A big part of travel is bringing back a perfect present for those you love, and for yourself as a keepsake of your time spent in a new place. Many traditional souvenirs come from big chain stores, selling t-shirts, key chains, towels, shot glasses, and other random items with your travel spot's name on it. But is that really a special memory of your time spent learning about new cultures and communities? We suggest bringing back something locally significant! Here are a few tips on how to spot authentic souvenirs.
1. Always buy local. The easiest way to know you're getting an authentic souvenir is by purchasing something that doesn't have a big "made in China" sticker slapped on the bottom. Some good places to buy locally are flea markets, farmers' markets, swap shops, art fairs, thrift stores and other similar small businesses that aren't part of a chain. Browse the city website that you're visiting and see if they have any of these local fairs and businesses listed.
2. Stick with stores that have a history, or are "mom and pop" shops. You're sure to find a couple local favorite stores in your travel brochure, so try stopping in these to get your souvenir, rather than heading to a mall or chain. If you support a small business with local history, you're contributing to the city you're visiting in the same way most of the locals do.
3. Don't buy things with the name of the town you're visiting displayed. We're talking the towels, picture frames, shot glasses, t-shirts and other sometimes tacky objects we discussed above. Unless you find something artisan made and very beautiful, these types of souvenirs were likely made with a tourist like you in mind by someone who just wanted to make a fast buck -- not someone who really cares about the city you're visiting.
4. Bring back something that you learned from. Maybe this will be a work of art, a culturally significant object, a book, or a different type of food or drink. Bring back something that you didn't know was used every day in that city, or that helped bring you a little bit more joy while on your student trip. These will be the things that really make you smile and remember how much fun you had when you see them again!