When traveling, there’s an undeniable impulse to want to take a piece of our destination home with us. That’s what makes travel souvenirs so special: They’re tangible, smile-inducing reminders of the places we’ve been, the things we’ve seen and the memories we’ve made.
There are trips where you wish you could stuff an entire city into your suitcase. And while you can never do that, a simple magnet that reminds you of your adventure every time you open the fridge can do practically the same thing.
We recently asked you to tell us about your favorite travel souvenirs, and you responded with sweet, sentimental and fun stories of your most-cherished travel treasures. Whether a collection of trinkets and tchotchkes amassed from a life of globetrotting or local art picked up during a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, the best travel souvenirs are often not expensive or extravagant but modest, creative and personal.
Read about some of our members’ favorite travel souvenirs below.
(Some entries have been edited for clarity.)
Your Favorite Travel Souvenirs
“Our go-to souvenir is refrigerator magnets. They come in all shapes and sizes but are mostly affordable and small enough to not be a problem to pack. When we get back home and the grandkids are here we have the “Ceremony of the Placing of the Refrigerator Magnet.” The kids chose the location and there the magnet stays. Just visiting the refrigerator brings back fond memories of our adventures in life.” – Rodney Howarth, Warton, N.J.
“In June 2021, I spent a week in the Italian Tyrol. Beautiful beyond words! Coming home I had a five-hour layover in London and went by high-speed tube to the Southwark Bridge for a tour of the then recently rebuilt Globe Theatre. I bought a candle holder made from oak used in the rebuilding. It has a quote from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ carved on it: ‘That light we see is burning in my hall. How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.’ I love it! I had to race back to Heathrow after that to be on time for my flight home.” – Franny McGarry, New Bedford, Mass.
“My favorite trinket that I collect from every destination I visit is a silver charm for my charm bracelet! On Christmas Day, 1978, my parents gave me this charm bracelet with its first charm. I was 12 years old, and this was my first piece of ‘real’ jewelry.
Through the years, at each destination I went to I bought a charm for my bracelet. I have a charm of the RCCL Majesty of the Seas, a trolley car that celebrates my trip to San Francisco and a sea otter from Monterey refreshes my memories of my West Coast trip. A Nantucket lightship basket reminds me of my trip to Nantucket. The charms can be very intricate. I have a lei from Hawaii that is several flowers linked together that moves like the real ones! A horse and buggy charm reminds me of my trip to Amish country. And a Bermuda longtail bird charm reminds me of my trip to – you guessed it! – Bermuda.
Bringing back fond memories of my first trip to Europe is a copy of the Imperial State Crown from England, along with an Eiffel Tower charm from Paris and the Manneken Pis (aka Petite Julien) from Brussels. A key charm for Key West, an articulated alligator from Florida, a Gloucester fisherman, Mickey Mouse and many more dangle from my wrist when I wear my memories of the destinations I’ve visited and the major events in my life. I hope to add more in the future!” – Michelle Nason, Coventry, R.I.
“I have a large collection of Christmas ornaments from all the places that I have visited. One of my first was of the Chateau Frontenac. Every December my family and I decorate our tree and as we unwrap the ornaments we reminisce about our adventures!” – Joanie Mazzella, Glen Head, N.Y.
“When my kids were very young, we discovered souvenir penny machines at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel gift shop on the way to the Outer Banks. It sparked a years-long quest for ‘squished’ pennies for all our travels. Now as young adults, they have filled penny passport books with imprinted coins from the top of Mount Washington to Disney’s Space Mountain, and many in between. For 52 cents, what a great way to preserve precious memories!” – Laura Follo, Brandord, Conn.
“Like most people, we take photos when we travel. It is so much easier now with phone cameras, but we often bring a real camera along. After each trip we choose our favorite and have it printed and framed. There is often a good story to go with each of our favorite photos.” – Louis Roth-John, Needham, Mass.
“My husband and I always collect pins from each destination, but our favorite memento we collect is dirt and sand! We have dirt from wild mustang trails from Theodore Roosevelt National Park and sand from any beach we’ve been to. We have each in beautiful glass bottles and they always invoke special memories from every place we’ve been.” – Karen Mastandrea, Fort Lee, N.J.
“I have a bottle of Sicilian wine that is completely covered in Mt. Etna’s lava stones.” – Anthony Lawrence, submitted via Facebook
“In 2019, my husband, our two adult kids and I finally went to Portugal (where my husband was born). My daughter had the fabulous idea for us all to get tattoos to commemorate our trip. We found a reputable tattoo parlor before going and planned a visit toward the end of our stay. Now we each have a beautiful reminder of our amazing and unforgettable vacation and no trinkets to lose!” – Kim Pereira, South Hadley, Mass.
“I collect the flat pennies you can make in those machines at tourist sites. It is a small remembrance of where we have been and have pictures of things we did or saw there. They sell books to display them so it’s nice to flip through and recall fun times as a family. Sometimes we get Christmas ornaments, too, so putting up the tree has extra meaning.” – Laura Ulrich, Massapequa Park, N.Y.
