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As you know, I’m a light packer. And as much as I love shopping (when I’m in the right mood), I have a hard time justifying buying souvenirs unless I’m on a short trip and don’t have to lug stuff around too long.

But traveling for 8 months and seeing things you’ve never seen before sometimes prompts a desire to take home a relic or two. Here are some of my favorite souvenirs that not only fit into my bag, but will also remind me of my fabulous trip and the incredible people I met along the way.

Look for Unique and Practical Garments

If you buy a t-shirt for every destination you travel, you might end up with a lot of extra weight in your pack. Trust me, there were so many clever and cute t-shirts I wanted (Appelman in Berlin, anyone?) but really often at souvenir shops they’re kitschy and overpriced.

The good thing about buying t-shirts as souvenirs is that if you’re traveling long-term, you’ll probably have to toss or donate your old, ruined ones at some point. And what better to replace them with than ones that are both practical–I mean, you can wear them!–and have a story behind them.

The trick? Look for items that you might not be able to get anywhere else. And that you WILL USE AND WEAR.

Example 1: In October, I traveled in Italy with the fantastic Emily & Logan. While they were off being their badass selves cycling 135 km through the picturesque Tuscan hills, I was eating porchetta and watching as people came in at the finish. Oh, and I also perused the L’Eroica market place.

There, I stumbled upon the tent for Borracce di Poesia, a project joining the joy of cycling with love of reading. Literally translated to “Water Bottles of Poetry,” its founder inserted poems he’d written that focused on urban cycling. I LOVED the idea behind this, and they had the coolest design for their t-shirts. The founder and I had a really great chat, and I asked myself: Where else would I get something like this that was paired with this experience?

Overlooking Siena and promoting poetry!

Overlooking Siena and promoting poetry!

I love my Borracce shirt and can’t wait until there’s warmer weather to wear it all the time again–I did in Italy!

And by the way–now you can get their t-shirts online! They are super cool and come in many colors.

Another trick? Look for shirts that remind you of something specific.

Sure, there are tons of great tops with “Rome” emblazoned across the front, but I don’t have as much fun with those. Another one of my favorite t-shirts I’ve picked up along the way was from an event in which I participated.

I *definitely* couldn't replace this anywhere else-a unique souvenir!

I *definitely* couldn’t replace this anywhere else-a unique souvenir!

Even if you find yourself running a 5k or happen to be in a museum you really love (p.s. museum shops are excellent places for awesome–if expensive–souvenirs), a specific t-shirt is going to be a lot more memorable than a generic one.

Stick to the Small Stuff:

I’m not a tchotchke lover, but sometimes the little things can be the best when you want to bring home a wee souvenir. Things like bottle openers, keychains and magnets all arguably serve a purpose and don’t take up much room in a purse or suitcase.

But my new favorite bitty thang to buy on a trip is a ring.

I was inspired by a girl I met while I was on a tour through the Ring of Kerry; she had a ring for every country she visited, and her fingers must have been heavy because of it.

Now, I don’t love bling. But I do love simple jewelry, and this is a very easy addition to a bag because it takes up no space! Plus, it can add a little pizazz to your traveling wardrobe.

These are my rings:

From left: garnet from Prague, Globe ring & Claddagh.

From left: garnet from Prague, Globe ring & Claddagh. Excuse the shoddy nail polish…

Until July, I only ever wore the middle ring, the Rose Ring from The Globe Theatre. This ring originally was gifted to me by one of my best friends (in fact, you might enjoy her blog, TarreynLand), who brought it back to me after a trip in 2002 to London. I ADORE SHAKESPEARE, and this ring is a replica of one found in the rubble after the first Globe burned. It says in old French, “Think of me, God willing.”

This was like the best gift I had gotten. And then I lost it. So when I went back last year to London, I got another one and have worn it every day since. I’ve had many people ask me about that ring, and it always makes for an interesting conversation starter.

In Ireland I bought my Claddagh, and although Galway is where it originated, I bought mine in Kilkenny because that was where my longest Irish home was (as well as some of the most wonderful friends I made)! Two of my friends went with me and we had a long chat with the very eager jeweler, who very bluntly noted that I must not do much manual labor because all my fingers are about the same size. He also told us some great little stories, and the story behind the Claddagh Ring itself, which can be found here.

Lastly, when I was in Prague I saw garnet rings being sold everywhere. I had no idea it was such a common stone in Prague, but apparently a famous mine is nearby. Garnet’s also my birthstone, so I felt like it was a sign. I did a little haggling–surely not as much as I could have–and now have a pretty little garnet ring.

One tip about jewelry as souvenirs: depending on where you are, you might not want to wear them out and about. None of these are worth more than 20 GBP (the Globe one was the most expensive out of the three) and they’re all based in sterling silver, so I didn’t have any problems but in countries where you’re advised not to wear jewelry, don’t. Keep your new souvenirs in a little pouch or in your toiletry bag or something so you don’t lose them or get mugged because of them.

You Can’t Get Rid of Gifts

And after all, why would you want to!?

Along the road, I received a few wonderful gifts from people other than the most generous of all, which was their time and friendship (cheesy, I know, but really true).

This cozy, hand-knitted scarf came from a friend in Istanbul (what up, Amanda!) as a birthday present and I’ve barely taken it off since.

I wore my scarf from the day I got it until I landed in NYC and the weather (so far) hasn't required it. SO COMFY!

I wore my scarf from the day I got it until I landed in NYC and the weather (so far) hasn’t required it. SO COMFY!

Another gift that I was absolutely surprised and pleased by was a little keychain with a photo on one side of 2 friends from Kilkenny and on the other it said “Bumblings of Miss Button, Kilkenny 2012, Come back soon!” I used it for my house keys in Istanbul!

Packing tip: That good, old-fashioned underwear trick can be helpful when adding souvenirs to your bag. If you’re on a short trip, only pack your really old undies and toss ’em as you go, so by the end of the trip you’ve made some extra space for the new stuff. Getting rid of underpants is also always a good excuse to go lingerie shopping in Italy…

What’s your favorite souvenir you’ve gotten while abroad? Share in the comments below!

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