No matter how you try, part of being a tourist is browsing through trinkets and postcards at some point during a trip. You might not mean to do it, but you’ll undoubtedly look at a snow globe or t-shirt even if you have no intention of purchasing it. We aim to only consider sustainable souvenirs when we travel and we’ve got some great ideas to help YOU find cool, low impact options to bring home.
When you travel with kids, a simple stop to grab a snack can turn into an accidental window shopping experience, or worse, a conversation of “You don’t need that” or “It’s just a stuffed animal” or “that’ll break on the plane…” After years of having this conversation with our kids, I just have to share about the sustainable souvenirs we’ve discovered and how our family operates when we’re traveling.
Here are 5 great ways to bring back a little piece of your family’s journey that won’t aren’t wasteful or ridiculous. I know you’ll love these sustainable souvenirs.
Postcards or Prints: Bringing Art Home
When I think of sustainable souvenirs I automatically jump to postcards of every sort. Although postcards are the most clichéd of all tourist items (maybe snow globes are) they are also one of the best things you can purchase as a keepsake.
Why? Simple: a postcard will display the best characteristics of a place that you may want to remember and the image has been professionally assembled to be the best looking shot it can be. True, there are some horribly cheesy or outdated postcards out there, but there are cool ones too.
Vintage postcards are our favorite to find. Prints are also a great thing to bring back. Like a postcard, the image is tested and true. When you return home, it’ll be easy to frame that print or one of your postcards to use as art on a wall and remind you of your travels. There are some beautiful postcards that capture some of the amazing scenic drives in National Parks that make for wonderful art.
Tip: if you see a flea or farmers market while traveling, you may be able to score a great print by a local artist for not too much money, and you’ll be supporting somebody who’s dream is to share their art. Buying a souvenir like this gives back to the community you’re enjoying, and that’s very important to do.
Souvenir Travel Patches
Huh? Yep, travel patches are a great souvenir for several reasons:
- they are useful for covering stains on a sweatshirt or fixing a hole in a bag.
- they are a great, small thing to collect over the years that can be stored and rummaged through (like baseball cards)
- you can create a truly fascinating piece with them that will spark conversation with the most random people.
Example: I have a satchel that I added a patch to a long time ago and then continued to add as I traveled. I cannot wear it without generating mentions from strangers and then sharing stories. My son also loves to hear about each destination and gets excited for his own trips. Patches are small, sustainable souvenirs that tell stories and inspire.
I have gotten too many patches now though, so I continue to collect them with the intention of turning them into art, like a framed collage of travel patches. I think it’ll be amazing… I just need to start it.
Tip: learn how to say “patch” in the local tongue. Patch isn’t a universal word and in some countries you may wind up with stickers instead. Trying to find patches in Pisa, Italy or Xi’an, China was a pain!
Tip 2: always carry a needle and thread for adding your patches while sitting in an airport. Time to kill? Killed.
Bringing Home Sea Shells
If you’re an ocean-going family like we are, you probably beachcomb at any given chance. Sanibel, Florida on the Gulf Coast is one of the best places we’ve gotten to enjoy looking for shells. And for us, since we live by the beach, it means that our garden is littered with broken clam and conch shells. Even though we have so many seashells in our world, we’ll continue to choose them as sustainable souvenirs when available.
When we travel to beaches, we find different shells than what we have at home. Bringing back a small handful of shells is a wonderful way to have a unique object that harkens back to that day your family spent in the sunshine, sand between toes, kids splashing in the warm waves… We like to display them in vases within our home, in potted plants, and even scattered outside in the rocks.
Tip: check if it’s okay to beachcomb where you are. Often times there will be signs posted stating that a beach or cove is a protected area and you’re not to remove any objects. In some places this is a felony or misdemeanor (such as at a nationally protected seashore). Places like Cumberland Island National Seashore allow for beachcoming, but Dry Tortugas National Park doesn’t. Always check!
Tip 2: remember that a shell was once a living thing. Double check to be sure that what you’re bringing home is dead, including barnacles, and that it’s clean and won’t spread unwelcome germs. CLEAN YOUR SHELLS. And if it isn’t and you bring it home in your suitcase, you’ll be grossed out by the smell when you unpack!
