Just Say Non, Nein, Nai, Lo, La, Nej & Niet to Useless Souvenirs!

by Katy on March 7, 2014 · 49 comments

Have you ever noticed that thrift shop shelves are fit to burst with souvenir knack knacks? From the individual Dutch wooden clogs to fussy international figurines, you could easily put together the trappings of world travel without ever leaving your cluttered home.

But I am here to say that you can visit faraway locales without cluttering up your home, (and the homes of your loved ones) with souvenir tchotkes!

I decided to photograph the unwanted knick knacks at a couple of different thrift shops to illustrate how useless and tacky these gee-gaws become once you bring them back from your travels.

Because like the Dutch Tulip Fever that infects your body and impels you to buy wooden clogs, windmills and tulips, you can travel the globe without bringing home a suitcase full of useless junk.

“What the hell is all this Dutch stuff, and what made me think I would want it on my mantel?!”

Exhibit A:

souvenirs 1

Exhibit B:

Souvenirs 2

Exhibit C:

Souvenirs 3

Exhibit D:

Souvenirs 4

Exhibit E:

Souvenirs 5

For the love of all things wooden and cloggy, please step away from the souvenir shops!

Want to bring home a souvenir of your travels for gifting and personal enjoyment? May I suggest foreign candies or other edibles.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Twitter.
Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Instagram.
Click HERE to join The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group.
Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Pinterest.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Dia March 7, 2014 at 4:28 am

Personally, I like the Brasil tile very much…the colors, the design and the muted tones. I have one kitchen wall with tiles from places I have lived…it’s a sweet memory board of times gone by.


Michelle H. March 7, 2014 at 6:45 am

Love this post. Taking pictures during your trip is the best souvenir, in my opinion!


Amie March 7, 2014 at 6:57 am

If you come to my home state of Kentucky, do yourself a favor and leave that snowglobe behind. Bring home a box of Bourbon balls or a bottle of Bourbon instead!


Pam E-P October 17, 2017 at 10:08 am

Also my home state and I concur (with the bourbon-not a fan of bourbon balls)!


Yvonne March 7, 2014 at 6:59 am

It’s so funny seeing souvenirs from here (NC) way out there. I live just about in the middle between Myrtle Beach (ash tray) and Oak Island (ornament)!


Pam E-P October 17, 2017 at 10:10 am

The NC stuff surprised me, too, but I was thinking “I need that lighthouse stuff!” I’ve lived in NC for about 20 years and I can’t get enough lighthouse stuff, although I photograph them (mostly) instead of buying stuff with the lighthouses on them. The OBX is my favorite place on earth!


Laura March 7, 2014 at 7:30 am

We rarely buy souvenirs when we travel, but we have occasionally bought a suitable-for-framing print to remind us of a great or special experience. My favorite “memory picture” though is the Tokyo train/subway map I thought to have framed before we left Japan. I carried it with me for three years when we lived there, and the worn creases are visible.

We also sometimes buy a coffee cup from someplace special we’ve visited – they get used every day and even after a few years provide a great memory of a special visit or vacation.


Erica March 7, 2014 at 7:48 am

We get something to use as a Christmas tree ornament when we travel. Memories each year but no year round clutter.


Megg March 7, 2014 at 7:46 pm

We do this too! And I love pulling it out every Christmas and saying remember when…?


WilliamB March 8, 2014 at 11:10 am

I do that, also. Usually I have to write the date on the item, and sometimes the location. I also sometimes buy a fridge magnet. My friend buys shot glasses. The key here is that we each decided what we want to collect, and buy that thing.

I also buy other stuff, especially if I’m in Asia, but I try to think how I’d use it, or where I’d put it, before I buy it.


Barb March 7, 2014 at 8:49 am

As an inveterate traveler we do buy mementos, just not these kind. I also actually like the tile and would find a place to put it by the way-not sure it belongs with the others. We purchase things that we can use or are unique to the area and decorate our home. That means I have pottery pitchers from three countries, handwoven french cloth in my side board, and large cookie molds on my wall. alternatively we buy watercolors or sketches of the places we have been and frame them. So I have two watercolors of venice, and pen and ink sketches of the rhine and so on. I also get christmas ornaments that are unique.


Laura March 7, 2014 at 11:50 am

Barb: We do the same, buy a picture or print from places we have visited and have them framed. They currently are arranged up our stairway and I love seeing them every day and remembering our travels. We also sometimes buy Christmas ornaments from places we visit, or a coffee mug.


hmbalison March 7, 2014 at 8:56 am

My go-to travel memento is a pair of earrings. I love wearing the earrings and remembering where I bought them.


