The One Travel Souvenir I Love to Buy

There are a lot of things I love about traveling. Shopping for souvenirs is NOT one of them. At home, I generally try to avoid crowds. I hate going into busy stores. And most of what I buy is delivered by a UPS driver.

Going into a gift shop while traveling feels like wasted time and the decision to buy seems forced. I really don’t like the pressure to grab a lame t-shirt, random knickknack or a “genuine fake watch.”

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The one exception to all of this is shopping for Christmas ornaments. It’s odd because my family didn’t celebrate much at Christmas when I was a kid. In fact, we rarely had a Christmas tree.

But, Christmas is a huge deal in my wife’s family and she started our tradition of buying ornaments wherever we go. The first time she did it, I thought she was nuts. Flying home with fragile items in our suitcases seemed like the worst idea ever.

We’ve all seen that glass and luggage handlers are not a great combination.

But, the ornaments survived and I really enjoyed reminiscing about our trip later that year at Christmas. So we started specifically looking for items to hang on the tree wherever we went.

We decorated our tree this weekend and it was more fun than ever going through and reliving our travel successes and failures. These included:

The time my wife stayed with our luggage down in the Knightsbridge tube station while I ran up and explained to the customer service rep at Harrods they sold us an empty box the day before.

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My favorite SPG redemption ever – an SPG moments auction for tickets to the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.

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The tour in Barcelona where the guide explained the tradition of having el caganer in the nativity scenes in Catalonia. Yes, the guy on the bottom is doing exactly what it looks like.

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The store in Ireland where my youngest learned the hard way that not all dogs are friendly.

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This year’s safari trip to South Africa.

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The worst beach trip ever. We were pelted with sand on a windy beach before retreating to the safety of our room for four days.

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The good old days when we traveled on the SPG employee discount because my sister-in-law worked for Starwood.

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That time in Egypt we learned camel rides and pregnancy-related morning sickness are not the best combination.

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The Thanksgiving we spent avoiding our families having fun at LegoLand.

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Our first international trip as a family of four when we visited Australia and New Zealand.

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We even have a reminder of how this travel is possible with our Big Foot ornament. It was one of the cheaper Skymall options back when US Airways ran the Grand Slam promotion.

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I’m sure there will be people who think this post is a sappy waste of time. But, I believe this is a great time of year to reflect on the experiences and memories our miles and points enable us to have. I hope you all have a great holiday season.

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Comments

  1. They say you learn something new every day. I try to make a point of it. But I have to say that the tradition of the caganer is my favorite new thing that I have learned for a long time! In fact, I am adding this to my Christmas music playlist:

  2. Thank you for sharing. I have always bought a magnet when we travel for our fridge. Sometimes we buy an ornament when I can find one worthy of our trip and one that reminds me of something special on that trip. I just started reading these blogs this year and I hope I learn enough to help us all travel more. We make our first trip as a family (it’s been awhile for a real vacation) and I will start the ornament tradition with them so they can start building their own stock of ornaments. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

  3. We do the same thing and its my favorite part of putting up our tree. I loved seeing the wonderful ornaments you have collected over the years. i hope i can find a similar london one when we are there this summer, i really like that one

  4. This post actually reminded me to go get the really delicate wooden ornament from Iceland that I had hidden in an old, super tick neoprene iPad sleeve stuck between two pieces of thick cardboard in my old laptop bag. We both had totally forgotten about it! So thanks for that!

    This post also made me realize that we’ve bought an ornament on most trips we’ve been on too without actually doing it on purpose. We always like to pick up a knick knack or two on trips and thinking back on it most of the time it’s been a Christmas tree ornament.

  5. As one who just finished helping put the ornaments on the top of the tree tonight, I do not feel the post was overly sappy or a waste of time. We have stopped collecting “things” for the most part in favor of spending money on “experiences”. Our tree helps us remember the amazing things we have done and look forward to more. We are running out of room on the tree as I have been collecting ornaments from trips back almost 20 years.

  6. I like this post, because it reminds me of how I shop for souvenirs — which is not very often. Only in my favorite places do I pick something up, and usually it has to be something useful, like a fridge magnet, shot glass, kitchen towel, chopsticks, tea glasses, or an item of clothing I’ll definitely wear and love. Otherwise, consumables are what I choose, whether special chocolate, limoncello, candies, etc. But I love Christmas too, and a tree ornament would definitely qualify!

  7. Right there with you. I just posted our ornaments from last year (see link below). Opening them up and reliving things is one of my favorite parts of decorating the tree. Currently finishing up a safari and we have some wire hippos! — https://almostneverclever.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/this-years-travel-ornaments-2/

    I find sometimes when I don’t like the actual Christmas ornaments for sale (sometimes they can be gaudy and/or HUGE), I head to the keychain rack and pick something out. It’s pretty simple to replace the key ring with a hook. I have an awesome Buckingham Palace carriage as a result.

  8. I share this tradition too! So many towns have cute Christmas shops, and it’s nice to look at the tree and think of the places you’ve been. My favourites are the kangaroo and koala in christmas costumes that I got in Sydney.

  9. I always buy a shot glass! I have over 60 now, and even friends of mine when they travel bring them back for me. It’s a nice cheap thing to collect and looks great in a display case. Great reminder of all of the places I’ve been 🙂

  10. I thought of doing the ornament thing too, but didn’t think of it till after many many trips. I struggled to find ornaments online for the places I had visited in the past so kind of dropped the idea.

    The one thing I do have for every place I have ever been is a magnet.

  11. My wife and I do the EXACT same thing! Glad to see so many other like-minded people out there. 🙂

    However, this does come at a cost…we now have so many ornaments from our various trips that we have decided to expand to a SECOND tree next year!!

  12. Great minds think alike. I also get something from every country I visit to hang on my tree. Just added a great torii gate that I got in Kyoto and a Korean drum. Always makes decorating the tree more fun.

  13. My tree is decorated with keychains from places I’ve visited around the world. They’re often easier to find than ornaments, though I’ve had problems finding keychains some places so I’ve gone with things that will hang.

  14. I also buy ornaments from our trips especially from the Christmas Markets. I bring with us a US mail box that is flat and a roll of bubble wrap and scotch tape and I pack my own ornaments and hand carry on the plane. I also bring home the mugs from the gluwein at the Christmas Markets. We love reminiscing our trips over coffee.

  15. This was a great post!

    A waste of time is when travel bloggers do those long boring multi-part “trip reports” with endless minutiae. Ugh, too many of those and I wander off to find something real.

    Nice to hear about your family tradition. Merry Christmas!

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