I was shopping in Hong Kong and found an iron dragon umbrella stand that was about 3 feet tall. My husband loved it at first sight. He imagined how great it would look in the entryway. But we had always thought buying and packing souvenirs would be impossible, so we left without it. A year later I was back at the Stanley Market in Hong Kong thinking about how fun it would be to surprise my husband with that same dragon umbrella stand.
After a million questions and a lot of gesturing from me, I bought that iron dragon. From the moment I left the shop until unwrapping it at home, I didn’t have to touch it even once. The shopkeeper, the taxi driver, the hotel doorman, and the airport porter did all the lifting and heavy carrying. I couldn’t believe how simple it was. And the surprise on my husband’s face was the best!
Since then I learned that I can bring almost anything home on the plane. Some of my favorite household items were things that I bought while traveling and there is always a way to get them home. Here is how to do it:
Things Worth Bringing Home
4 tips for buying souvenirs:
- Before you head out shopping, think about things you might need. Perhaps you’ve been looking for a cheerful umbrella, maybe you’ve always wanted a cleaver for the kitchen, or you’ve wanted a carpet for the entryway. You may not find the exact item you are searching for, but it puts you in the right frame of mind to purchase things that will actually be used and enjoyed.
- If you know you want art for a particular spot, or that perfect vase for the bookcase, take measurements before you travel so you are sure the item will fit your home. It’s helpful to take a photo of the space you are shopping for. That way you can decide if those suzanis from Uzbekistan are the right vibe for your living room.
- Only buy what you love! I find that when I buy from the first shop I’m all caught up in the novelty of the place and I regret it later. See all the things, take photos of the things you really want, then go back after seeing the whole market and purchase the items that really hold meaning for you.
- Custom made items can really make travel purchases meaningful. Getting tailored clothing or commissioning artwork or crafts gives you the opportunity to create relationships with locals. Your driver can help with translation and negotiation. Your hotel concierge can connect you with guides who might know the shopping districts.
How To Bring It Home
6 tips for packing souvenirs:
- Collapsible bags: If you know you will do some shopping, bring collapsible bags with you. Ikea has great bags for this. They are lightweight and can hold a lot of goodies! I even put a 5×7 carpet from New Delhi with room left over for a sari!
- If you buy something fragile, the shop owner will usually take great care in packing it to travel well. When you are negotiating the price ask if they will pack it specifically for travel.
- Pack souvenirs with bubble wrap, stacking them tight and placing them in the center of your luggage with clothing all around to protect the edges. I bought a 30 piece Spode china set in Malaysia and checked it into hard-side suitcases and they arrived perfectly, even on the budget airline that throws luggage! Hotels can usually help you find bubble wrap.
- To save money weigh your luggage and buy extra baggage weight or pieces before getting to the airport. This amazing travel scale comes in very handy, even if you haven’t bought lots of heavy china!
- Check with the airlines on size. I was surprised that I was able to check a wicker basket I bought in Ubud, Bali that measured 3 feet by 3 feet. Of course, it was lightweight and it was Singapore Airlines (they are awesome), but most airlines will let you check things, even if for a fee.
If your perfect souvenir is bulky and awkward, like my dragon, ask the taxi driver and doorman for help. Of course, you will tip them and may need to ask with a tip in your hand as some taxi drivers may be reluctant. (That’s how I got the dragon from Hong Kong home without touching it once.)
Now, you may find yourself buying something entirely too large for the plane. Say, a full-size Terracotta Warrior. But don’t fret, you can have it shipped quite easily. Get the details for how to do that here.
So go find that perfect memento. Maybe it’s a pair of earrings. Or maybe it’s a chandelier! Whatever it is, that souvenir can be yours because with a little help and know-how, buying and packing souvenirs is a breeze!