Souvenir shopping made easier

Flying Squirrel



Imagine you’re at the airport in Hawaii, Vancouver, Cancun or even Paris. It’s the end of your trip and your flight home boards in an hour. Look around. What do you see?

You’re likely to see places to shop—souvenir stands, in particular. Convenient places stocked with items themed to the area you’ve just visited.

Let’s unpack this for a moment. You’ve just spent a week or more in a destination. You likely had the time to browse real shops where you could have bought mementos of your stay for yourself or as gifts for others.

Yet here you are at the airport, where every third store offers the opportunity to overpay for baubles, trinkets, doodads and geegaws. (You can’t believe how happy it makes me to work the words “doodads” and “geegaws” into a piece of writing.)

What this glut of airport-based souvenir shops tells me is that we know we should get a gift for the person at home, yet most of us don’t give it much thought. We wait till 15 minutes before we stand in the Southwest “C” boarding line, and then it hits us: “I didn’t buy a gift for (enter name here).”

Yes, nothing says “I care about you” quite like a tiny ceramic palm tree “wrapped” in a thin plastic bag stamped “Recuerdo de Aeropuerto Cancun.”

But your souvenir buying experience doesn’t have to be this way. You could choose to put a tiny amount of real thought into it. Here are three ways to ease the process:

Decide in advance. Start by deciding in advance what you want to buy. At the beginning of your trip, take five to 10 minutes and make a list of the people you want to buy something for. Having a clear list will help you see buying opportunities along the way.

You might also decide on an overall budget. Let’s say you allocate $50 for souvenirs. Knowing this amount up front will make your purchases smarter. You’ll be less likely to make last-minute purchases out of a sense of guilt.

A list and a budget can be especially helpful for kids. Ask them to decide up front who they’re shopping for and let them know how much they can spend.

Be thoughtful. Don’t be the person who brings home the shirt with the sarcastic proclamation, “My Son Went to Maui and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.” Consider who you are buying for and what their interests are.

If you’re buying for your dad who is a golfer, a nice golf shirt from St. Andrews or Pebble Beach might be appreciated. Or the chef in your life could welcome a local cookbook.

Also consider if your gift recipient has a collection of specific items from their travels. In the ’50s, it might have been ashtrays or shot glasses. Today, it could be decorative plates, porcelain figurines or . . . shot glasses. Use whatever you know about the tastes of the person to shop for a gift.

Remember, too, the ideal gift doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Napkins, postcards, stamps or bus maps are easy (and cheap) items to bring home to someone who collects them.

Buy local. Often on a trip you’ll have the opportunity to buy gifts from an actual craftsperson. I much prefer the chance to support a local artisan or vendor over the chain that owns the airport gift stand. Nobody should buy a souvenir at the Cabo San Lucas airport that says “Made in China.”

Yes, with a little advance thought, a shopping list and budget, and an interest in supporting local vendors, you can make your next souvenir shopping opportunity a more thoughtful experience.

Thor Challgren is a travel writer who lives in Thousand Oaks. For more info and resources on this story, visit Email questions to