Souvenirs (for yourself and others)


In general, I’m not a big trinket person. I don’t like knick-knacks sitting around my house and I don’t like purchasing big-ticket items on vacation. When I travel, I want to spend my money on experiences and memories. So souvenirs can be tough. While I don’t make a habit of it, I do occasionally bring small gifts back to friends and family, and Travis and I do buy some things for ourselves. Here are some souvenir ideas I had while in Nice.

  • Greeting cards in the local language. Find a funny/sincere/sweet card and write the translation above the foreign words. I haven’t had the chance to do this yet, but I thought of it while passing through the card aisle in a Monoprix and thought I would love to be on the receiving end of one of them.
  • Notebooks/Notecards/Journals. If you have a writer friend, they love journals and notebooks. They just do. Trust me.
  • Food. This list is endless. On this particular trip, we brought back Nicoise olive tapenade, canned tuna, spices, cookies, macarons, and tiny individually-wrapped pound cakes. In Germany we brought back mustard, curry ketchup, spice mixes, candies, and drink mixes. In Hawaii it was macadamia nuts, coffee beans, and Big Island Candies shortbread cookies. Man, we miss those shortbread cookies.The important thing to remember is that whatever comes back with you needs to be able to make it in your suitcase and through customs. This means mostly dry goods. If you do bring liquids, put them inside ziplock bags. Avoid anything unpasteurized or fresh. I try very hard to avoid any type of glass packaging, and if I do bring something back in glass, I put it in a ziploc bag and wrap it in socks for cushioning.
  • Can you tell I like food? Well I like making it too. So some of my favorite souvenirs are recipes. Cookbooks have helped me recreate the wonderful dishes I’ve tried on our travels. I know the internet has recipes, but books are fun and beautiful. And they’re flat so they take up very little room in my suitcase. Travis and I both appreciate that this has made our home kitchen a little more international. This week I’m trying my hand at Socca and Daube de Beouf Provencal.
  • Sports Souvenirs. Travis buys soccer jerseys. I buy soccer scarves. If your friend or family member also loves the team, you can find a plethora of small inexpensive items like key chains or bottle openers. One of Travis’s favorite souvenirs from soccer games are the branded plastic beer cups that come from the concession stand.
  • Speaking of scarves, fashion scarves are great for your girl friends. They can be as cheap or as expensive as you’d like, and there are very nice ones to be found on almost every street corner in Europe. My favorite scarf isn’t fancy, but I bought it on a cobblestone street in a tiny town in Austria.
  • Earrings are also awesome and take up little space. My friend Amy brought me earrings from Turkey and I adore them.
  • Soaps, lotions, and beauty products can be a real hit as well. My friend Alana brought me Lush bath bombs from London. I brought back giant blocks of Marseilles-made soap for Amy and Alana.
  • On every trip, we try to purchase a Christmas ornament. We’ve got a hand-painted bulb from Alaska and a hand-carved ornament from Hawaii. In Paris, we got creative and used a champagne cork from a bottle Travis opened with a sabre. It’s fun to look for the ornaments while we’re on vacation, and it’s fun to revisit our travel memories while we decorate our Christmas tree a few months later.
  • Small kitchen appliances/tools. Last year in France, we fell in love with crepes and moka-pot coffee. So we purchased a moka pot and a crepe pan. Now Saturday mornings in our house are what we call “Francy”.
  • This isn’t easy, but in my opinion it’s worth it. Follow the regulations and be smart about it, but bring back wine. We purchased a case that safely transports seven bottles of wine. It’s TSA-approved and has a place for TSA-approved locks. When we travel, we purchase local wine and bring it back with us. We try to buy red wine that will age well (ask a shop keeper). We know we’ll need to drink the whites within a year. Even full with seven bottles, the case weighs under the 50 pound weight limit for checked baggage. The case was pricey, but most of the time the wines are cheap and well worth the effort.
  • How could I make this list and not include smashed pennies? I love smashed pennies because they’re small and cheap. I like putting new pennies in my penny passport. And on occasion, I like drinking too much and making my friends look at my collection (Jess). Take a look at and see if there’s a penny machine near your next destination. But be careful when smashing pennies for others. Don’t buy a smashed penny for someone else unless you know they like getting them as gifts. I love smashed pennies, but I particularly like smashing them and I like them as memories of a place I’ve been. If you bring me one that you smashed from a place you visited, it’s not as fun. This means a lot of times I come off as sort of rude. “Oh you collect smashed pennies?” “Yes, but don’t get them for me. I like to smash them.”

So what was the final haul in Nice? I think we did a pretty good job of sticking to fun things that mean something. We brought back all of the stuff below. When you realize it fit into one suitcase (with all of our clothes and shoes) and a wine case, it’s a pretty impressive list.

  • 5 bottles of wine (one was too tall and took up multiple spots, bringing the final count down)
  • Two cans of tuna in oil with provencal herbs
  • Bonne Maman lemon tart cookies that they don’t sell anywhere near me
  • Bonne Maman mini butter cakes that, again, I can’t get at home
  • Nicoise olive tapenade
  • Fleur de sel
  • Chocolate that was given to us in Geneva, Switzerland
  • A box of 12 macarons that didn’t fair too well, but I ate them anyway
  • Two blocks of soap from Marseilles
  • A liquid dispenser of Marseilles soap, plus a refill that I put inside two different baggies and wrapped in all the socks
  • Soccer jersey
  • Soccer scarf
  • One stadium beer cup
  • Hand-painted Christmas bulb from Monaco
  • Two beautiful smashed pennies from Eze

Below I’m posting photos of some of my favorite souvenirs from our most recent trips.