I’ve had the great fortune to visit some amazing places over the years such as Ethiopia, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Czech Republic and the UAE to name a few. I always leave a healthy amount of luggage space to bring home meaningful souvenirs from the country I’m visiting.
My 3 top tips when buying great souvenirs are:
- buy only what you absolutely LOVE and will regret walking away from (sometimes you will never be back to that country/area again!)
- make sure it is something specific just to that place.
- choosing handmade by local artisans is always best.
Let’s dive into some great souvenir ideas from around the globe!
First up, my trip to Ethiopia back in 2010 had one really big purpose: to adopt our youngest two children. Wrapped up in our adoption, we didn’t treat our trip to Ethiopia as a sightseeing opportunity. It was a chance to bond with our children and the people who had cared for them. We did, however, feel it was important to bring back as many treasures as possible for our kids so that they would have tangible items from their birth country.
My favorite souvenir from Ethiopia is this beautiful embroidered ball. I purchased it from artisans near the orphanage in Addis Ababa. A second-best souvenir shopping opportunity was visiting the Merkato for spices. Our favorite spice from that trip was cinnamon. I have yet to encounter cinnamon as flavorful as what we purchased in Ethiopia.
If traveling to Ethiopia, other great souvenirs ideas to consider are crosses (we have several as Ethiopia is mostly Ethiopian Orthodox), girls dresses, scarves, and woven baskets. We also purchased a beautiful creche that we put out at Christmastime.
Honestly, Morocco is my favorite country. I am pretty sure it has the best souvenir shopping in the world. When you are in Morocco, great souvenirs ideas are any and all textiles, rugs, ceramic dishes and serving ware, brass, all-seeing eye art, earrings, leather shoes, argan oil (awesome for face and hair), spices (particularly saffron and turmeric) and tagine dishes. There isn’t enough time in the world to explore my treasure chest of the great souvenirs that I purchased there, but here are the highlights.
Our number one favorite purchase was a handmade Moroccan Wedding Blanket. These can be very expensive and we chose our blanket carefully knowing it was a big purchase. It is heavy and gorgeous and I adore it. If you are going to Morocco, be sure to set aside a budget for a wedding blanket and/or a rug. You won’t be sorry.
Next, the leather/textile bag I bought in the tannery section of Fez is an all-time favorite. I paid waaaaayyyy too much for this bag (I hardly negotiated and still haven’t lived that down with my husband). Please know that these beautiful bags exist for much less than I paid outside of the tannery area – buy yours away from the tannery!
While in the Medina of Marrakesh we came across a felt ball making area where I bought over 200 of these embroidered felt balls. Once I got them home I strung them up into garlands for around my house and for our Christmas tree. The man I bought them from was Berber and told me his mother felted and embroidered each one. I adore them and love imagining this older Berber woman embroidering by the fire. Something with a story makes a great souvenir.
You cannot go to Morocco and come home without ceramics. Great souvenir ideas include tiles for your bathroom, serving dishes or just beautiful containers for your house. It took an unbelievable amount of self-control to not buy all of the ceramics. One of the best souvenirs was a tangerine colored ceramic that I use in my bathroom to hold all of my makeup brushes.
Finally, I stumbled into a textile stall in the souk one night in Marrakech and came across a beautiful pillow cover. The back was pretty shredded but the front was perfect. I negotiated as best I could in French and the shop owner kindly gave me a great price on it. As soon as I got home I redid the back and got a new pillow form; it has happily lived on our couch for years.
Truly one of the most magical countries I have ever visited.
My husband and I landed in Sri Lanka in 2019, just five days after the tragic Easter Sunday bombings. Our experience touring around the country after such a national tragedy made for a very different kind of trip. But we fell in love with the country and especially the people.
Gifts of Nature
Sri Lanka is known for its healing Ayurveda lifestyle. Purchasing oils, creams, and vitamins in this country are great souvenir ideas and a really special experience. We picked up different oils for hair and skin and delicious smelling lotions and balms. I also purchased some spices such as turmeric and black pepper.
