You’re in Chicago…or Los Angeles…Sao Paulo, Brazil…London…or Aculpulco. And you’ve enjoyed yourself thoroughly. But you want to share that experience with the people you love — or give yourself memories to enjoy in months to come. But the souvenir shops you’ve seen are tacky, expensive, or both. What to do?
Go Where The Locals Do
Farmer’s and flea markets, or market squares, have handmade or locally-made items for sale, for a lot less than the nearest tourist hangout. What do the locals wear, in hats, gloves, sweaters or shirts? Find out what this area is known for — pottery, weavings, silver? That’s what you want to get. (Ask your waiter, hotel clerk or even someone on the street. Ask more than one person.)
Head For The Grocery Store
Every culture has its specialties, including entrees (soups and stews), spices, meats (seafood for the coastal areas), vegetables — and especially sweets. (Recipe books aren’t a bad idea, either.) In the East Coast states, like Maine, bring home cans of clam chowder or lobster bisque. (The chowder’s good in Washington State, too.) Food items at a grocery store are almost always fresher, more authentic — and much cheaper.
San Francisco’s famous for its sourdough bread — but many areas have favorite cookies, pies or cakes to share. (Warning: Make sure your grocery items are baked, canned or otherwise prepared. For one thing, it’s easier to pack. For another, if you’re traveling in certain parts of the U.S., or in other countries, fresh items may not be allowed across state or national lines.)
Don’t forget about unusual cooking, eating or serving utensils, tableware, cloths and napkins, either. (The latter are easy to pack, and cushion breakable jars or bottles.) Pack anything loose or meltable in plastic bags. Also:
Check Out The Best Local Offerings. Bring Some Home
Did you just eat at a great restaurant/bakery that offered huge, crunchy oatmeal cookies? Take home a dozen, and share them with a cup of coffee. (Get that locally too, if the area’s known for it.) I’ve schlepped home Chicago-style hot dogs and deep-dish pizzas, packed in cardboard boxes. Sure, they had to be heated — but they were tasty, nonetheless. (Put extra in the freezer for yourself, as well, if you really enjoyed them.)
Purchase A Variety Of Items, From Small To Large — And Always Get A Few Extra
You’ll have something for casual friends, as well as close ones, and multiple items to choose from. Take chocolates, for example. If you buy everything from candy bars to boxes of chocolates, you’ll have plenty to choose from — or treat someone (including yourself) on the spur of the moment.
You Oughta Be In Pictures — Postcards, That Is
They’re harder to find than in past years. (Must be the increase of the Internet, especially Facebook, and the corresponding decrease in snail mailing letters and such.) Regardless, many places, especially international ones, have postcards that are colorful, feature local landmarks, and are reasonably priced.
It’s like sending your friends and family a bit of the world you’re experiencing. Mail them locally, if you’re reasonably sure they’ll make it. (Some countries, like Ireland, are not always reliable.) Otherwise, post them before you leave the airport or train station — or wait until you get home. Keep one or two for posting by your desk, or on the refrigerator.
If You Find Something Wonderful That’s Reasonably Priced Or On Sale — Get It For Everyone On Your List
A trip a few years ago to Panama, famous for its coffee and hand-stitched mola embroideries, meant that we bought those items in bulk. (Saved extra because we bought more than a few, too.) A recent trip to Ireland netted lovely little soapstone boxes, decorated with carved illustrations — mermaids, angels, harpists, even an apostle — from the Book of Kells, a medieval manuscript now at the university in Dublin.
New Mexico has its red pepper ristras; Michigan, jugs of maple syrup, fudge (if you’re near Mackinac Island) or smoked whitefish. If the item is pretty, tasty and/or useful, it will appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests.