Travel Souvenirs To Use In Your Home

Gareth Wiliams/flickrEven on holiday, we’re not free of it ... that all-too-human urge to collect. When you’re vacationing, it often translates into the urge to buy mementos of your travels. But what looks bright and appealing on the shelf of a souvenir shop may lose a great deal of its charm once it’s sitting in your living room. And, sorry, but if you no longer love your “I GREEN HEART Portland” T-shirt, chances are slim to none that it’ll be eagerly grabbed up at your next garage sale. So there goes another item, added to your personal clutter pile or, worse yet, to our nation’s landfills. Sigh.

What to look for, what to avoid

Here’s an alternative: look for souvenirs that you will actually use. In fact, you might even want to plan in advance the type of things you’ll bring home … say for example, home decorating accessories. Then when you see something you love, envision a specific purpose for it before you pull out your wallet.

Other points to remember: Go for objects that are lightweight (they’ll require less fuel to get them wherever you’re going) and relatively unbreakable (mementos are not very green if they never makes it to their destination). Opt for sustainable metals with a relatively low carbon footprint. Stay far, far away from souvenirs made from animal parts such as furs, teeth, shells, and so on, as well as cultural artifacts and agricultural products from abroad, which you’re generally not allowed to import into the US.


I am very fond of fabric in and of itself. I also appreciate the fact that it is simple to transport and to incorporate into your home décor. For example, an exotic print is great for recovering cushions or creating a one-of-a-kind accent wall. Other fabric finds are quilts and rag rugs. Whatever you buy, look for natural fibers such as cotton or linen. If you’re not sure of their color fastness, set the dye by soaking the piece in a 1:1 white vinegar and water solution before laundering.


Beautiful handmade paper is also a great traveler. On your return, line a built-in bookcase or back a framed photo with it for a striking effect. Or remind yourself of a favorite foreign spot and support a struggling artist by choosing a picture sketched on paper. Fridge magnets made of coated paper rather than (yuck!) plastic are cute small-scale keepsakes.


A regional cooking implement, such as a stainless steel Japanese wok or a cast iron Mexican tortilla griddle, will be heavier to tote on the plane, but once back in your own kitchen, it will be serve as an eye-catching, practical centerpiece. For an alternative, smaller metal remembrance of vacations past, choose an indoor planter or a frame to hold your cherished travel photo.


One of my own most appreciated purchases abroad was a delicately painted wood breakfast tray, which I gave to my mother for her birthday. A wooden house number sign, carved by a skilled carpenter, is another great idea as a gift to a family member, friend … or yourself.

Something to Use on Your Trip and at Home

My Florida water bottle, bought at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, came in very handy on my travels. Now that I’m many miles away from the Sunshine State, it makes a cutely kitschy vase, which reminds me of a wonderful couple of weeks.

Secondhand Rose

Check out local yard sales, secondhand stores, and recycling galleries at your destination for interesting, eco-friendly finds to adorn your abode. After all, your home need not be the first stop on your precious objet’s journey.

Laura Firszt writes for

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