By Gillian Birch –
A thrilling part of any travel experience is hunting for souvenir gifts and personal mementos to take home as reminders of your trip. With so many unusual things to buy, we offer tips on where to shop for souvenirs, what (and what not) to buy, who to buy for and how to get your souvenirs home.
Where to find the best souvenirs
Travellers will find dozens of places to buy souvenirs, even in the smallest communities and most exotic destinations. It’s best to avoid huge malls for souvenir shopping, as most goods will be imported and mass-produced. Better places to find unique handmade crafts, one-of-a-kind items and local foods and drinks are markets and street stalls.
There’s usually the opportunity to haggle a little over the price, especially if you are buying several items at the same time.
You also get the chance to converse with local vendors, perhaps learning something about the artworks, textiles, wood carvings or spices they are selling. Best of all, there’s the feel-good factor of knowing that you are helping to support local businesses and families that rely on tourism for their income.
Handicraft Street Markets in Thailand
Shops and street markets in Thailand and the Far East are known for their silk, colourful ceramics and spices. European street markets are a good place to source antiques, locally made handcrafts and handmade jewellery. Craft markets and art fairs are a great place to find souvenir gifts that will capture the essence of your visit.
Attraction + Gift Shops
Gift shops attached to attractions always sell quality goods that relate to your visit. For example, the onsite Buckingham Palace Shop sells exclusive Royal Collection china, home goods, jewellery, artworks and gifts relating to the royal family and historic royal events. From the Eiffel Tower to the Sydney Opera House, every landmark attraction will have its own gift shop selling quality souvenirs you won’t find anywhere else.
Buying gifts and souvenirs online can be a smart move. Companies such as Giftsnideas and Amazon provide cost-effective international shipping. By switching to the local website (e.g. amazon.co.uk) you can buy and ship competitively priced souvenir products that are not available internationally.
What souvenir to buy ah?
The key to souvenir shopping is to buy something that epitomises the place you are visiting. It could be Jamaican jerk spices or hot pepper sauce from the Caribbean, traditional spices from India, almonds and olives from Spain, whole nutmegs from Indonesia, tea from Sri Lanka, or fiery red chillies and lemongrass from Thailand.
The Local Spirit
Local alcoholic drinks make great souvenirs. Look for rum and Guavaberry liqueur in the Caribbean, premium vodka from Russia, or wine from Australia, New Zealand, France and wine-producing regions of the USA and Canada. Port and fortified wines are produced in Portugal and Madeira, while Germany and Belgium are best known for their beers and beer glasses, which also make great souvenirs.
Remember that the Duty Free Allowance for alcohol in Singapore is three litres total of beer, wine and spirits per person. If you exceed the limit you must go through the red customs lane and pay the necessary duty and GST.
Local watercolours, paintings and artworks are another good choice for lasting souvenirs. Often painted by a local artist, they will remind you of your visit every time you see it on your wall back home. Colour photo calendars and guide books are a popular way to revisit a historic palace, city or attraction once you have returned home.
Leather goods, wood carvings and handpainted pottery all make good souvenir gifts. Handmade jewellery and trinkets made from local stones are also a nice touch – look for blue larimar from the Dominican Republic, tanzanite from Africa, opals from Australia, sapphires from Sri Lanka, amber from Russia, silver and turquoise from Mexico, and jade from China.
Singaporeans love their snacks. Grab a few packets of something unique to the area or particularly popular in that town. It could be a special kueh lapis, mochi, macaroons, keropok… Keep your eyes open and you’ll notice what stands out, or simply ask around. It’s always fun to taste flavours from somewhere far away, so folks at home will appreciate it.
Your Round-the-World Special Collection
Some travellers like to collect souvenirs on a particular style or theme. You can start a collection of snow globes from around the world, paintings of local scenery, landmark figurines, key rings, stamps, coins, or souvenir mugs or china with the place name on them. You can be a lot more inventive than the usual pens, T-shirts and fridge magnets!
What not to buy as souvenirs
Some countries ban the export and import of certain goods even though they are openly for sale, including reptile skins, tortoise shell, plants, seeds, coral and sea shells. Singapore has its own list of controlled and prohibited items, including controlled drugs, chewing gum, electronic cigarettes and pistol-shaped cigarette lighters. It’s worth checking to avoid confiscation and a possible fine.
Who to buy souvenirs for
You shouldn’t feel obligated to buy souvenirs for others, but if you do want to find something for family, friends and work colleagues, a small gift is always appreciated. Rather than spending your vacation trawling shops in search of gifts, opt for small, inexpensive trinkets such as spices, food and drink items, or a local novelty.
Getting your souvenirs home
When buying souvenirs, consider the size and weight of any items you buy. Your luggage allowance is restricted when flying and excess baggage will incur an additional fee. All liquids must be packed in check-in luggage.
Backpackers, cyclists and world travellers may want to consider shipping souvenirs home. International services to Singapore are provided by FedEx, DHL and via local postal services, such as Royal Mail in the UK and USPS or UPD in the USA. Tracking and insurance services are worth paying extra for. If you will not be home for a while, address your mail to a neighbour or family member for safekeeping.
We know you’ll enjoy every travel experience and will re-live your trips through the photographs, mementos and handpicked souvenirs you bring back. Happy travels!
Photo credits: Getty Images