I love a good snow globe, magnet or shot glass just as much as the next person, but it's become my mission on vacation to find a souvenir that really embodies the destination and my experience there. And the trick to finding all my vacation treasures: flea markets and thrift/antique stores.
In Prague, it was exploring the city's beer culture while sorting through the everyday knick-knacks at the bric-a-brac shop - my take home: beer labels dating back to the 1930s (now hanging in my kitchen). In Charleston, S.C., at the vintage shop Curiosity: Champagne coupes from the 1950s. In Zimbabwe at the Victoria Falls flea market: two fertility wood carvings from one of the Zambezi River tribes.
Second-hand stores or markets are the best way to bring home something truly unique and authentic to the destination. They're usually off the beaten path, so you get to explore a place without the throngs of tourists; you can get a real sense of the life and culture of the locals; plus you often times have great local experiences that you normally wouldn't find in the typical tourist traps.
Thanks to the world wide web, it's pretty easy to find flea markets and thrift shops wherever you're headed, but here are a few tips:
- Look out for those that aren't blatantly advertised to tourists.
- Do some quick research on bartering in your destination - some cultures have different nuances to their bartering etiquette.
- Sort through the good and the bad - just because it's in a flea market doesn't mean it's authentic. Be on the lookout for mass-produced souvenirs being passed off as handmade. If you can, look for the artists who are making item themselves for the real deal.
- Spend some time with the seller and see what you can learn about the item(s) you like - it's a great way to bond with a local and get a story to take home with you.
- A smile goes a long way - if you find yourself as the only English-speaking folks around, you'd be surprised how far something so simple can be effective.
- For those who celebrate Christmas, consider ornaments - my Christmas tree is basically a living scrapbook of our travels.
And because I'm always interested and curious - leave a comment below on the best stores and markets you've been to on your travels and your favorite souvenir. Happy treasure hunting!
Chris Vassil is a deal expert at Travelzoo and based in Chicago. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.