The majority of souvenirs made for tourists these days are low quality and mass-produced more often than not in China. Handmade and authentic souvenirs have become far more difficult to find. The best souvenir is something that reminds you of a particular place and a particular time – so it follows that the object should have roots in the location where you found it.
‘Meaningful’ souvenirs are just that – objects that mean something to you. Ideally, they also mean something to the culture and to the person who made them.
When looking for souvenirs to buy, always consider
- Is it made locally?
- Does it use local materials?
- Is it something I’ll use or proudly display back home?
Buying meaningful souvenirs is an easy way to support artists, small businesses and social enterprises.
Here are some practical tips for finding meaningful, authentic and handmade souvenirs anywhere in the world.
If you want a souvenir that’s steeped in culture and significant to the place you’re visiting, it really pays to do some online research before you travel.
Often artisans tailor their designs to tourists’ tastes. That’s fine if the finished product resonates with you, but if you want something culturally significant, you might have to look beyond the regular shops and markets.
Avoid night markets
In Southeast Asia particularly, night markets have become the domain of tourists and are often overflowing with cheap, mass-produced ‘stuff’.
Art and craft markets are often the best place to source souvenirs directly from the creator and many cities have beautifully curated boutiques that are designed for tourists but still offer quality products.
Go straight to the source
The easiest way to tell if something is truly made by hand is of course to see the process with your own eyes.
Do some digging around and no matter where in the world you are, you’ll find a chance to go direct to the workshop, studio or craft village. This allows you to observe the process and buy direct from artisans.
Ask a local
It’s always worth asking a local to recommend meaningful souvenirs and their favourite shops.
Be prepared to pay a little more
When searching for meaningful souvenirs, it’s important to think in terms of quality over quantity. Something handmade is always going to be a bit more expensive than a factory made alternative. Think of each souvenir or gift you buy as an investment piece. That way, you’re far less likely to gravitate towards cheap, poorly made items.
Will you use it back home?
Trinkets, ornaments and colourful knickknacks are fun, but how often are you actually going to use or display them? If you buy a souvenir that you can integrate into your daily routine back at home, then you’re much more likely to hold onto it and cherish it into the future. If an item is crafted to serve a specific purpose (or highly decorative), it’s much more likely to hold meaning.