Some people only need their memories of a trip, others enjoy photos and videos and then of course there are souvenirs. I like all of these things and being sentimental I love buying souvenirs that remind me of a certain place, or a moment we enjoyed as a family. I don’t tend to buy many of the touristy souvenirs because they end up being dust collectors. I still have souvenirs from my travels with my parents and from relatives who kindly brought back gifts from their trips long before my own travel days.
Although I love to shop, the family are not so keen on following me around while I do it, so now I often research what to buy before we travel. It’s especially helpful in finding more unusual things, or items unique to a destination.
Today I’m sharing our ideas on souvenir and gift buying when travelling.
We’re big fans of buying Christmas ornaments because although they are packed away much of the year, we have a lovely trip down memory lane as we hang each ornament every Christmas.
I didn’t know what I was starting when I first encouraged the kids to do pressed pennies on a trip to the US. But many years on and they are a lovely, easy-to-store memory from our trips around the US. The kids would save their quarters and pennies in anticipation of tracking down another machine and then there was always a big decision to be made as to which design to choose. The majority of machines have a choice of designs for your penny and usually require two quarters and a penny to get your pressed penny souvenir. Most attractions sell the albums to store your pennies.
Walking around Disneyland and California Adventure Park we are used to seeing lots of interesting sights and people, but we were particularly fascinated by this Disney fan and his astounding number of pins.
AJ started pin trading in the final days of our 2012 holiday and was keen to pick up where she left on our subsequent trip. It’s a fun past time and was a great conversation starter as AJ approached Cast Members (Disney staff) to see their pins and trade.
If you are heading to Disneyland and want to give pin trading a go I suggest you start off by buying a pin starter pack either online or when you arrive at the parks. Buy a pack which contains pins you are happy to trade. In other words, don’t buy a pack with pins you can’t bare to let go.
Cast Members around the park have lanyards around their necks with pins which they are prepared to trade. In some of the stores pins are kept behind the counter and staff will bring them out and once again you can choose to trade or decline.
AJ loved it and had lovely interactions with the Cast Members as they admired the pins she had already collected. Downtown Disney Cast Members had some of the best.
These are hot items especially when limited edition pins are released. On one of our trips Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride was celebrating its 50th anniversary and pins were released that morning. They sold out within a couple of hours. We couldn’t get one.
Pin collecting and trading is definitely addictive but AJ has a lovely variety and each one has a story. As she has grown up many of her other purchases she has outgrown and she’s given away but the pins have stayed. One of our readers also pointed out she liked the idea for her son who is visually impaired as it was something he could feel as a distinctive souvenir.
Pins aren’t unique to Disneyland of course, my mother-in-law has an extensive pin collection from her lap around Australia.
Personalised items are extra special.
Mickey Mouse ears are everywhere at Disneyland but we let AJ design her own. I’m sure regular Mickey Mouse ears would have probably been thrown by now but she’s kept her personalised ones. Having her name on them also meant Cast Members all greeted her by name which she really liked on her first visit.
When I was a child and went to Europe with my parents I got an autograph book which I still have. It’s got messages from flight crews, guest house owners and other special people we met along the way. AJ went to the US with a standard autograph book and got the signatures of actor Eric Bana who was on our flight, Paralympian Kurt Furnley and more. When we got to Disneyland both kids bought a special Disney autograph book. They loved meeting the characters and getting their books signed.
Some of the autograph books also have room for a corresponding photo. Once again we still have these souvenirs so I highly recommend them.
SAN FRANCISCO MUSIC BOXES
I’m always on the look out for things I can buy my parents when we travel. When we were travelling to San Francisco I was researching shopping online and found the San Francisco Music Box Company. I didn’t want to buy my Mum something touristy from San Francisco as she hadn’t travelled there so one of the beautifully crafted timber music boxes was perfect. They come in a large range of designs including The Golden Gate Bridge. My Mum is a horse lover so this box was ideal for her.
I love buying jewellery and it’s usually small and light to carry. The kids and Hubby bought me the Murano glass necklace in Santa Monica and I bought the blue necklace from a jewellery maker in the Blue Mountains.
We don’t have a fridge full of magnets but we have a few from our travels. They are small and inexpensive and a lovely reminder of places we’ve been.
SOUVENIRS FOR THE HOUSE
Not every souvenir needs to be obviously from the place you’ve visited. I love popping a bunch of flowers in the vase pictured above. I bought it on a trip to Uluru and the colours remind me of the area.
I have a dreadful habit of falling in love with the most illogical things, usually items which are meant for locals, not someone travelling from interstate or overseas. The picture above was bought at the Eloise store at The Plaza Hotel in New York. We had high tea at The Plaza Hotel and the kids were at the time big fans of the Eloise movie series so the high tea was part of a day I tailored to copy things Eloise would do in the city. I still think every bit of sitting on the suitcase lid for it to fit in was worth it!
PICTURES & SPECIAL PHOTO MOMENTOS
It’s not always easy to find souvenirs for BJ but he loves a range of things he’s bought over the years. He bought a frame at Disneyland and put one of his favourite family photos from our trip in the frame and it takes pride of place in his room.