“I have collected heart-shaped rocks for my wife on every hike, from here in the USA to Iceland, Peru and 35 states. We have two huge heart-shaped bowls filled with rocks from those areas.” – Christopher Chanowitz, Milton, N.Y.
“My travel diaries. I’m not big on souvenirs but have a tradition of finding the strangest thing in the souvenir stores (and buy things I need in these stores to help their economy instead). So far, my favorite was a 6-foot-tall fly swatter in the Dallas Airport. (And too many to mention from Wall, South Dakota. A fun place to stop.)” – Rosemary Ross, submitted via Facebook
“After my sister passed away unexpectedly eight years ago, I began the quest of visiting all 50 states with my three children by my 50th birthday, all on a limited budget. Challenging to say the least. This was a way for me to deal with the deep grief I was experiencing, to research and plan how we were going to road trip these and afford it.
Travel journals…my favorite way to revisit my trips. – Linda Zanetti, Duxbury, Mass.
Outside of photos, I wanted something to remember from each state we visited. I chose to collect Christmas ornaments as I way to honor my sister. We loved Christmas growing up and she kept the spirit of Christmas alive all year. I would scour gift shops for the perfect ornament that would symbolize what that particular trip meant.
Each year my three children still decorate with me and it’s truly like opening a time capsule each time we place these on our tree. The stories, memories, tears, laughter and conversations are so symbolic of the travels we have had and the love we share. Although I am turning 52 and still have not yet traveled Hawaii, I look forward to the day I can place my 50th ornament on my tree.” – Tara Bozek, Ayer, Mass.
“Small amount of sand or shells from beaches.” – Jodi Zammit, Huntington Station, N.Y.
“My first and only trip to Ireland, I found a four-leaf clover on my first day in Adare. I pressed it in a book and laminated it when I returned home.” – Jennifer Nolan, Farmingville, N.Y.
“My favorite travel souvenirs are the small rocks I pick up from each state I visit. Just a small one, no bigger than an inch in size. I have them in a bowl on my kitchen windowsill. I take them from someplace where I know I am getting the natural stone found in the state.” – Catherine McMahon, Rhinebeck, N.Y.
“I have collected sand from every beach I visit. It’s amazing how varied the colors and textures are from different beaches. And looking at them reminds me of all the beautiful places I have been.” – Nancy D’Anna, Revere, Mass.
“My favorite travel memento was a miniature perfume bottle a stewardess gave me as a 7-year-old child en route to London. She escorted me to meet the pilot who gifted me a small gold pin and she made me a junior Boeing club member. It was a huge thrill, and I finally procured a second bottle from eBay as a backup this past year. I open and smell it sometimes but just seeing it makes me smile. Naturally, it’s aged, but then again, so have I!
I have loved flying and cosmetics ever since I got to wave to Her Majesty the Queen as her shiny, black Rolls-Royce – probably the Phantom IV State Landaulet – rolled out of the Buckingham Palace gates. It was quite a moment, seeing for myself that women really can and do rule the world.” – Peggy K. Schunk, Hawthorne, N.J.
“Whenever we go on vacation, I try to find a Christmas ornament, preferably a handmade ornament from that place. It takes hours to decorate our 6-foot tree. Looking at the tree brings back memories from the 60 years of travels.” – Carol Zordan, Litchfield, Conn.
“I would have to say pictures. Otherwise, antiques, like making a road trip out of finding an inexpensive fixer-upper Hoosier cabinet. Great memories going away with my husband for a few days to get it.” – Michelle St Clair, submitted via Facebook
“I used to go to Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo for fishing, scuba diving, exploring, music and food with friends. One day with the scuba guides, I decided to go deep down to about 170 feet. On the way up you are to stop and let your body adjust, so I stopped and put my right hand on small rock ledges. On the last ledge I felt something. I picked it up … it was a coin. When I got to the surface it turned out to be an old British coin. Wow! What are the odds?” – George Stevenson, Portland, Ore.
“I collect a Christmas tree ornament from each new place that I travel to. When decorating my tree, I can then relive each experience/place. It’s also a great conversation starter when friends come over and look at the ornaments.” – Barbara Damico, Mays Landing, N.J.
“My favorite vacation souvenir is a beat up, spiral notebook titled “CAL REC”. It’s the record of our family’s 1971 cross-country trip (ending in California) when my brother and I were teenagers. I recorded all of the restaurants and motels we went to, listed all the tchotchkes that I bought, notated the sights we saw, the weather and illustrated each day with postcards from the motels. Forty years later, I created a digital version for my brother with then-current restaurant/motel status updates. And this year, my brother sent me an email each day, 50 years later to the day, with additional restaurant/motel updates, scans of my father’s old slides and the sharing of memories. It’s amazing how we share this experience still thanks to that old notebook.” – Gail Brodie, Shrewsbury, Mass.
“I went to Atlantic Beach in North Carolina in 1980 when I was 18. I went with a family on their vacation to help with their four children. We went shopping for souvenirs at a little store filled with pretty ceramic things. I bought myself a spoon rest with a little cat and one for my mother with a sand dollar. We both still use them. Every time I use it, I think of all the happy memories from that vacation!” – Susan Gura, Naugatuck, Conn.
