How to make travel gifts that don’t suck!

Some people like or just have the habit of taking small gifts to their beloved (I am one of them) from their travels.
Some other people really don’t care about it, but want to take back some ‘souvenir’ to remember the travel experience in an intense way.

Both of these two categories generally bump into an international monster called “kitsch” cursing them and making them take back home colorful shells and small paintings, pens, little mirrors with the Eiffel Tower (there was plenty of it in all shops of Melbourne!), magnets that could actually be found anywhere  and other objects that the receiver would see, love, appreciate and… hide in a dark corner of his/her home and try to forget forever.

The former category would spend an afternoon (at least, and mainly the last one of the trip) in a panic-full search of some typical stuff to take back home (always made in Taiwan, that would be great if only you went to Taiwan), to end up finding the most ugly things in the universe.

The latter would end up buying some “typical local hand cream” that they will never ever use, unless they have a “last minute mock gift swapping Xmas party” in some sad moment of their single lives.

Today, I’ll tell you how to overcome this terrible aspect of travelling and how to keep on taking back travel gifts that are TRAVEL GIFTS and not “souvenirs”. (French people will never forgive the international travel community for giving a French word to this terrible phenomenon).

I have given and received objects that were authentic, useful, a real part of my personal travel experience or of the experience lived by the gift giver.

Ready? GO!

No Malls, No downtown shopping! Head to to the small street markets!


My first tip is to buy your gifts in places that are not the places where made in China gifts for tourists are sold.

A travel gift may be called such if you find it along your way, while you’re discovering your destination!
Choose small street markets and flea markets, for instance. The reason is not only that you won’t find stuff you can bump into anywhere but also that the small things you can find in a flea market are full of history of the place you are visiting.

I wrote about the Sofia flea and street markets, for example, where I found old (and well preserved) objects dating back to the communist period. Small cognac bottles, scarves, old watches… these objects are history.

When you (or your gift receiver) will talk about it to someone, there will be a story and an anecdote to tell, about your travel and about the moment you bought it.

Local Spices 

travel gift local spice

When I went to Sofia, my travel mate Nadia-the-ginger bought some spices in the very typical woman’s market. She took it back home and put these colorful powders in small and elegant glass cans, then wrote the name of the spices on them… in cyrillic letters.
Nothing to add! This was a simply stunning idea. She gave it to me too, and they look so good and so exotic in my kitchen!

Everybody asks me what they are as they see me cooking and I’m always so happy to have one more occasion to tell someone about my travel there, my friend and the market.

spices from sofia


I made a similar choice when I went to the French Riviera and experienced all the local A-MA-ZING small spices markets. Read more about it here. (at the moment it’s just in Italian, sorry)

Street artists CDs

I’ve been thinking for a while that what remains of true music is Pearl Jam, REM and… independent street music.
When I hear some good one, I always stop, sit and listen more and more and at the end I don’t give them some dime remaining in my pocket, but I buy their CD. I take it for myself or for some true music lover that would appreciate it.

Street artists 

That’s the same when it comes to street painters. When I see them painting “en plain air” the place I’m visiting, like the impressionists did, I can’t help but buying. Maybe because this is the only piece of art I can afford or because it’s much more than a good picture made by me, I find this is a great (self) travel gift to make.

Cards or magnets… with your own pics 

gift print9 magnet

Do you know there are Apps that allow you to create magnets, cards and objects (even Handy covers) with your own pictures for a very low price? One of them is Sticky9 or Shutterfly. With Sticky9 you can even create magnets with the pics you posted on Instagram and send it to the receiver right away!

Here is an example of one that I created while I was in Mallorca. I created 9 of them with 9 different pics and I got them at my place in 1 week.

The advantages are

  • low prices
  • they’re nicer than the common gifts you can buy in tourist shops
  • you can make them in a few minutes while resting in the hotel
  • they are very personal memories of your travel experience


Dried leaves


I know, I know, I am a romantic girlie girl. But I’m also creative. So if you have a creative friend you can take him/her dried leaves from your fall in NYC, London or wherever and they can create an amazing small painting with them, or put them in a book.

Or you can even do it yourself… putting the leaves in a book.

Books are the present that will be more appreciated by those who love reading, those who like elegant objects and those who can read in more languages.
I was given books from all over the world, fortunately. By the way, I know this may sound odd, but also a book written in an unknown language can be a very interesting thing to take back home or to give as a present.
My friend Alessandra –the cat traveller mentioned in this post – bought a book written in Czech language and she still has it well shown in her apartment.
You may say “It’s useless”. Mmmmh, maybe, but at least it’s beautiful and more useful than the castanets with flamenco dancers painted on them that we all took from our first Spain trip, don’t you think so?



  • Katie @ The Budget Backpack

    I had no idea about the creating your own magnet idea… much more practical than a key chain! My parents loved these dish towels my sister brought them from Ireland… super practical, but still something that can be shown off!

  • Melissa Douglas

    Great post! I agree you can find some really cute and quirky things at the local markets 🙂 always a good call!

  • Alexis

    LOVE THIS!!! I struggled so much with what to buy during my first trip abroad.

  • Katie

    Some fantastic idea’s there, I love using the spices and it bringing back the memories of being in the spice market in the city!

  • Eniko Krix

    Nice ideas! Now I just need to share this with my friends, hope they will get the hint! 😀

  • Rebecca

    These are great tips! Local markets are the way to go. We usually tried to buy unique things, but ended up with the regular souvenir stuff, too. But we tried to buy things that were actually made in the country we were visiting.

  • Jacqueline

    Love it! Totally right. I always want to buy things for my loved ones while I’m traveling and it’s always like, “…Well, hope this postcard is good enough because everything else sucks,” haha.

  • Naomi

    Great tips! I always buy a beautiful scarf in one of the artisan shops when I get the change. I now have too many but each holds a dear memory to me. You might want to be careful with the spices and the leafs (or rocks or anything else from nature) as in some countries it’s not allowed to take it or to import it. But other than that: great tips! To the fleamarket!

  • Sarah

    I would absolutely love local spices as a gift. Great list!

  • Brianne

    I love local markets, you’re right – it’s always the best place to find a gift for your loved ones (or yourself!) 🙂

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