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souvenirs statue of libertyRacks of $5 T-shirts, Eiffel Tower boxer shorts, tacky mugs and other tchotchkes have given souvenirs a bad name, but most travelers still like to bring home some meaningful memento from a trip. It just takes a little hunting sometimes.

Most of my own favorite souvenirs are art objects, like a cerulean-colored clay pot made in Santa Fe and a delicately drawn painting purchased directly from the artist in Morocco. I also enjoy supporting local independent bookstores by picking up a novel or poetry anthology to read on the plane ride home.

Here at IndependentTraveler.com, we recently asked our Facebook readers to fill in the blank: “The best souvenir I’ve ever brought home is _________.”

We’d like to try out Nancy Stanley’s item, a “hand-carved chess set from Belarus.” Rugs seemed popular with our readers; Chris Hagen Straub brought one home from India, while Deborah Fortuna snagged one in Morocco. Meanwhile, Joshua Senzer went for the bling: “Colombian emeralds.”

Ron Buckles shared an experience from a trip to Europe: “While visiting Karlstejn (Czech Republic) there was an antique stop in the village. Hidden in a corner was an old cigar box with the Karlstejn Castle pictured on it. Price was $3.” A steal!

Some of our other readers brought home less tangible items. “I rarely buy any kind of souvenir,” wrote Jo Kula. “I usually keep bus tickets, train tickets and such. But I really love my pictures and putting them in frames.”

Trish Sayers keeps it simple — “great memories” — while Colleen R Costello likes to come home with “new friends and invitations that frequently lead to future trips.”

But it’s tough to top Carolyn Spencer Brown’s response: “My husband! We met while both traveling solo. In Naples!”

Souvenirs don’t get much better than that.

What’s the best thing you’ve brought home from your travels?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane mealOver the years, we’ve catalogued an array of creative ways to remember a trip — like collecting magnets, using old passports as Christmas tree ornaments and recreating foreign cuisine at home. But now comes one we’d never heard of, via Skift.com: one man’s collection of silverware stolen from the airlines.

Traveler Frank Schaal gathered more than 80 spoons and forks from in-flight meals, starting in 1965. As his son Dennis Schaal writes for Skift.com, “My Dad asked a steward whether he could buy one of the spoons brought out for an onboard meal, and the steward said he would look away so my father could take one.

“My father never asked again — and the rest is history.”

What’s cool about this collection is that it would be very difficult to recreate nowadays — when’s the last time you used anything but plastic utensils in economy class? And many of the airlines from which Schaal “borrowed” silverware are now out of business, such as TWA, British Overseas Airways Corp. (BOAC) and Northwest.

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It makes me wonder what an equivalent collection might look like if you started it today. There’s not much left to steal from the airlines these days — the occasional pillow or blanket on an international flight, perhaps? — but you could make a similar collection of hotel items: pens, notepads, soaps, maybe even bathrobes.

What do you collect when you travel?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

What do you do with your expired passports? If you’re anything like me, you’ve got them sitting in a box in the back of a closet somewhere, along with other fading mementoes of past trips. But one traveler we know has a more creative idea: “Since an old passport has a punched hole in the upper left hand corner, it sounds like a Christmas ornament for hanging to me!”

Old passports aren’t the only souvenirs that Chicago-based travel writer Kit Bernardi has transformed into holiday decorations. “Our Christmas tree has been travel-themed for years with funky, not-meant-to-be ‘ornaments’ that remind us of great travel memories,” Bernardi told us. Below is a snapshot of her family’s freshly decorated Fraser fir tree, which offers a glimpse of some of their favorite journeys.

christmas tree


Here’s what’s on Bernardi’s tree, in her own words: “Next to one of my retired passports there’s a springbok’s horn ‘love potion’ powder carrier with an ostrich egg shell bead strap from Namibia, a gift from the Bushman tribe we camped with; a geisha doll’s shoe from Kyoto, Japan; hanging off the branch left of the passport is a red, mini-devil’s mask from Carnival in Brazil; a dream catcher from a family snowmobile trip in Jackson Hole, WY, is next to a terra cotta ‘kitchen god’ from Santa Fe, NM; a carved bone horn for a necklace from Botswana is sort of behind it; an acacia seed pod from Zimbabwe is hooked over the branch above the passport; a paper Chinese doll from Beijing is below the passport. And that’s just a sampling.”

The Best Ways to Commemorate a Trip

How do you use your travel mementoes to decorate your home, whether over the holidays or throughout the year?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

photo album cameraLast month, I spent several hours on Shutterfly.com, creating a book of photos from my recent trip to Montreal. Back in the days when I had a film camera, I used to commemorate each journey with a traditional photo album — or, if I was really feeling ambitious, a scrapbook that included not only my own pictures but also ticket stubs, postcards, brochures and more.

Now that all my travel snapshots are digital, sites like Shutterfly (and Blurb, Lulu, Snapfish…) make it super-easy for travelers to upload their best pics and display them in a professionally printed book with customizable backgrounds and layouts. The books are fun to make, easy to share with family and friends, and ideal for leafing through when you’re feeling nostalgic about that amazing trip to Greece or the Galapagos.

19 Tips for Better Travel Photos

We asked our readers on Facebook about their favorite ways to commemorate a trip, and they shared a few creative ideas:

“I love to take pics of my favorite meals on holiday and along with all the pictures I take … download to one of those digital frames,” said Johanna C Kula.

“My husband makes a collage of pics for me and has it printed out at Costco,” Brianne Sirota Kreitman told us. “It’s the best way to spend $6. We have several framed and I love them.”

“I get all the pics I take and put them on a DVD with music and special effects,” said Tanya Searcy.

A Magnetic Travel Hobby

Kenya Hubbard Shirley prefers to keep things old school, creating “a complete scrapbook with menus, tickets and tons of pictures.” Lavida Rei collects postcards, while Cabin Fever Travel creates screensavers.

And we’ll leave you with one that’s seasonally appropriate:

“I collect Christmas ornaments everywhere we go,” said Brenda Ward Bradford. “Lots of reminiscing as we decorate the tree each year!”

Picture-Perfect: Tips from a Travel Photographer

What’s your favorite way to memorialize a trip?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

refrigerator magnetsWant to know where I’ve traveled? Just check out my refrigerator, which is covered from top to bottom with colorful, magnetic mementos of the places I’ve been. When I travel I collect magnets. I have magnets from countries, states, cities and attractions. I have plastic magnets, ceramic magnets and metal magnets. I even have a magnet made out of compressed volcanic ash. Some are hand-painted, some sculpted; others are photographs or shaped to represent the attraction.

Though I’ve been collecting magnets for many years, it’s only in the last two years that I’ve begun doing so religiously when I travel. Why magnets, you ask? Well, they’re relatively inexpensive — though even I sometimes balk at paying $10 for a hand-made piece. They’re small, so easy to fit into an already over-full suitcase. And I love watching my fridge fill up with reminders of where I’ve been. So far I have 39 magnets. (I used to have 40, but my cat decided my sculpted ceramic replica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona made a great toy.)

Whenever possible I try to select magnets made by local artisans. They tend to be unique — and often funky — and I like being able to support the local community with my purchase. It’s so much better than dropping a few bucks in a tourist trap on a magnet that was probably made in China (of course, I’ve got some of those as well!).

Here are a few favorites from my collection (mouse over the images to learn more about them):

refrigerator magnets refrigerator magnets
refrigerator magnets refrigerator magnets



– written by Dori Saltzman


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