Family Holiday A to Z: Shopping for souvenirs

Welcome to my A to Z series on surviving, enjoying and making the most of family holidays. I have just returned from my own 24 day odyssey to the USA with my husband and three little bears – so I am truly living what I am preaching right now! Each post in this series is designed to cover a specific aspect of family travel and provide 5 tips for making your next family holiday more special, fun and memorable. I would love to hear your stories and suggestions too, so feel free to hit me with them in the comments!

Family Holiday A to Z

It is impossible to travel anywhere without the lure of the souvenir. It seems to be an innate human trait that we are driven to buy useless items to prove that we have been at a particular destination. You may not be into stubby holders normally, but a strange desire will see you purchase a stubby holder from each port you visited to proudly proclaim you have indeed been to the Caribbean (that may or may not have happened to us during #ourUSAadventure…)

It is a universal truth that holidays and shopping go hand in hand. And there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you have the money, luggage space and ability to bring everything home with you again. So before you start your holiday souvenir shopping frenzy, it may be pertinent to think about some of the following points and have an answer for each of the questions posed below.

5 questions to ask yourself before shopping for souvenirs

1. Do you REALLY need that?

The answer will invariably be no and that is not a problem as long as you don’t keep buying items for the sake of buying them. By all means grab some small keepsakes from each destination but try to avoid spending a lot of money on items that you will not use and that will only become dust collectors on your return. It is far better to invest your money in tours, experiences and attractions than on relatively useless items that are worth far less than you paid for them.

2. Can you get the item home?

In this case, size and weight does matter. Depending on how you arrived at your destination, there may be weight and baggage limits that apply to your luggage. Will you be able to pack the souvenir in your existing luggage? If not, can you afford shipping costs or the cost of excess baggage fees? Will you need to buy new luggage to hold your purchases? These are legitimate questions, especially if you are travelling from location to location. In our case, we brought along a big plastic checked shopping bag to hold our dirty clothes and car seat on the way home so our souvenirs could be packed and locked up tight in our luggage. Take the time to think about how you will get everything home before you start your shopping spree.

3. Will your (mother/father/friend) REALLY like that?

Souvenir shopping can be intoxicating and addictive, especially with the prospect of buying lots of presents for friends and family at home. But before you slap down your cash on that handmade wooden sword, ask yourself whether the intended recipient will really appreciate your gesture. Think back on all the dodgy souvenirs you have received in the past and try to do better. If you really want to buy them something, try to find something that will be truly appreciated. Find an item that has a story or a history that you can share on your return – don’t just go for the cheap and nasty version because it’s easy and inexpensive.

4. Can you afford all those souvenirs?

It is handy to set a per person budget before you start spending – this should ideally be undertaken in the budgeting stages of planning your trip. You should consciously think about what you would like to spend per person and stick to it. While you are at it, you should also set a budget for souvenirs for yourself and for your family. Kids love being given money to spend themselves so make sure you give them a small amount to spend so they can do some souvenir shopping of their own too. Just be careful not to shortchange yourselves because you are unable to control your spending.

5. Can you say no and can you haggle effectively?

I learned this lesson to my cost in Haiti recently. As part of a shore excursion we found ourselves in a market stall precinct, split up and beseiged by stall holders. We ended up spending a whole lot more than we planned as we were unaware of what the other person was spending, we were not mentally prepared for the process of haggling and we had trouble saying no. We were also disadvantaged as we didn’t have small denominations of cash with us which made us sitting ducks. it is a lesson you should learn – know how to say no, try to stay together, be prepared to haggle and ensure you have small notes with you so you can control your spending.

Bonus tip 6. Do you have a shopping strategy?

This might sound a little over the top but you should put some thought into your shopping intentions. For instance, we had some must-have items on our list at each destination. We knew we wanted to buy Disney Mickey Ears while we were at Walt Disney World which helped us avoid other unnecessary purchases. At Universal, we had our eye on Harry Potter wands and on the cruise, we decided to buy everyone a T-shirt to commemorate our trip. At each destination we also bought a magnet to put on our fridge so we could visually see our journey when we arrived home. Planning some of your spending in advance and developing a rough shopping strategy can save you money, time and stress when it comes time to reconcile your souvenir shopping and working out how to get it all home.

Do you have other tips for controlling your souvenir shopping while on holidays?

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7 Responses

  1. I’m a sucker for souvenirs. They’re so fun to buy but they become a bit redundant when they arrive home. These days I try to set a budget and buy things that I know I’ll use. At Disneyland, I passed on the Mickey Mouse ears, but I did buy some Mickey Mouse earrings which I’ve worn with pride many a time on my return home! I’m a notoriously bad packer and take everything but the kitchen sink when I go away, so size does matter when it comes to the souvenirs. They have to be small and light!

    • Kirsty says:

      I got myself two other decent souvenirs when we were there – a Disney charm bracelet and a Minnie Mouse tote bag. I either go really tacky (fridge magnets) or really useful (bags, etc). But yes, most souvenirs are already redundant, which is sad but there will always be the memories…

  2. I need to ask myself these questions at the supermarket!

    • Kirsty says:

      So do I – particularly at ALDI. There is always something there that I feel I MUST have – very bad habit of mine…

  3. Janelle Dixon says:

    Hi Kirsty,
    I loved following your trip on Facebook. It looked fantastic.
    As somewhat of a family travel veteran , ( we’ve been to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, USA x2 Mexico and Hawaii with kids, Thailand, Laos, Europe and the UK prior to kids) souvenirs are no longer a huge issue. It is now tradition that we buy a Christmas ornament ( or something that can be used as one) at each destination. They are actually very easy to find. These ornaments also make great presents for family and friends. Our whole family now buy ornaments as gifts when we travel. They are small and reasonably easy to transport.
    The process of decorating the Christmas tree is now a family share time. Not only do we recall family holidays and discuss memories from each trip, it is also a lesson in geography as we locate the countries on the map and discuss culture and handicrafts from these destinations. I now look forward to this family time each year.
    Obviously the kids love to have their own money and shop for little bits and pieces. They have a budget for these things. T-shirts are still a favourite with the kids and husband whereas I like to save up for a distinctive piece of jewellery. We also spend a lot on photos. We always say, of all the money we spend on holidays, we never regret money spent on photos to remember the special family moments.

    • Kirsty says:

      That is fab advice Janelle. I didn’t realise you had travelled so extensively. We’re hoping to do much more ourselves in future. We spent a lot on photos too on our trip and that is definitely one thing I do not regret!

  1. May 24, 2015

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