Making memories for less
Cheap Creative Vacation Souvenir Ideas for Kids
by Dollar Stretcher Contributors
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Cheap Creative Vacation Souvenir Ideas for Kids
We are taking an extended vacation this summer and are determined to make this a cash-only vacation (no credit card debt). I am looking for cheap, creative souvenir ideas for my kids that are ages 16, 11, and 5. Even though we have been planning this trip as a family for months and they are fully aware that we will not be spending much on souvenirs (there is very little allotted in our vacation budget for souvenirs), I feel like collecting souvenirs is a fun part of vacationing and my kids especially love it. I would love help with creative ideas for cheap (or free!) neat things we can keep an eye out for that will keep our trip fun and affordable and provide us with some great mementos to remember our trip by without me constantly telling my younger two 'no' to every gift shop we have to walk through to get out of whatever exhibit or activity we are touring. Or maybe share creative things to do with our vacation photos that we can collect and create on our return. I think if they already have some fun alternatives to the pricey gift shop junk in mind, it can make this aspect of our trip more enjoyable for all of us. Thanks!
Make Book Marks from Vacation Photos
Cheap souvenirs that my son and I take away from our trips are hat pins. They are tiny, cost about $5, and don't take up much space. We keep them on a ball cap for now, but they can also be displayed as tacks on a cork board.
Also, we take pictures and then cut a good photo down into a book mark size. We add clear tape to laminate it and add a few strands of yarn through a hole in the top to make a book mark.
Ally in Lake Worth, FL
Celebrate Christmas and Your Vacation Memories
Many vacation spots sell Christmas ornaments all year long, and we've bought some on vacation. Small ones are generally not expensive. Then we remember the highlights of our vacation in December! You might also want to consider collecting/keeping small and generally free mementoes such as interesting pebbles, sea shells if you're on a beach vacation, leaves, matchbooks, entrance tickets to tourist sites, brochures, etc. When you get home, arrange them in a frame or shadow box. These things might end up being even more treasured than a t-shirt or mug.
Collect Rocks from Your Travels
Collecting rocks is fun and memorable. I have some real beauties from all over the country. Rocks and shells are naturally beautiful on display in a wooden or glass bowl. They make great conversation pieces.
"Smashed" Pennies are Fun to Collect
Collecting "smashed" pennies is lots of fun and pretty cheap.
Consider Useful Souvenirs
We have found the best souvenir solution is one magnet from the place to remember the trip. Then it can decorate and serve a useful purpose on the refrigerator.
Take Souvenirs One "Step" Further
On a recent family vacation, our son collected a couple Great Lakes stones, a seagull feather, and several of those pressed souvenir pennies. He put them all into a cement stepping stone that now sits in our flowerbed outside our front door.
If the idea of bringing back presents and mementos is appealing to the kids, why not have a "treasure hunt," whereby they have to find things indigenous to the area you are visiting? I did this with friends' kids and we each took a bag to the shoreline and then the woods. We discovered lovely rocks, driftwood, tree bark, and some plants that could be potted up. When we got home, we thought of unique ways to include their items in crafts. They really loved it because their gifts were unique and it was fun making them. We made small wreaths, bracelets, key rings, pictures, and coasters. We also decorated some jars and added a small candle. It was amazing to see their creativity, and if they got stuck, I was there to make suggestions. I took charge of any hot gluing that had to be done, so there were no accidents. One child used some bark as a stamp and made some interesting stationery, which she gave to her sister who was going off to college in the fall. Too fun!
Postcards from Around the World
When we were little, we'd get postcards from all of the places we'd travel to and mail them to ourselves. We'd say something like, "Visited here on 7/25/1995 with Grandma and Grandpa." It was fun to receive the mail when we got home as well as not costing our parents a lot of money. I saved the postcards, and now my kids get to see where I traveled when I was their age.
Create Memory Books
Before your vacation, have everyone (parents, too!) pick out a blank book (journal, notebook, sketchbook, or smash book) and some pens, markers, or colored pencils. Write down each day's events and save small, flat mementos like postcards, fortune cookie fortunes, menus from places you ate, business cards, leaves or flowers, receipts, flyers from attractions, etc. Help younger children as needed. Leave room with each entry to later add those items and any photos they may take. After you get home, print out your photos and spend a family evening adding in your souvenirs and photos. Pass around your completed memory books to share with everyone else. This is a meaningful souvenir at a minimal cost that encourages creativity and fond memories of special family adventures.
For Major League Fun...
If you are going to a "Major League" city and want to get a sports t-shirt or sweatshirt, go to the local Walmart or Target. They will be much cheaper than at the venue or a team shop.
For a very inexpensive souvenir, how about collecting lead pencils from the different sites? Almost all parks and museums have them with their name on them, and I doubt they cost even a dollar each. On return, you can use them and remember your vacation or display them in a clear jar.
Beth in Wheeling, IL
Remembering Each Day of the Year
When we travel, my husband and I look for two things for souvenirs. The first is next year's calendar. When we walk through the enticing souvenir shops, the second permitted souvenir is a ballpoint pen with the image of the special location. We always know the score. It's easy!
As for photos, those could be made into calendars, too. In fact, each person could have their own individual calendar. These would make wonderful memory gifts of that particular family time together. Happy travels!