Sri Lanka is also known for its enormous tea plantations, particularly in Ella. While we aren’t huge tea drinkers, we bought some to bring back as gifts. One of the greatest souvenirs was found very unexpectedly in Galle Fort on day three of our 14 day trip. It is a brass and stone-encrusted tuk-tuk seen in the window of a beautiful little store. We negotiated a bit with the shopkeeper and walked away with what still feels like a treasure. I was obsessed with tuk-tuks while in Sri Lanka (we even looked at buying one and importing it to the US but, oh my gosh, what a hassle…) so having this jewel in my hand felt like a really special reminder of our trip.
Ceramics and Jewelry
Other great souvenirs were some ceramic hand-painted knobs, also found in Galle Fort. In a shop, on the ground, in a large woven basket were hundreds of knobs you would typically see in Anthropologie. I snapped up 22 knobs to install on my kitchen cabinets back at home. They are beautiful!
We found beautiful jewelry throughout our travels in Sri Lanka; you can’t go wrong with purchasing earrings and bracelets here. I found amazing stone earrings purchased in Ella and picked up several slightly different pairs for friends and family back at home.
Other great souvenir ideas are: carved elephants, brass and colorful vintage textiles.
Several years ago we visited Thailand, hitting Bangkok, Chiang Mai, the Phi Phi Islands and Krabi. Chiang Mai was the highlight for me; if you are ever there, make sure to time your trip over a weekend so that you can take full advantage of the famous Sunday Night Market. Trust me when I tell you that alllllll of your best souvenir shopping dreams will come true over the course of several hours perusing this market! Great souvenir ideas are everywhere! Everything from vintage colorful clothing, all manner of food and spices, tons of jewelry, hand carved wooden animals (especially all things elephant), garlands, lanterns, art prints of various temples, tuk-tuk toys… The list truly goes on and on and I think that after four hours we had only scratched a quarter of it.
Bangkok is another great souvenir heaven, particularly in Chinatown. I found one of my very favorite bags I’ve ever owned in a flying cockroach infested back alley shop that was filled top to bottom with the greatest textile treasures. This bag was made of vintage hand embroidered fabrics sewn together and I swear it was made just for me.
One great souvenir idea from Thailand is a carved and painted wooden elephant. We found it outside of one of the temples in a group of artisan stalls and I snapped it up right away. Thailand is a riot of color and textures; you can’t go wrong with any souvenir that captures that spirit here.
I had a very short visit to the Czech Republic and fell in love with the jewel box that is Prague. It was my first visit to Central Europe and at one point I called my husband and said that I never wanted to leave! Prague was a tasty place to visit (eat all of the pastries, trust me) but I managed to pick up a few longer-lasting souvenirs as well.
Finding earrings for my mom and me along the Charles Bridge is a special memory as well as several sets of Russian nesting dolls (the Russian influence is very strong in Czech Republic) – make sure you pick some up while you are there. Carved wooden Christmas tree ornaments are another great souvenir idea to add to your list; they are everywhere and so pretty.
The two stores I couldn’t get enough of were Manufaktura where I bought my current favorite perfumes, lotions and soaps. And Pylones in Prague, which I visited no less than three times buying these funny salad serving spoons and other fun things. I love them!
In the spring of 2019 my husband and I made a quick trip to Dubai on our way to Sri Lanka. We were only there for about seven hours during a layover but it afforded just enough time to experience the majestic Burj Kahlif and the sprawling Dubai Mall. My favorite souvenir from this very quick stopover were these salt and pepper shakers which sit on our kitchen windowsill. I actually picked them up in the airport and love them even if they are a bit irreverent! We didn’t have enough time to tap all the great souvenir ideas in Dubai but that only means we get to go back!
Are you interested in shopping in these locations? We have many itineraries that can help you experience some of the best souvenir shopping around the globe. Check out this 9 day adventure in Sri Lanka, this solo trip to Bangkok, Thailand or squeeze in some shopping on this layover in Dubai!