Souvenir Shopping

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you might have noticed that I’m taking a well earned break from the heat of the Maltese summer.

We recently spent a week in Galway, Ireland, with my parents and siblings, niece and nephew. It was fun – plenty of big meals, relaxed evenings with games, and early morning walks on the beach.

Galway holds a special place in my heart – my mum’s family are from here and this was my third visit (the first in TWENTY years). Obviously a lot has changed but I also remember many more details than I thought I would.

As with any holiday, I spent a bit of time thinking about what to take home with me. Yes. We’re talking about the potential minefield that is souvenirs.

As a child I loved a gift shop. Memories from childhood holidays seem to be mainly of arranging (neatly) collections of souvenirs on bedside tables in various holiday accommodations. There was something satisfying about having multiple reminders – sometimes even one item per day – of the holiday.

You’ll be pleased to know I’ve moved on from this ‘buy everything and recreate a gift shop in your room’ mentality, but it seems like a good opportunity to discuss mementoes, gifts for oneself, holiday reminders….. whatever name you prefer to give them.

Most people who have carried out any sort of decluttering goes through a phase afterwards of not wanting to add more to their newly streamlined home.

(There are exceptions of course – some, having focused mainly on organising what they have, don’t think so much about what’s there – only about how to arrange it nicely.)

So what do you do if you’ve decluttered, perhaps even using the KonMari method, but you’re going away somewhere interesting and don’t want to come back empty handed?

1. Be selective. Do you need a sweater, mug AND fridge magnet all with the name of the town or country you visited? Probably not. Which will spark the most joy for you? Which will add a sparkle (perhaps literally) to your day each time you see it? Do you want something as a memento for you personally, or something to spark conversation with others (‘Oh wow, Svalbard. I visited there in 1996 but never got a sweater. I regret it now’ kind of thing)?

2. Is the place you’re visiting famous for a certain craft or item? I knew when coming to Galway that I wanted to replace the Claddagh ring that I bought on my last visit and promptly lost. After a blissful 20 minutes of asking questions and trying on, I now have the perfect piece that will remind me, each time I see it, both of my roots and my trip. It’s the same as somebody visiting beautiful Malta and, after researching, deciding that they want to take home one item – a unique piece from Mdina Glass. How lovely to return home with something that you really love, that’s also an example of a unique craft or design.

3. Does it support local craftspeople or workers? Obviously all souvenir purchases support the shop owner and employees; however, even better if you can find something made regionally or locally. Bonus points if the ingredients or resources used to make your souvenir come from the area or country you’re visiting. A local supply chain = local benefits.

4. Where will it go at home? I love picking up ceramics. What nicer way to remember a trip away than when you drink your morning coffee from a one-off cup bought from an artisan in Thassos? Alas, I’ve come to realise that whilst I do love my cup collection, I also love having a matching set that fits in our limited cupboard space. Also, how many cups does a family of three need? Moral of the story? Balance your wants with your actual needs. A good question to ask is ‘will I still be thinking about this in ten minutes? Ten hours? Ten days? Ten WEEKS?

5. Do you already have this item? See above for my coffee cup conundrum. Souvenir T shirts can be brilliant if you enjoy wearing them – less so if they live in your wardrobe and are worn with less frequency than Maltese rain.

6. Can you physically get it home? Baggage size is often the prime factor in deciding whether to leave that giant ceramic Moai head in the gift shop. I’ve known people who (and have been known myself to) take an extra suitcase if they anticipate excellent shopping (USA outlet during the sales with a strong £) but never solely for souvenirs. While some stores will happily arrange shipping for you, most people will choose their holiday memento based at least partially on whether they’ll literally have to carry it onto the plane (and sit with it on their knee). If you’re not willing to pay to fly it home ahead of you, and don’t want the hassle of taking it as hand luggage, perhaps a sweet memory of the time you nearly bought that life size ceramic antelope is better than the real thing….

So there we have it. I’m firmly of the belief that laughter, good company and good food make the best memories, which in turn are the best souvenirs. But there’s nothing wrong with a more material reminder. Just pick carefully and think about the shipping….

TL;DR?

• As a child I loved souvenirs and bought them with a sort of burning passion to recreate a holiday at home.

• Now I buy less but try to ensure I choose carefully.

• Aim to support local craftspeople above those shipping the same souvenirs all over the world with a different name on them.

• Above all, as always, buy only what you love (and can get home).

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