Buy Special Occasion Gifts Instead
When the family takes a vacation, there is no need to spend much money on souvenirs at all. If you want cheaply made $20 t-shirts from those "gift shops" along the boardwalk or a set of Disney World snow globes, reconsider. Those t-shirts usually shrink two sizes in the wash, and all of those snow globes eventually dry up and collect dust. Objects made to be "souvenirs" are hardly ever worth the price, and they wind up as clutter when you get home. There are better options.
If you are going someplace with interesting street markets, art festivals, or shops with unique local or handmade products you would buy even if you were not on vacation, think about buying these items as holiday or birthday gifts. I like to do holiday shopping for my family if we are visiting a location with interesting crafts or handmade scarves and clothing. If your teenager is mad for sea glass jewelry you find at a craft fair you visit on your trip, ask her if she would like to have a special piece for an upcoming birthday. You can gift the item accompanied by a postcard from your trip with a handwritten message instead of a birthday card.
Another option is to purchase a scrapbook or album, have each family member take photographs and contribute items to the scrapbook to document the trip. Photographs can be printed inexpensively at discount stores or online businesses. You can also include postcards in your scrapbook (free at most motels) or tickets from amusement parks, festivals, and museums. Guides and walking tour maps are often free and can also be added to the scrapbook. Include some journaling from each family member with thoughts about different things you did on your vacation.
If you need some art for your walls, consider getting a composite photo frame at a discount store, and fill the spaces with photographs from your vacation. Scrapbooks and photo collages make great family keepsakes. If you want to give a souvenir to each child, buy an inexpensive picture frame and frame the child's favorite trip photo to display in his room. If your kids are old enough to take pictures with a smart phone or digital camera, get each child an inexpensive scrapbook or photo album, so they can make their own memory books. You and your kids will not regret having these memory books in the years to come.
They Stick to This Souvenir Idea
My wife recognized the money-holes that tourist traps can be several years ago. She got each member of the family a simple cork board from a dollar store. Every trip we do, the kids get to decide if they want to keep a souvenir from the location, generally limiting to one or two souvenirs per trip (depending on where we go). We only get the little pins that have the name of the place or event on the pin or a button with a safety pin on the back. These souvenirs then get pinned onto the cork board in their own rooms. Surprisingly, this has been more effective for reminding the kids about the trips and letting them relive the memories years down the road than a toy that will be played with for a few weeks.
Matt in Littleton, CO
One thing you can do for cheap souvenirs for the kids is to collect the kids' menus from the restaurants you visit. Make sure you bring along your own colors because most places only have two to four colors. Then you can add them to a scrapbook with pictures of the trip. You may be able to find inexpensive coloring books in the gift shops as well.
You could provide your children with a set amount of money for souvenirs, such as $5 or $10. Place stipulations on the purchase such as it must be a game. This way, when they purchase it, you can play the game on the trip and afterward to remember where you were when you bought it. My kids love card games and we usually end up collecting different decks of cards and they are usually under $10.
Begin the Search Immediately
We went to Disney World one year with our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. He was seven years old at the time. Instead of buying the expensive toys in the shops at Disney, we did two things. One was to "sneak" some of his favorite Disney themed toys into our luggage. Stuffed versions of Mickey, Minnie, Simba, etc. were especially fun. We hid them in the hotel room and had him search for them. We took one out each day that we were on vacation. Sometimes one would show up at the breakfast table.
The second thing we did was go to Walmart (most vacation areas have a Walmart or similar discount store) and let him shop for a souvenir within a budgeted amount. This idea is great no matter where you go.
Another idea is to look for vacation themed "stuff" as soon as you know where you'll be vacationing. For example, stuffed versions of Mickey, etc. can be bought at yard sales and/or thrift stores for little to no money. You can also find t-shirts, sea shells (for a beach trip), rubber snakes and spiders, stuffed lions and tigers (for a safari trip), etc. the same way. Just put them away and let the kiddos have them when you get to your destination and they begin asking for souvenirs. Have a fun vacation!
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Enjoy Photo Fun
For cheap souvenirs for kids, you should have each child take their favorite stuffed animal or toy and take pictures with them in various locations. Or make a sign with a special message they can hold up at the locations. Then they can scrapbook them in their own photo book when they get back home.
Visit Thrift Stores
Go to thrift stores along your route. Local folks will have donated t-shirts from the area colleges, fun runs, charity events, and local attractions. Why pay $20 or $30 at a tourist trap place? After a couple of washes, your overpriced souvenir shirt will look just like the one from the thrift store. It's not worth the extra money to buy new. One of our local thrift stores sells their tees for 50 cents. You might not be that lucky, but you can usually find thrift store t-shirts for under $5. For the price of a souvenir shop's new tee, I can fill up a small suitcase with t-shirts I get slightly used.
Also, the same thrift store may have glassware, ceramics, or other gift items advertising local events and places as well. Again, you'll pay pennies on the dollar, and smile all the way home!
Take the Next Step:
- Going on a family vacation this year? Then consider one of these inexpensive souvenir ideas or see if you can think up a few more ideas. If you come up with something that we didn't list here, please share below.
- If you are planning on a family camping trip this summer, don't miss these money-saving tips for vacationing in the great outdoors.
Have an idea that we didn't include? Send it to us and we'll add it to the article.
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