We’ve had caricatures drawn for both the kids while travelling. They are often created by street artists in tourist areas and in the theme parks. Given BJ is a huge Toy Story fan he had a caricature drawn of him as Woody from the movie.
At California Adventure Park we had animators draw personalised pictures for the kids. They both chose a character and colours for their pictures. I chose the wording in the hope a bit of Disney magic would help BJ sleep (major fail!). Be warned though, the US picture size is different to Australian frames and we found on our return it would cost more to have the kids pictures framed in Australia than they cost to have drawn. We waited and on a return trip to the US I found a framer in Santa Monica who had off the shelf coloured frames the right size. TIP – If you’re getting pictures in the US, always buy a frame to fit it there.
We are always keeping future birthday and Christmas presents in mind for BJ so we’ll often take the opportunity to shop while we travel. BJ absolutely loved this framed photo of he and AJ with Batman. A great travel memory and a present done in one go.
Practical items can also make good souvenirs.
We like to travel with refillable water bottles and have collected a few in our travels. These are heavier than a plastic water bottle but we fill them and refrigerate them at night and pop them under BJ’s wheelchair in the net basket the next day. They keep the water cool and are kinder to the environment.
When I’m toiling away in the kitchen I love any reminders of our travels to distract me from the work at hand. My Disney measuring cups, spoons and spatula are just a bit of fun but a practical souvenir of our time at Disney.
Books are a heavy souvenir if you are flying but many attractions have unique books for kids and adults alike. In San Francisco Hubby bought some books at Alcatraz and for the kids we bought books at Boudin at the Wharf where you can also watch the famous San Fran sour dough being made.
When travelling to New York I Googled unique gifts from New York and I found a suggestion of a lovely store, The New York Transit Museum & Store, which is within Grand Central Terminal. It had less touristy New York souvenirs which was exactly what I was looking for.
The world is much smaller now and a lot of the same brands and food items are available all around the world. However, there are still some unique food items you can buy as a gift for someone back home.
I usually try to find items unique to the area we are visiting. See’s Candies are a must for me to buy myself and my parents on any trip to the US. We haven’t been to the US for a while so you can only imagine my joy when my friend Christine brought me back a box recently. I’m truly savouring them.
And of course, no matter how sensible you intend to be, sometimes you can still make ridiculous purchases. We have several fake Oscars (Academy Awards) around the house. Everyone in the family is the best in their category ie Best Son, Best Daughter and they were fun but let’s face it they are just dust collectors.
And under what circumstances does anyone need a pair of Minnie Mouse shoes? Only Gloria on Modern Family can pull these off (there was an episode about this).
As much as we love our photos there really are only so many large $20 photos you need from attractions. We’ve learnt to say no to having them taken because it’s hard to refuse them once you see those adorable faces staring back at you. But they don’t fit in most photo albums and you can only display so many.
FREE SOUVENIRS AT DISNEYLAND
If you’re on a strict budget and looking for a couple of free souvenirs from the Happiest Place on Earth, then we’ve got a couple of suggestions.
If it’s your 1st visit to Disneyland or you are celebrating then pop into City Hall for a free badge.
On each of our visits we’ve participated in a free session at Disney California Park’s Animation Academy where a Disney animator talks the audience through drawing a Disney character. There’s timed sessions with different characters drawn at each workshop. We were amazed at the results with the animator’s guidance. Obviously Disney won’t be knocking down our door offering us a job but it’s good to learn a little bit about drawing and it’s always good to sit down for a while at the parks.
- Always carry a roll, or odd bits, of bubble wrap.
- At Disneyland, keep an eye on your receipts from cafes, they often have a discount at the base which can be used in the stores.
- Sign up to loyalty programs or mailing lists before you travel. Many stores offer discounts just for signing up to their email list. We saved 20% in stores like Banana Repubic, GAP and more.
- I have loyalty cards for many stores in the US, they don’t seem to care where I live they are just happy that I shop with their loyalty card when I get to the register.
- Check online for shopping coupons or promotional codes. For example, if you fancy ordering personalised M&M’s (yes these are a thing!) you can often find promotional code online which will give you a discount.
- If you are ordering from an online store and having the goods delivered to your hotel, check if the hotel charges for accepting parcels. Also leave plenty of time for the delivery to make sure you don’t miss it and have your details clearly labelled on the parcel ie Guest – Julie Jones Arrival 22 May Hotel California.
- Research your shopping online beforehand and look for some unusual and long lasting souvenirs. It saves time and stops impulse purchases.
I love shopping and when I’m home again I really enjoy all the memories brought back by the souvenirs. Just remember to double think that outfit which is really only going to look good on the beach in Bali, or think again about those Minnie Mouse slippers because really, they are cumbersome and the fun wears off fairly quickly.
I’d love to hear your tips. What do you buy, or collect, when you travel? Have you got any money saving tips or a bad purchase you’d like to share?