One of the best parts of travel is, of course, the many shopping opportunities! However, it's so easy to get caught up in the excitement of being on vacation, which can lead you to make some bad souvenir choices. (Hello, headband with giant, plush shamrocks on springs from Ireland.) Whether you're studying abroad yourself or just traveling for fun this summer, this shopping dilemma is sure to occur at least once during your trip.
Therefore, to save you from making the same mistakes I did (*cough* shamrock headband), I came up with this mental checklist for you to run through next time you find yourself wondering whether or not that Eiffel Tower-shaped hat (yes, those do exist) is actually worth the splurge!
1. Consider Cost Conversions
Dollars and Euros and Pounds, oh my!
Unfortunately, the rough US economy may affect your time abroad, as the dollar has fallen in value, below both the Euro and the British Pound. Therefore, you need to be extra careful spending money abroad, as taking out or charging £50 will be more then $50! So when you see a "steal" for £10, just remember that it equates to a bit more in US dollars.
While this sort of thinking will drive you crazy when actually studying abroad (if I tried to calculate how much I was spending in US dollars all the time, I literally would have starved to death a month ago--some things are just necessary to buy!), it's a good idea to keep general conversion rates in the back of your mind (or use Google on a smartphone) when shopping abroad so that you do not overspend, especially with a debit card or credit card with a limit.
2. Check the Quality of the Item
To buy or not to buy... / Photo Credit
I can't even tell you the number of times I have bought an amazing piece of statement jewelry from a street vendor (even back in NYC), only to wear it once and have it break instantaneously. Sometimes, prices are low for a reason--the piece itself could be damaged or made out of cheap, unreliable materials. Since souvenir vendors don't have return policies, they do not have to worry at all about dissatisfied customers coming back and complaining, a reality that some certainly take advantage of.
So before you buy that one-of-a-kind, jewel-encrusted cuff bracelet, look at it a bit critically. Do the stones seem secure or look like they may fall off? Can you reattach any pieces that may break off or will it be ruined if part of it snaps? How dependable does the clasp seem to be? Does the chain look sturdy? A quick, discreet appraisal of the item may save you from buying a less-than-high-quality piece.
Just be careful to not appraise the item too roughly at the stand--if you break it, you'll most likely have no choice but to buy it!
3. Walk Around
Window shopping while walking around is always fun--and free! / Photo Credit
This is one of my general rules of shopping, whether it's for souvenirs while traveling or for clothes back in NYC.
I tend to rely mostly on gut reaction while shopping, almost immediately deciding whether I love or hate a piece. However, this isn't the savviest way to choose purchases, as something you love without much inspection or thought may turn into something you hate once you actually get a good look at all of the detailing on it. Or worse--when souvenir shopping, it's entirely normal for multiple stands to carry the same pieces, so you may purchase something you love for £15 only to see it for £5 down the street!
To avoid either of the aforementioned incidents, it seriously helps me to do a "lap" around before actually committing to buying a product. This gives you time to think about the item--is it really something that you want and will use once the novelty wears off? Is it seriously worth the price? Can you find it cheaper someplace else? Is there something you want/need more? If the piece is still on your mind after walking around for a bit, then you know it's something that you really want and will most likely get a lot of use and happiness from!
4. Souvenirs vs. Space
Sure, you can fill them--but can you carry them? / Photo Credit
One major issue I know a lot of you CF readers can relate to is having "eyes bigger than your wallet"--meaning you see and want so much more than you know you can afford! But since I started traveling, I've come across a new problem--my "eyes" are bigger than my suitcases (and arm muscles).
Especially for trips that involve a lot of commuting, there will be many times when you'll have to be lugging around your suitcases while traveling. You also may face size/weight restrictions if you are flying. Therefore, it's important to consider your means of taking an item home before buying it. I saw some really amazing home furnishings that I absolutely loved while on a trip to Paris--but I had absolutely no way to bring them back with me.
When it comes down to this situation, you want to ask yourself how much you really want that beautiful but HEAVY antique door knocker--is it worth the muscle strain? What about the possible charge if your suitcase is over an airline's weight limit? Or the typically huge charge of shipping it home?
You may find some pieces that are really worth this struggle--which is great!--but it's important to identify these factors before buying a piece, especially if you are partially buying it because of its cheap price (because when you add on the cost you may have to pay to get it home, it may not be such a steal anymore).
5. Picture It at Home
It's cute in theory, but how often will you really make your cat wear that hat? / Photo Credit
Let's admit it--there are some things we do on vacation that we wouldn't even dream of doing back home. From eating gelato for every meal (not that I've done that...) to taking those cheesy Myspace-style pictures everywhere you go, I firmly believe that sometimes good judgment tends to take a vacation of its own when we travel!
Therefore, even if the souvenir in question has passed all of the tests above, take a moment and try to picture it at home. Is this something that you will really use? Yes, it may be funny here but can you honestly picture it on your desk or in your closet?
While the entire point of some souvenirs is nothing more than to be a fun, cute reminder of a great trip, if you are looking to purchase an item you would wear, try to imagine it in combination with the items in your closet at home. If you're purchasing a gift, picturing it at home is especially important--since the person you are buying it for was not even at this destination, the appeal of a more kitschy piece may be lost on them!
What do you think?
Have you ever fallen into the vacation trap of buying cheesy souvenirs? Where have you gotten the best souvenirs from? Do you have any other tips for shopping while traveling? Let us know in the comments!