Financial Travel Tip #58: Souvenirs, and Controlling Impulse Buys

by Nora on December 8, 2012


Hopefully you’ve created a budget that you think is realistic for your anticipated travels.

But even if you’re a guru at applying everything in moderation, when you’e constantly seeing and discovering new things on the road, sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in the impulse shopping fray.

I’ve struggled with this especially when visiting a city after a long stint of rural life (of which I’ve had many). My “city fixes” have often involved a lot of shopping – some of which has been necessary, but a lot of which hasn’t been.


What do you do when you just need to buy something?

Define Your Souvenirs

I love to have something to remember a destination or experience by. But most traditional souvenirs are useless to me – fridge magnets are hardly practical for full-time travelers.

So instead, I tend to choose an item that (for me) both defines an experience or place, and is a practical complement to my one-bag traveling entourage. Ideally, my new item replaces something else that has worn out, so the new purchase isn’t an extra weight/bulk.

Many of these souvenirs might not be obviously from that country, but every time I put it on or use it, I’ll know where I got it. Items like clothing, jewelry, scarves, and little things like replacement travel journals make great souvenirs. I even got a teeny coffee maker from Vietnam, which is my one real luxury item that helps me recreate (or at least recall) some of the best coffee I ever drank.


With a bag full of “souvenirs” from around the world – many of which are simply replacements of practical worn out items), most days I leave the house carrying or wearing things from about half a dozen countries.


Questions to Ask Before You Buy

If you’re feeling the urge for a city-fix/spending spree, here are a few questions you can ask to keep your impulse spending in check:

Will it fit into my bag?

Better yet, what am I willing to replace to own this item? (This is a great question for long-term/full-time travelers, and really helps you define what you need on the road).

Is it in the travel budget?

Better yet, can it help me save money? (The SteriPen worked a charm for me on this front).

Can I use it in other countries?

If not, can I reasonably wear it out or sell it before I leave?

If I regret this purchase tomorrow, can I return it?

When buying souvenirs in the traditional sense (such as in local markets), your chances of being able to return them are slim. So if I have the slightest doubt about any purchase,  I wait one day to buy it. If I wake up the next morning thinking about that item, then I know it’s worth buying. And if it’s gone….well, then, it just wasn’t meant to be.



Here’s a little more food for thought on impulse shopping in general:

Impulse Shopping: A Controllable Handicap

And a reminder that how we choose to spend our money is more a matter of personal choice than we may think:

Taco Tuesday: The Inner Mechanics of Budgeting on Vacation



{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gigi December 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I always find myself nodding my head at your posts. I operate the same way on the road. I bought a gorgeous green jacket in Belgium because it was too cold. Practical, and something that will always remind me of Belgium. In the same vein, I have scarves from Italy, an earring from Africa, tango shoes from Belgium, and hiking boots from Germany. I love having a bag full of everyday items that remind me of place. And when I combine my souvenir budget with my clothing budget, it means I can spend a tiny bit more and get nicer, longer lasting things, which is always really lovely.


2 theprofessionalhobo December 9, 2012 at 7:26 am

Gigi – AWESOME! I’m so happy I’m not the only one who derives great pleasure from having a “worldly” suitcase! 🙂


3 Dyanne@TravelnLass December 8, 2012 at 10:24 pm

While I’m presently somewhat settled here in (coool, greeen) Dalat, Vietnam, as I’m likely to don the backpack on a month’s tangent or three at most any moment (after all, that’s why I moved halfway ’round the globe in the first place), I must perpetually restrain myself from relapsing down the slippery slope of the “stuff” syndrome.

Replacing mundane travel necessities is a great idea (and one that springs quite naturally whilst littering the long-term travel trail with broken mice, lost sweaters, and… seemingly every blessed water filtration system I acquire and promptly lose – sigh).

But somehow these don’t quite satisfy my lust for coveting a special reminder of a place, so I’ve limited my travel token acquisitions on my recent forays into Cambodia, Thailand, Mongolia and Oz to one of three choices:

1. earrings (I mean really, they take up so little room)
2. scarves (ditto, you can never really have too many and there’s a gazillion uses for them when traveling.)
3. Better yet – e.x.p.e.r.i.e.n.c.e.s. e.g. I’ve begun to “collect” cooking classes and/or (unexplainably, whenever available) CAMEL rides, in my travels.