“Once my son began traveling for work and bringing home souvenirs, I decided Christmas ornaments would be best. This is wonderful for our family to take the ornaments out, have a chat and hang them on our tree rather than just having a souvenir that sits on a shelf waiting to be occasionally dusted. Each year we are able to relive our travel memories. Now it’s so many they are the only thing on the tree and they are beautiful” – Marie Tremblay, Billerica, Mass.
“When I travel, I try to find a small music box to add to my collection. My music box from Paris plays Offenbach’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld,’ better known as the ‘Can-Can’ song. From Barcelona, the music is ‘Habanera’ from Bizet’s opera ‘Carmen’ (yes, it takes place in Seville, but …). From Ireland, it’s ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.’” – Sandra Steiner, Jamaica Estates, N.Y.
“My most memorable souvenir is this simple bamboo stick. Why? Well, a good 30 years ago, my then-boyfriend and I went on a trek in the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal. I had come down with what all the hikers jokingly called the Himalayan flu and had taken a very strong decongestant. The weather was very sunny and warm. As a result, I became very dehydrated and could hardly walk. So, for the final leg that day between Hinko Cave and the Machapuchare base camp, the sirdar (probably young enough to be my son) cut this stick for me to support myself. He and my boyfriend carried all of my gear. Hot tea with sugar helped revive me at the camp.
Several days later, my boyfriend suffered an ankle sprain and – after a day’s rest – used this stick for the remainder of the trek. There was no way I was going to lose this stick. As you can imagine, it was a bit of a problem going through several security checks at all of the airports on the way home. But here it is, still in the same corner of my home.” – Susan Ruttenber, Westwood, N.J.
“I like to pick up a pair of earrings when I travel. I have several turquoise ones from the Southwest. When I wear them, it brings me right back to when and where I bought them.” – Christina Green, Westerly, R.I.
“As a world traveler who has spent extended periods of time living out of a carry-on suitcase my favorite mementos are the hotel soaps. Using them at home for daily showers brings back the fabulous memories of far-flung destinations and the specific adventures we so enjoyed from those special parts of the world. Every shower is a trip down memory lane.” – Janet Marks, New York, N.Y.
“I collected shot glasses from all over the world. Everywhere we went, I bought one or more. Some were from the city itself, some were for a sports team from that city and some were just novelty-type for the fun of it. I had collected over 300 and had them displayed in my basement family room in shadow boxes that had up to 36 little cubbies that the shot glasses fit into perfectly. I received so much joy looking at them when I was down in that room. I sometimes would sit and think of the places we had travelled to and the memories would flood in. We are downsizing now, so about a year ago I sold my collection to a young man who seemed so happy to get them.” – Margaret Smith, Budd Lake, N.J.
“I was a flight attendant later than most, my children were up [in age] and some were married. I bought my husband a baseball cap from most every city I had a layover. He ended up with more than anyone would need. Not all the states, but pretty close.” – Mary Carey, Salem, Mass.
“Since I could never remember what size my growing children were when I went to various conferences, I always bought souvenir keychains. Even though they are now adults, we still make a point of bringing each other key rings. We try to avoid the cheap plastic squares, choosing instead to get the metal or pewter ones.” – Erma & Bob Bressler, Anramdale, N.Y.
Photos As Souvenirs
One of the most popular travel souvenirs are photos. Learn how to preserve and showcase your vacation snaps with these tips from our Photo Session pro photographer, Beth Mancuso.
Step one after downloading your images is to go through and cull them. This means sorting through all of them and only keeping the winners. I use an asset managing program called Adobe Bridge to download and rate my images. After I have rated them, I go through and delete all the ones that didn’t make the cut.
Back Them Up
Technology can fail us! It is so important to back up your images. In addition to having the images saved on your computer, I also recommend backing the files up on both an external hard drive and a cloud service. I use a 1TB external hard drive as well as Google Drive. It’s better to be safe than sorry. There is nothing worse than losing all those precious memories.
Perhaps my favorite way to preserve images is to print them. There are so many wonderful options out there and printed items can also make great gifts. My favorite high-quality consumer level print lab is Mpix, which offers all of the products mentioned below.
Make a Collage
You can get 4-by-6-inch prints made for as cheap as 27 cents. After you have printed out your favorite travel photos consider making a collage out of them. I have a bulletin board hanging in my office that I add to over the years. The nice part about a bulletin board is that you can change out the pictures whenever you feel like it.
Make a Calendar
Calendars make the best gifts! I like to try to match the month to a picture I took at that time. Most printing companies even allow you to customize the dates on your calendar.
Make a Book
My kids love flipping through the pages of the photo books I have created over the years. I love the books because they are durable and something that I can pass down to them when they are adults.
If you are looking for something bigger, I recommend having a canvas or metal wall art made to hang on your walls. My favorite is the metal wall art because it is so luxurious looking.
Tell us about you favorite travel souvenir in the comments below.