    • elbodans

      Good point–food also makes a great gift. In fact, that’s what I brought back for my friends and family from my last long trip (to thank them for watching my dogs!) Spice rubs and olive oil!

  2. Toni

    I agree with pictures! Hubby is an awesome photographer and I love looking at our past ‘trip memories’. We also usually buy a fridge magnet- I really like them, they are small and cheap. And we often get a Christmas ornament- often something that wasn’t originally intended as one. Doing the tree each year is a great way to bring up wonderful memories- and no one will have a tree anything like ours!!! When we are in the UK hubby HAS to get McVittes shortbread- we sometimes would bring back 10 or 12 packages!!!

  3. Toni

    Oh- and I forgot to mention- a wonderful light supper at a London pub on our 2nd trip ( homemade tomato soup and a ‘jacket’ potato) inspired me to develop my recipie for homemade tomato soup. Now I usualy make anywhere from 2 to 4 gallons of the stuff during tomato season and freeze it to eat all winter!!!

  4. Becky

    I kind of hate to admit it, but I definitely love some souvenirs… we get a magnet from every place we visit so our fridge is decorated with memories of our travels. I also got a t-shirt during our past trip. I also like Christmas ornaments. I really try not to get anything I won’t use though, and I try to spent TOO much money!

    But pictures are definitely my favorite souvenirs. Oh, that reminds me of one other souvenir I like – if I visit a museum or place that doesn’t let you take pictures, I’ll buy the guidebook to the museum if they have one.

  5. Toni

    Just found a new app for my iphone that you might like. It’s called “My Sketch” and is being offered for free for a short time. It takes a picture and turns it into a sketch. Try it!

  6. Toni

    Want to recommend a book for you- as a follow up to your Maine trip last year. It is “Colony” by Anne Rivers Siddons. Just re-read it. I think you would enjoy it. It’s set on the Maine coast from 1920′-30′s to 1970s’-80′s. Great protagonist!!!

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