I've found through my years of traveling that I don't need to spend a lot of money (sometimes none at all!) to get exceptional souvenirs when I travel to foreign countries. So if your dream vacation has become an affordable reality (and if not, find out how to make it happen here), here are five of my favorite free or low-cost souvenirs that are light in weight but heavy in meaning:
1. Postage stamps
Each country's postal system is unique. From their postage method to their rubber stamps noting the location, each piece of mail I send back home from another country becomes a keepsake in itself (and one that I don't have to carry in my luggage). I love buying a postcard or handmade greeting card from a local shop for myself, writing a special remembrance from my trip that day and taking it the post office to mail back to myself. First, the experience of visiting a foreign post office can be a great look into a local culture. Additionally, the cost for mailing a standard letter is usually low. Not only will I get something semi-personalized with the name of the country and the date I visited, but it will be waiting for me when I get back home to remind me of my trip!
2. Commemorative passport stamps
Filling a passport with countries' stamps is a beloved experience of international travel. So understandably, the decision of some European Union countries to stop using stamps in favor of an electronic swiping system has disappointed many passport stamp-loving travelers. Chin up! You can still collect stamps from unique locations. For example, in addition to collecting country passports, be on the lookout for commemorative stamps from certain locations. Rather remote locations, like Easter Island or Machu Picchu, both have their own commemorative stamp that can be placed alongside a country stamp in your passport booklet. Some UNESCO World Heritage sites also have their own stamps. Some locations like wineries and parks even have their own booklet and stamp collecting practices. The cost is free for such stamps, but the memories of traveling there are priceless.
3. Information booth
Often, manned information booths are a site we overlook when traveling. Perhaps it's because we know where we're going or just don't want to make an extra stop. But these booths provide a wealth of information for travelers unfamiliar with an area. I always stop at booths when traveling internationally, and I've been surprised at the amount of free goodies I've received as a tourist. Aside from the usual maps, brochures and coupons available (yes, I'm a KCL, even abroad!), I've been given collectable postcards, stickers, pencils, full hundred-page guidebooks, bookmarks and more. When one employee found out I was a teacher, he gave me three beautiful photographic posters for display in my classroom. I've never paid a cent for anything at an information booth, whether on the street, inside a building or at the airport.
4. Photo album
Call me old fashioned, but I still like having printed pictures from my vacation—I don't like keeping my memories only electronically. So one souvenir I am willing to spend money on when traveling internationally is a photo album. I look for something unique to the region, either in terms of material or decoration, that has space for 100 photographs or more. Usually in gift shops or even at the airport, these are not hard to find. I can usually find a photo album that costs no more than it would in the States (sometimes far less), and I love the authenticity it provides to my printed photos.
Have a few extra Euros, Canadian dollars, or British pounds you don't want to have the hassle of exchanging? Spend them on food! Before I leave a country, I take any extra money I have left from exchanging (at the best rate possible, of course) and use it to buy some local goodies that I can slip into my suitcase to enjoy back home. Tea bags, mints, chewing gum and hard candies take up little room and travel well, but I'll also buy a bag or two of cookies, chocolate or some other sweet treat. Not only can I enjoy this little taste of my travel once I'm back home, but I love sharing something authentic with friends, family and neighbors when they come over to visit and I'm telling them about my trip.
You don't have to spend a lot when traveling to have memorable, meaningful souvenirs. With a little planning and some knowledge of what to look for, you can spend less money on souvenirs and have more left to plan your next trip.