Travel Paintings: DIY Sustainable Souvenirs
We love to draw and paint in our house. This means that in the closets and cabinets we have stacks and stacks of finger painted gems, but it also means that we have some wonderful, one-of-a-kind creations that we’ve made while sitting on a beach or in a café. We have 30-40 small paintings from different places around Europe that we’ve got framed, always in view and always inspiring us to plan our next trip. When we’re in a destination and there is a project to get involved with, we do it and bring it home if we can.
Tip: if you’re visiting Savannah, Georgia, the Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center has a whole art studio that you can stop into to create your own art to take home.
Another type of art you can make while traveling, depending on your destination, is a painted ceramic or stone. As touristy as it may be, many resorts or small coastal towns have booths or shops where you can sit with a local and create your own native art or Oaxacan-style creature. Personally, we opt for painting ceramic birds whenever we are in Mexico. They are all over our house. It kind of makes it feel like a Mexican restaurant.
Tip: remember that you’re traveling and you’ll have to pack or ship whatever you create. In the light of being cost effective and responsible, creating small pieces that you can carry home yourself is a great option.
Travel Photos: the Most Sustainable Souvenirs Around
Chief Sealth, leader of the Suquamish nation, is buried just three blocks from our old house. The city of Seattle is named for him. He was known for being the voice of reason and peace as the settlers and shippers took over the Puget Sound region of Washington State. He was also ahead of his time in being a vocal champion of the environment. Chief Sealth is attributed to the famous quote “Take only memories and leave only footprints.”
This is a great rule to live by and for today’s travelers, we can teach our kids this and maybe also add “photos” to what you can take. Photos last and can capture, not just the destination, but the fun your family had. It’s why I’m so thankful to be able to run several travel blogs: I get to use all of these amazing photos of us, our sustainable souvenirs, to tell stories and share memories. Don’t let anyone tell you that you take too many photos!
Tip: remember to get out from behind the camera. It’s difficult to not go around every corner and see the shot that’s waiting to be captured. Be sure that in addition to taking great photos, that you enjoy the sights through just your eyes too.
Tip 2: kids get tired of having their photo taken. Candid shots often get better smiles and are more genuine than posed pictures sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Bonus Sustainable Souvenir: Jewelry
This might sound weird or not like something you’re into, but different type of jewelry can be wonderful sustainable souvenirs. The kids like to get necklaces, often made from local products or natural elements. I like to shop for rings, either wooden or with stones made by a local artisan.
I’ve been able to find vintage pieces and freshly carved ones in Croatia, the UK, Montana, Mexico and Hawaii. We’re always on the lookout for cool and unusual jewelry souvenirs that support the locals and don’t create waste along the way.
What are your favorite sustainable souvenirs to find or that you’ve found? Share it in the comments below or send us a note so we can include it here. Also, leave any other tips you think are important to share!
Visiting the Telfair Museums: Savannah's Fascinating Telfair Academy and Jepson Center
Thursday 23rd of March 2023
[…] and inspire their creativity. The art studio is our favorite element and we really enjoy getting to create different pieces depending on what medium they’re focusing on when we visit. NOTE: this is turning into the […]
Monday 19th of December 2016
Love the postcard idea. We buy Christmas ornaments, which are easy to collect and store along the way. I've collected a few garden pots along the way but not the easiest things to travel with!
Saturday 19th of March 2016
These are great ideas! I have seen tutorials on Pinterest for turning postcards into a bound book with washi tape or something similar, so for people who don't have the wall space that's another option. My son collects pressed pennies, which I don't think you can do in Canada but it's quite a fun (and both cost- and space-effective) thing to collect! :)
Tuesday 1st of March 2016
Great tips on souvenirs. I do postcards, but I write a note to my kids about what we did there, find a stamp and a mailbox, take a photo of them mailing it to themselves, and then use that as a travel journal of sorts. As they get older I want them to write a note to themselves on the postcards.
And I love what Chef Sealth said. Those souvenirs are my most treasured.