What to buy for loved ones on your travels……

Finding the perfect souvenir for a loved can be a pressure cooker decision.  Think about it.  You want to convey that you miss this person and offer a meaningful memento yet show the beauty or uniqueness of the locale.  Sometimes the person themselves make finding the perfect souvenir a monumental task–you know–the person who has everything or is really just very particular aka “picky”.  Other times it’s the locale–what the area is well renown for may not be within your budget or interest.


My “go to” souvenirs for loved ones over the years have changed.  As I mentioned in an earlier post–I often came away with loads of junk with name of the city or country blazoned across whatever cheap trinket I picked up.  I was in for quantity of souvenirs over quality.  Figuring out who I’m buying for and what I’m buying is part of my trip preparation now.  It helps me work in the cost of some gifts that if I didn’t consider ahead of time, I would not be able to afford.

I usually buy souvenirs for my immediate family–younger sisters and Mom as well as my chosen family–the children of my two best friends–who I think of as my nieces and nephew.  As of this summer, my new brother-in-law was included in the souvenir gifting.  He’s a baseball cap guy so I took the easy way out and I bought him an Amsterdam hat that looked a little ratty on purpose–he loves it!  And he can expect more baseball caps from future trips until he tells me, “No More!”  Occasionally, I pick up cool things for Christmas stockings or birthday gifts.  In Amsterdam, I bought my mother a Delft porcelain tree ornament to add to her stocking.  For my sisters–plaid “Harrod’s” cosmetic cases to tuck away the small things in their stocking.  My two best friends received scarves I picked up in Paris with some chocolate from Fortnum & Mason’s food gallery for their birthdays this fall.


Tea from Fortnum & Mason (my favorite blend!)

Zsolnay bud vase



Dutch gouda cheese

Anysley bud vase  (England)

My mom collects glass and porcelain so when I visit a country known for its glassware–well it’s a no-brainer souvenir.  The picture of that little Zsolnay bud vase is the exact copy of the one I picked up for Mom in Budapest–it’s itty-bitty, but it was not itty-bitty in price.  It’s a quality brand of porcelain.  She loves it, she has tiny beaded flowers in it.  I fell in love with the gouda cheese especially the garden herb flavor when I traveled through Amsterdam–so being another cheese lover–my Mom received some of the “goud-a” stuff as well (I couldn’t resist the pun).  We’re a family of tea drinkers.  So we like to try different types of tea, though I prefer strong black or orange blends. I remember growing up and spending lazy Sundays with rolls or bagels and pots and pots of tea while wading through the Sunday paper.  Growing up, Swee Touch Nee was the brand of choice but now we’ve branched out to Bewley’s from Ireland or Fortnum & Mason’s in London.  Whenever the opportunity arises, I pick up the teas that we now adore.

Elisabeth chocolatier in Vienna makes great hot chocolate spoons with liquer flavors and chocolate

Delft   (The Netherlands)

My sisters are a little more difficult to buy for–first, they are very different people, second, the souvenirs need to be somewhat equal in price and appearance (you know, the same level of gift).  I don’t want to be accused of favoring one over the other–I struggled for a while–now I hit the jackpot–reuseable shopping bags!  We are handbags girls–I did my time (14 years) in retail selling Coach handbags–so we LOOOVE our bags.  These little reuseable bags are awesome–they are cute as hell and practical. They are useful while traveling and at home I use them to carry things to and from work all of the time.  Now I scope them out whenever I travel and my older niece just hit 13 years of age–so she now appreciates a fun and colorful little bag.  I also like to pick up leather bracelets, candy, and other fun do-dads to fill the bags.

Some of my very wrinkled bags that I bought myself

In Hungary, I picked up leather                 bracelets from vendors on Vaci utca

My nieces and nephew on the other hand are more fun–I get to let my inner kid out to find fun or quirky souvenirs.  My favorite souvenir I ever bought for them were the foam Three Musketeer era swords I bought from the gift shop at the Vaux le Vicomte estate I visited outside of Paris.  I admit I road tested them with my sister and her now husband before presenting them to the actual children.  I think my sister and her husband wished for foam swords of their own!  Wherever I travel, if I come across a toy store–I’ll go in to find little things I can throw into their Christmas stockings.  It’s cool to see how the children of that country amuse themselves.  The younger niece used to get an ABC book in a different language–French or Czech for instance.  My Prague trip was all about the kids.  I learned about Manufaktura–a store that only buys, sells, and/or produces Czech products.  The Czechs are well-known for not only their wooden toys but wind-up mechanical toys.  I bought so many little toys for Christmas and their birthdays from Prague.

       Manufaktura, Prague

I have an upcoming trip to Spain–the Andalusia region to be specific (think Seville, Granada, Cordoba, and Ronda) and some of the shopping suggestions for the area range from the edible (cheese, sweets, biscuits, olive oil, and wine) to the master crafted gifts (guitars, ceramics, fans, hand-embroidered shawls, mantillas, filigree silver jewelry, leather goods, flamenco wear, and Moroccan clothes and accessories).

Since I started working on this post–I’ve returned from Spain and well my souvenirs are pretty much what I thought I would be buying.  I found a few magnets I like for my fridge to mix with the photo magnets I create from my favorite pictures of the trip.  The nephew received a “Seville” baseball cap and my older neice an array of leather embossed bracelets with one exception.  In Granada, I found a store called Granada Original and I picked up a silver filigree bracelet on a black jewelry string.  My Mom received a coppery glazed pottery pitcher from Seville.  My younger niece is 8 years old and she takes dance so I thought she would enjoy………….a flamenco dress!  She’s 8…..this is the only time I can get away with a flamenco dress–if nothing else she’ll have a unique Halloween costume next year.  I think she’ll get a kick out of it.  My sister found a small square painting that was just beautiful in a gift store in Seville.  We were on our way to a ceramic store to look for Mom and we just loved the store window and went in.  J bought her painting and we found the pottery here for Mom.  J bought Mom a coordinating little dish with the pitcher.


Mom’s pitcher–pretty!

The flamenco dress–I was teasing the kids on facebook so I hid all of the pleasures of the dress including the red fringe that lines the neckline!

So now I’ll leave you with a list of suggestions for specialty souvenirs from different countries I visited over the years:

England-Aynsley porcelain, luxury brand teas & chocolates (Fortnum & Mason or Harrod’s)

Ireland-woolens (scarves, sweaters), lace, stout (I like Murphy’s better than Guinness), whiskey (Jameson)

France-fashion scarves (every women wore a scarf every day)

Belgium-lace, chocolate (lots of chocolate!)

Austria-the hazelnut “Mozart” candies

The Netherlands-Tulips, Delft porcelain, cheese–garden herb Gouda was my favorite

Hungary-Zsolnay & Herend brand porcelain, tooled leather products

Czech Republic-wooden & mechanical wind up toys, garnets, crystal

Blue store in Prague specializes in Bohemian crystal (I bought a beautiful egg-shaped crystal paperweight)




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