Lisa March 7, 2014 at 8:58 am

“Souvenir of Funkytown,” Katy? Really?


Katy March 7, 2014 at 9:11 am

It was that or the Funkytown ceramic thimble.


Lisa March 7, 2014 at 9:30 am

No “My Grandparents Went to Funkytown, And All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt” t-shirt?


Jackie B. March 7, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I never realized Funkytown was a real place.


Jane F March 7, 2014 at 9:12 am

This could be a fun series. What thrift store abundance tells you what things you really need to buy.


WilliamB March 8, 2014 at 11:12 am

I used to check out new-to-me authors at used book stores that way. Frex, I saw a ton of Stephen Donaldson so I guessed that he wasn’t that good after all. Some author I rarely saw? Probably worth trying.


Susan March 7, 2014 at 9:49 am

Living in Yorkshire, I found that one rather amusing.


Melissa March 7, 2014 at 10:04 am

Points well taken, but I still think I’m going to buy a cuckoo clock when I go to Germany this summer! At least it follows the William Morris principle of being useful and beautiful (to me anyway!)


Amanda March 7, 2014 at 10:29 am

We like to get art. My only purchase in Harrods in London was a £2 piece of wrapping paper that was printed with an old map of Britain. It is beautiful framed.


Sharon March 7, 2014 at 11:33 am

I have a feeling some of those are the “look what I brought you back from….X” kinds of gifts. The ones you hold onto just long for your Aunt Sally to forget she’s given you so you can happily march it off to the thrift shop to die in obscurity!


Gretchen March 7, 2014 at 11:46 am

My favorite place to buy European souvenirs is the grocery store! Those edibles Katy recommends are much cheaper! (And my usual souvenir: a reusable shopping bag. I have one from Switzerland, France, Poland, UK, Germany…both because they are cool and I needed them to hold my stuff!)


Karen March 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I love to buy a beautiful Christmas decoration from countries we have visited- it is easy to transport home, and provides a beautiful memory on our Christmas tree each year. We have also bought watercolour sketches from places such as Italy, which we have framed and look beautiful on our walls 🙂 But definitely nothing tacky!!


dusty March 7, 2014 at 2:40 pm

When I started traveling years ago I would always buy a Christmas ornament. Every year when I decorate the tree I’m reminded of all the wonderful places I have been and all the memories.


Maueen March 7, 2014 at 3:16 pm

I guess I’m in the minority here. I buy magnets. My fridge is neatly filled with magnets of all the places I’ve visited. People give me magnets, but if I didn’t visit that place, they go in another place. And no crappy kitchen magnets that are sold in regular stores, these have to be of places I visited. I’m very anal about my magnets and know where they each belong and were we got them. And no touching of the magnets! This is my art work.

I used to buy t-shirts, but since I have too many I don’t buy them anymore. And I limit my husband to 1 because he will buy as many t-shirts as I buy magnets!


Lesley March 7, 2014 at 5:06 pm

I try to buy something they make at the place. Last year in Hawaii I got a sarong and a koa-wood hair stick. But please keep buying the tacky stuff–I love it, and I use it! All my mugs are from someplace 🙂


Lisa K March 7, 2014 at 7:03 pm

That Funkytown tile/sign/plaque thingy would be great mounted on the bedroom door.


mary martha March 7, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Several of the items here aren’t really useless. The ashtray is useful for those who smoke, I would use the tile as a trivet. Lots of people pick up

Personally I buy pins everywhere I go. Small and easy to pack, fairly cheap and can be found most everywhere. I have a few canvases that display pins from everywhere I have traveled in the last 25 years. It’s a great conversations piece. Otherwise I am a hobby photographer and have framed prints from my travels.


Raffaella March 8, 2014 at 5:07 am

I like to get small, unexpensive and *tasteful* souvenirs – magnets, mugs, shopping bags… I agree about foods. And also: I love pencils, I use them for proofreading. 🙂


Joanne T. March 8, 2014 at 6:39 am

If we want to buy a straight-up souvenir (has the name, etc): refrigerator magnets or squished pennies. I have a pair of earrings from another place (they have cherry blossoms on them). One place I bought some small matted prints of watercolors. (Bath, England). a few reusable shopping totes. My mouse pad is the London Underground map.

