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Souvenirs are a Struggle

Finding gems amidst the clutter

“So… what did you get me?”

The dreaded post-vacation question.

Hi! I'm Sophia Pedigo, a 20-year-old student at AAU (big shoutout to Liza for that one!) who spends most of her time traveling, writing, or writing about traveling. You might've seen my name at the bottom of these blog posts; I also work with Liza on this blog and figured it was time to share some of my own stories. :)

I get the sentiment of souvenirs, thinking of someone while you’re away, wanting to share a piece of the trip with people who weren’t able to come with you.

The basic idea of it all is sweet. I love gift-giving, even if I’m still working on mastering the ability to pick the perfect something.

Plus, I’m working on a student budget — that doesn’t help when you see the most amazing, locally made gift that you just know a specific someone would die for only to check the price tag and nearly faint.

American’s obsession with souvenirs is baffling, with 2 out of 3 people saying they return from a trip with souvenirs.

The nitty-gritty of it all is what stresses me out. You somehow have to be budget-friendly, sentimental, and not forget anyone all at the same time. By the end of the trip, you realize that you didn’t get anything for yourself.

What are you supposed to get for souvenirs?

Do you get tacky stuff that’ll be thrown away or real gifts that’ll take up half of your budget? And why have I suddenly forgotten every personality trait of anyone I’ve ever met?

Is it weird to get everybody magnets or keychains, knowing they’ll never use them but wanting to check them off your list anyway? I don’t want to be a wasteful spender, both for the environment and my bank account, but it feels like a universal rule that you get people something from your trip.

Both parties of the interaction understand that this present will be tossed into a junk drawer as soon as possible, but if you show up empty-handed, you’re a bitch.

It’s usually easy to tell who will appreciate a shotglass and who won’t, but now you’re straying from just getting everyone the same thing to be fair. It’s common practice (and often recommended) to just buy a bunch of the same things for everyone.

Who do you get them for?

I’m sure the first thing that popped into your head was buying souvenirs for your family. Parents, siblings, kids.

As soon as you start straying from this list, things get hectic. Is there something wrong with you if you buy something for one friend, but not another? And then you have cousins, who you might talk to regularly, but not often enough to warrant a souvenir in your mind.

You talk to the girl at the desk beside you every day, you’ve even gone out to lunch a few times. Are you supposed to just tell everyone at the office about your trip with no gifts for them?

My overthinking is probably showing my immaturity, treating souvenir shopping like it’s a high school popularity contest.

Can a souvenir count as a holiday present or do you need to give both?

As someone who studies on another continent from my family, I usually just come home from winter and summer breaks. During my semester, I take a midterm break vacation and sometimes a few long weekend trips.

Midterm break in the fall semester is October, I don’t get back home until mid-December. The gap between the midterm break trip and my return home is short enough to get through the rest of the semester but long enough to not need to get souvenirs.

I’ve also come back from trips right around someone’s birthday, and been confused about the etiquette about that scenario. Do I need to drop another twenty bucks on a birthday present when I just got them a souvenir?


In August, I went to Paris. In October, I went to Lisbon. Other than postcards from the top of the Eiffel Tower for my sister and Mona Lisa gifts from the Louvre for my parents, I didn’t get anyone anything.

Except for myself.

I didn’t get this deck of cards and I regret it — each suit has a different design and they’re by local Portuguese artists.

What about me? What do I want from this trip?

I’ve never been good at buying things for myself, especially on a whim like a souvenir. If I want something, I put it on my list and wait to see if I’m still into it a few months later.

You can’t do that for a souvenir, you have a now-or-never chance to buy something or leave it.

It has been a little easier now, for a few reasons:

  1. My roommate and I have decided we’re going to collect cute magnets from our travels, especially if they’re vintage and thrifted.

  2. I grab every single business card, brochure, and piece of paper in my sight. I keep gallery maps, receipts, train tickets, the whole shebang. Those are my favorite types of souvenirs. (Yes, I was that kid with handfuls of paint color samples in Home Depot.)

  3. Journaling my travels makes for a great self-souvenir, you can remember the specific places you ate, things you saw, and galleries you went to.

  4. My digital photo album after any trip is never scarce; I can always look back at my trip through my gallery.

Buying souvenirs brings me back to high school, needing to make the perfect decision of where to sit in the lunch room without making anyone mad. I would prefer to give (and get) something personal from a trip, not just an ill-designed t-shirt or keychain.

I bet if I asked my family and friends if they knew what I brought back for them from our trip to Asia they’d give me a blank stare. But years later, I can still describe in detail how I spent $5 in Thailand. — Lakes and Lattes

When you’re on your next trip, think about the people who will appreciate and use what you get them. Something pretty, practical, and personal.

But if you’re buying something just to buy something, save yourself the stress.


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