In any case, it surely is best to have a plan, set a limit, and think thrice before adding yet another trinket to your backpack.


4 theprofessionalhobo December 9, 2012 at 7:32 am

Dyanne – I love your strategy to collect experiences! I’ve got a few of those under my belt (for example, bungee jumping in a handful of countries – and of course riding the train across a few dozen countries!), and I’m blessed to be able to document them through my blog/photos/video, which ultimately end up being the “souvenir” of the occasion.

And as you might be experiencing, whenever I am “somewhat settled” for a while, the urge to accumulate increases tenfold! Because now – for however short a time you’re staying there – you have places to put stuff! (And often, a perceived “need” for stuff, be it wardrobe additions or household items. It’s hard to fend off the nesting gene!) This is one of the reasons I believe that living in one place is costlier than full-time travel…something I’m rediscovering here in Grenada to a small extent.
(Not that I’m complaining)…. 🙂


5 Morringhan December 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I like to have one bracelet from each country ive ever been to. they dont weight a lot, and are always attached to my arms, so its not too much bother to remember to pack or anything of the sort. I also like that my arm just spells out my journeys, and yeah they do end up adding up a bit, I’m at 14 bracelets I wear non-stop, but they became a part of me now, and I feel quite strange whenever I take them off.


6 Dyanne@TravelnLass December 9, 2012 at 8:03 pm

LOL – Morringhan’s mention of “…don’t weigh a lot” and “they became a part of me” reminded me that…

I once (BRIEFLY!) considered “collecting”… tattoos for souvenirs. I got my first (at age 60!) on my solo 6 week backpack across South Africa and Mozambique (it was within 12 hrs. of landing in Africa, so I blame it on jet-lag!) Still… I love my bitty “tranquility” kanji next to my little toe. So… on my next trip (to Bali) I got another (an “om” sign in color on the inside of my wrist – ouch!). So of course when I first dropped into Vietnam, I considered…

Nah, I’ve now been to 7 different countries in just the past year, and I’m thinking, enough’s enough!

In short, I love my two “souvenirs” (and they certainly “don’t weigh much” / feel like “…a part of me”). But a dozen or more tattoos (even if they’re just bitty stars or some such, which I considered…) Uh, maybe a bit over-the-top! 😉


7 theprofessionalhobo December 10, 2012 at 9:42 am

Dyanne – Ha ha! Yes, tattoos can be quite addictive…but you might run out of skin if you get one for every country you visit! Ha ha!


8 theprofessionalhobo December 10, 2012 at 9:40 am

Morringhan – That’s a great souvenir strategy! I knew somebody a few years back who did this, and it was a fun conversation starter…and an ever-present reminder of your adventures to date.


9 Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home December 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm

In my opinion, the cheapest and lightest type of souvenir is the postcard 🙂 You can collect them and also give/send them to friends and relatives


10 theprofessionalhobo December 10, 2012 at 9:44 am

Izy – I like checking out the postcards on the rack, then seeing if I can replicate them with my camera! Even cheaper….if not a little bit sneaky… 🙂


11 Nico @ATravellersJourney December 12, 2012 at 8:55 am

I tend to pick up drawings and paintings, aAfter all it’s never difficult to find talented street artists as you travel. They make for great gifts or a very cluttered house.


12 theprofessionalhobo December 12, 2012 at 11:13 am

@Nico – Nice! And as long as they’re not framed and are small-ish, they don’t take up much room! Do you keep any paintings/drawings for yourself? Or do you give them all away as you go?


13 Carolyn Johnson December 14, 2012 at 8:15 am

Thanks theprofessionalhobo for such practical information. It will definitely help me and many fellow travelers to plan their budget for a nice vacation.


14 theprofessionalhobo December 14, 2012 at 8:22 am

Thanks, Carolyn! Happy travels…


15 Jenny December 20, 2012 at 12:34 am

I totally agree with you. In my travels, I usually keep a copy of my ticket and pictures of the places I visited. I also ask for restaurants or hotels’ business cards. Then I place it in an album. Thanks for sharing a useful and helpful post.


16 theprofessionalhobo December 20, 2012 at 6:12 am

Jenny – Nice! I used to collect various paraphernalia like flyers and business cards and incorporate them into albums too! (Now I just take pictures…they take up less space)!


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