by Bridget Coila
The Road Trip
Guilt Free Vacations
Most people like to come home with a tangible reminder of their trip, so most families' vacation budget includes money for souvenirs. But what can you buy inexpensively that won't be sitting on a closet shelf by next week?
Do the Research
Your on-the-road shopping adventure should begin before you leave the house. Read through guidebooks and search the Internet to learn specialties of the area you will be visiting. Does your vacation destination have a plethora of lace makers who create exquisite lace? Consider purchasing a lace napkin that you can frame once you get home. Is it well known for handcrafted cheese? The local grocery store should carry inexpensive local varieties.
Don't limit yourself to what the guidebooks tell you. Check the library for travel articles about your destination and jot down any facts that can help you discover unique souvenirs. On an island known for its sunsets, local artists might have been inspired to paint something that will look perfect on your living room wall. For the kids, a kite flown on the city's famous "kite hill" can come home to be used over and over again.
In a city where your favorite author resides, local bookstores will often have autographed copies of her books. These books don't cost any more than unsigned copies, and might even be found at a used bookstore. I've even managed to catch authors at readings in their hometown, and gotten them to personalize the inscription.
In many places, the attractions themselves provide potential souvenirs. A tour of New England fall foliage can be commemorated with a few leaves encased in glass. I have collected shells from public beaches, pressed wildflowers from the side of the road, and dug my own fossils out of an ancient Ohio riverbed. Just be sure to obey any rules about the types and amounts of what you take. The fossil bed, for example, allowed visitors to take out one handful of fossils free of charge. Many national parks do not allow you to take anything at all. On the other hand, some local and state parks ask visitors to pull certain plants that are invasive species, many of which are pretty flowers that you can press.
Free and inexpensive items like these can be collected throughout a trip to make a scrapbook once you get home, allowing you to create the ultimate personalized souvenir of your trip.
Where to Shop
Now that you have your list of what you want to buy while you're on vacation, you need to know where to find what you're looking for. Avoiding pricey souvenir shops is a given. But where else can you look, if not at the places that cater to tourists?
The best place to look for local specialties is wherever the locals shop, especially grocery stores. Be careful to look for stores that the locals frequent, especially if you are in an area with a lot of tourism. Some groceries in touristy areas cater mainly to visitors, charging much higher prices than the locals would ever pay.
Some cities or towns have marketplaces for local residents. Many are open all week, but some are just on a specific day, so check before you go to one of these. Markets in small communities are often more authentic, and less expensive, than those held downtown in a major city. If you like the local produce, the market is probably the best place to pick up some to take home. Look for things like jams, honey, or dried fruit that will keep for a while and you can share with friends once you get home.
Struggling artists often set up shop at these markets too, so you can find that sunset painting you were looking for, a hand drawn map of the town, or handmade crafts.
Another place to find items that will remind you of the local people and atmosphere is from the locals themselves. My grandparents taught me to always bring small items from my own hometown to trade for local trinkets. You can often get promotional buttons, magnets, or bumper stickers from your local tourism office to take with you on your travels. Even postcards of your own city can be valuable trading items to someone from far away who may never get the chance to visit.
The most important thing to remember when you are searching for the perfect souvenir is that whatever you buy, find, or trade should be something that you will use to rekindle those memories of your trip, not something that you will wonder years later "why in the world did I buy this?" If your purchase can truly pass that test, it's probably worth buying.
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