Why Souvenirs Are The Actual Worst

Buying a souvenir? Maybe you shouldn’t…

As I wandered through the markets, one late evening, I realised that most of the vendors were shutting up shop.

I had limited options already, and by the minute, they were dwindling away.

I started to panic, trying to find the perfect souvenir to take home before my flight in the morning.

Would a scarf be good? Or how about a carved idol? Can I fit this handmade box in my carry-on?

It was around this point, my nerves wearing thin and my patience running even thinner, that I realised that I was now no longer enjoying myself.

Buying souvenirs sucks.

It really does. You spend all this time and I rarely find that the end purchase is worth it at all.

I want to propose that you do away with trying to buy souvenirs. I think they take away from your experience rather than add to it. I know some of you still insist on buying some little trinket, but can I make some suggestions?

At the end of this article, I’m going to propose some guidelines to help you determine what you should spend your travel money on for your next trip.

But before that, let me tell you why, in my opinion, you should RARELY buy a souvenir, and why they’re a waste of your time, your money, and your holiday.

You Lose Your Focus

Maybe the shop will be down this alley…

When I wandered around that market, I lost HOURS of time, trying to think about buying the right souvenir. I was panicking about leaving a place that I truly loved, but that I didn’t think I would come back to in a long time.

And what do you think my last memories of that place were?

Scrambling to find some cheap piece of junk and getting hassled by marketers taking advantage of a silly tourist.

I lost my focus. Every day, as I toured some new site, visited a holy location, walked around ancient streets, I didn’t really take the time to enjoy it. I was instead focussed on questions like:

“Where’s is the best place to buy a souvenir?”

“Should I wait until tomorrow? Or will today’s shop get me the best price?”

“Maybe I could find something another day?”

I was distracted from enjoying and experiencing my travels, and I got some cheap metal instrument as my reward.

Don’t lose your focus. You’re there to enjoy, to explore, to experience…

…and thinking about where the best shop is, or trying to pick the right piece just distracts you from that.

I always find that the best memories are the times when I was completely in the present, in the moment, enjoying whatever it is I was doing, from sipping Mai Tais on a beach, to watching a side-street food vendor make his snacks.

You Lose Time

Can’t take back time…

If there is one thing that you’re constantly short of when you travel, it’s time. If you’re like the rest of us, you only have limited days to make a good holiday.

You lose all sense of time as you wander around from shop to shop, searching for the right souvenirs and gifts. I hate all that time that’s wasted. You promise yourself that you’ll just “pick something up along the way”, but usually turns into a whole shopping experience dedicated to finding the right piece.

You can do way better things with your time, be way more productive at creating an experience that you’ll actually remember, for way longer, than buying that silly T-shirt that ends up tossed in the back of your closet.

You Reduce Your Experience

Are your souvenirs just clutter?

Funny how when I look at some of the things I’ve bought overseas, I tend to only think about that thing.

If I bought a shell or a handbag, I think about the experience of buying that bag or the day I bought the shell.

When I really think about it, my time on that particular holiday was rich with experience, laughs, great food, times when I got lost, times when I discovered something new, great friends, funny bloopers…

…but all I can think about is that shell from that one day.

We tend to reduce our experiences of travel down into the one piece we bought. Or that we gave as a gift.

How can you tell someone about the magic, the smells, the sights of that night market with a t-shirt? You can’t.

Souvenirs do that to us. They reduce the whole experience and they can’t capture the complete story. If anything, I want something that captures the whole travelling experience, but the only thing I have for that is my memories.


OK, if I can’t persuade you to stop buying souvenirs and gifts while you travel, let me come up with a couple of ways to help you which will also enrich your experience.

Follow these tips to get the most out of your shopping trips.

Buy Something To Remind You Of An Experience

Remember that one night…?

If I want to buy something, I’m going to buy something that reminds me of an experience.

Do you want to remember that crazy meal you had at that one restaurant where the waiter thought you said 30 empanadas when you thought you ordered 3?

By all means, buy a little trinket form that restaurant because it reminds you of that event.

Souvenir is French for “to remember”, so I feel it’s getting back to the root of the world to buy a little something that helps you remember some wild, crazy, funny, wacky thing you did.

Buy For A Friend, Only If It Catches Your Eye

For you, my friend…

I love giving gifts to my friends. So, when I’m out travelling, I often have my friends in mind.

If I can’t travel with them, I’d love to surprise them with something fun, interesting, or cool that I thought they would love.

But, I don’t make buying a gift my priority. I don’t love my friends THAT much…;)

But seriously, I can’t buy a gift that creates as much impact as actually being there, so I treat my gift giving the same way I would if I was at a mall at home.

If I see something I think my friend would love, I’ll snatch it up. But if not, I don’t worry about it. There’s less stress, less worry, and my friends and family don’t have expectations that they’re going to get something every time I come back from a trip.

Support A Local You Met

Supporting a lovely lady and her family…

If you are going to make a purchase, I like to do it to support a local I met.

There’s one thing I HATE about the tourism industry, and that is how much it can wreck a local economy. When I travelled through Bali, I hated the big touristy centres because the markets there were overpriced, full of con artists and scammers, and I couldn’t find a decent gift anywhere.

I’d prefer to make friends with someone, in a place less travelled, and buy something because I know it’s supporting him, his family, and his local village or community.

That, to me, is what tourism is all about:

Adding to the local economy.


I’m not above gift buying and collecting souvenirs, but I HATE the idea of making that a priority. I’d much prefer to find something if I find something, and not get stressed if nothing catches my eye.

I’m more about only collecting experiences, taking only pictures, and only leaving footsteps.

If you agree with me, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts about travel and gift buying. Maybe I’ve missed a point, and I’d love to hear it.