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How to Buy Family Travel Souvenirs That Don’t Suck

Matt Villano

A giant plastic bin in my garage tells the story of family travel souvenirs gone wrong. Somewhere near the bottom lurks that pink stuffed monkey with Velcro hands and feet. In the middle of the pile, you’ll find that ridiculous Maisy lunchbox we bought in England. On the top, taunting me like an angry Chihuahua, sits the Mickey-themed spray-bottle-misting-fan thing my older daughter simply “had to have” on that last trip to Disneyland.

The bottom line: Because we travel so much with our girls, over the years we’ve amassed a whole bunch of crap.

One of my goals for this weekend is to (avoid the Dianogas) and go through that garbage. Anticipating the endeavor on a recent run got me thinking about tips I could offer to other family travelers for avoiding similar mountains of souvenir junk. Here are three suggestions to live by.

Limit options
Younger kids will convince themselves they “need” just about everything in just about every souvenir kiosk they can find. To avoid repeating those uncomfortable and annoying exchanges that inevitably end with you saying, “No,” get a sense of the souvenirs your child considers to be finalists, then present him or her with a choice between two: This or that. At the very least, this approach guarantees singular purchases.

Embrace austerity
Every trip works better on a budget, and souvenirs should fall into this mix, as well. That means it’s perfectly within your right as a parent to explain to your youngster that he or she has to keep souvenir purchases under a particular number, and that certain souvenirs exceed that limit right off the bat. This approach doesn’t only guarantee that you won’t break the bank; it inherently puts big-ticket souvenir items out of reach.

Seek longevity
Most souvenirs are disposable; cheap stuff made overseas that is designed to be used a few times and then tossed aside. With this in mind, it’s usually best to hunt for trinkets with potential for a long shelf-life. Tops on this list: Books you can read over and over again (and then keep to read over and over to your younger kids when they’re ready). A runner-up: Stuffed animals, especially ones quirky enough to become characters in stories your kids make up.

Edit liberally
A souvenir collection is like a batting stance; it requires constant adjustment. This means you should consistently monitor how many travel mementos your child has at any given time, and which of those cutesy items have become the objects of neglect. Once you’ve achieved this assessment, you’ve got three options: 1) Save the toys for re-introduction, 2) Donate them to Goodwill, or 3) Jettison them all together. Trust me on this one: No. 3 is harder than you think.

Like what I’ve compiled? Think I missed something? Leave a comment and let me know.

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