I tend to buy, as souvenirs, things that may not have the name on them, but that are significant in other ways. For example, I bought a reusable bag at the grocery store in Oxford. It doesn’t say Oxford on it, but it’s fun to carry it and see who recognizes Sainsbury’s. I also tend to go to thrift shops. If I see a nice scarf, who cares that it doesn’t say “Denver” on it…it’s still a souvenir to me, and I will actually use it!


kat March 8, 2014 at 8:28 am

The best souvenir my hubby and I found was in a Swiss thrift shop: a professional grade french made mandoline by Bron Coucke for only 8 Swiss francs! We had to jettison a few things from the luggage to get it back because it is heavy–but what an incredible kitchen tool! I have a rule for souvenirs: it has to be something useful to me (shoes in Europe are another favorite–Birkenstocks are really cheap when in Germany!). It’s fun to hunt up something interesting while on the road. And it makes for good travel adventures.


Trisha March 8, 2014 at 9:05 am

I also just say no to souvenirs. Our photo albums serve as a reminder if we need one. But then, I’ve never been much of a collector. And I despise dusting.


Mr. Everyday Dollar March 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Great post Katy! The minimalist in me would never allow my legs to walk into a tacky souvenir shop (plus, how many of the souvenirs pictured were actually manufactured in China?).

However, my walls are adorned with original pieces of artwork from trips I’ve taken abroad. I’ve picked up beautiful paintings, inexpensively, in places like Peru, India, Ghana, and Argentina with the added joy of dealing directly with the artist.

I always get compliments on these pieces, and they each have a story behind them.


Victoria March 9, 2014 at 6:40 pm

A mug with my name on it from Disneyworld, purchased when I was 13 almost 30 years ago, still gets used at least twice a week. The right souvenirs, even seemingly cheesy ones, can be worth every penny.


Victoria March 9, 2014 at 6:44 pm

A mug with my name on it from Disneyworld, purchased when I was 13 almost 30 years ago, still gets used at least twice a week. Of course back then, my name was a lot rarer, so to see it on a mug was a find I couldn’t pass up. Some souvenirs are worth every penny.


Lynn March 10, 2014 at 1:37 am

At least the coffee mug & Salt & Pepper shaker were functional ! : )


K D March 10, 2014 at 5:33 am

I am happy with the no souvenir approach while my husband loves it when foreign travellers give him leftover coins from their travels.


Lindsey March 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Tea towels, which I use daily at home, are what I buy when I travel.


Jean March 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm

We also buy a Christmas ornament as a souvenir when we travel, or bring back something suitable to hang on the tree, as not all of these were purchased or a true ornament, like a sand dollar from a beach vacation. Our Christmas tree is kind of like a giant charm bracelet–tells a story of our lives. I have a charm bracelet from my childhood that is also full of charms acquired on family vacations. And we are also in the mug camp–but I use these mugs all the time and they invoke happy memories, and I try not to buy tacky ones. Some are from local potters in the places we visited. We also bring back local craft beers and local wines, but these aren’t a lasting memory!


Chris March 10, 2014 at 8:05 pm

We always buy one scenic refrigerator magnet – inexpensive, easy to carry. Now the fridge door is a bulletin board of great adventures and reminds us daily of great places we’ve been!


Jennifer March 13, 2014 at 5:51 am

We buy a Christmas Ornament when we travel. Small, inexpensive, and every year when we put it up we remember the fun we had on that trip.


jane March 15, 2014 at 8:05 am

Glad i read this!! My husband is going to holland on monday for business. Im going to tell him right now that ne should not bring home any souveniers (especially clogs). The only exception is edibile items. 🙂


Betty Winslow October 17, 2017 at 10:36 am

My older brother travels abroad from time to time. Once he brought me a lovely stone bird from Wales, for my bird collection, Another time he brought me Toblerone chocolate from Switzerland! A friend who went to Hawaii brought me back an insulated lunchbag printed with Hawaiian words, which I still use several times a week. I usually buy a magnet, a Xmas ornament, or a smashed penny (which I’m collecting to make a bracelet). I like souvenirs, and I’ll bet a lot of the ones you saw were enjoyed for a time before the owner downsized, died, or changed decor. To each their own!


Teresa October 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm

My grandma’s tiny wooden clogs from Holland are still waiting for the right place in my home, but I love them…


auntiali October 17, 2017 at 8:20 pm

First it was the squished pennies when the kids were little. I got magnets for the fridge. Went to Christmas ornaments. Hubby is in Scotland and I asked for some short bread cookies. Oh, one of my favs is Cat’s Meow – wooden cutouts of buildings that have a tiny black cat on it. I’ve gotten them from lighthouses, historical buildings – Paul Revere’s home – and local buildings in my town. Church, library. middle school, high school. I asked dh for one to be made of our house for Christmas one year.

No wooden clogs here.


auntiali October 17, 2017 at 8:22 pm

I had a snow globe collection going years ago but they all crashed and died in a misfortunate accident. Hubby hated them.


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: