Savings and style: top tips on souvenir shopping

Curiosity and creativity can fill your bags with souvenirs without emptying your wallet.
Curiosity and creativity can fill your bags with souvenirs without emptying your wallet. Photo: Holger Leue/Lonely Planet

At a straw market in Freeport, Bahamas, a large conch shell became a conversation piece while we chatted with an outdoor vendor about his life and country.

Moved by the small talk, he offered the shell for $US7.50 ($A8.40), a 50 per cent discount from the marked price. It was a good deal for a souvenir that echoed the ocean and sounded like a fog horn when air blew through it.

On display in our living room, the shell is proof that low-cost or no-cost trip mementos can provide meaningful alternatives to high-priced souvenirs, which can cost as much as an extra night's stay at a hotel.

Curiosity and creativity can fill your bags with souvenirs without emptying your wallet. Bring back stylish souvenirs that keep your budget in check with the following strategies:

Off-price detours: On a small street in China we found a small thrift store that sold action figures, jade statues, old coins and antique toys at low prices.

In London and Paris, affordable one-of-a-kind souvenirs are available in second-hand stores tucked beyond glitzy boulevards. In the US, dollar stores in tourist towns are stocked with picture frames, t-shirts and other items for a buck a piece. Flea markets and community bazaars also sell affordable, but unusual gifts to take back home.

Beads: Inexpensive necklaces and unusual beads from world markets can provide souvenirs or raw art material that may be difficult to purchase back home. Unstring the necklaces and use individual beads to create zipper pulls, hair sticks or hat pins.

Rubbings: From the temples of Cambodia's Angkor Wat to the epitaph-rich Boot Hill cemetery near Tombstone, rubbings make unique and affordable souvenirs.

Get started with a carpentry crayon, painter's tape and parchment paper. Attach parchment or rice paper to an interesting surface. Rub the paper with the side of the crayon and create an impression of the scene beneath. These rubbings can be framed after your trip. At culturally sensitive locations, ask permission first.

Street art: Watercolours from Prague, charcoal sketches of quiet Roman streets and on-location caricatures are available from local artists, who create frame-worthy souvenirs.

Affordable street art can be found along Lincoln Road mall in Miami Beach and near Union Square in Manhattan.

Or bring your own materials and turn an afternoon of sketching into a memorable vacation activity. Carry an art tube or an empty paper towel tube for lightweight, stress-free storage.

In Kenya wooden animals such as zebras and elephants make easy gifts. Some of them are more offbeat and funny - we have one of a map of Africa with African animals sitting around it as if they are drinking beer and chatting.

In Redondo Beach, California a colleague found miniature beach babes, one of which was complete with snorkel, goggles and flippers.

Back home, fairy shops are still popular, filled with all-things fairy. Some of these shops are so full you can't get through the door. And often children believe the shopkeepers are really fairies.

And what souvenir shop worth it's name doesn't sell the ubiquitous glass dolphins.

But some souvenirs are so well made and quirky, they just have to be bought and they will always help to bring back memories.

They at least will make you laugh. Like my Taj Mahal snow dome - the ugliest rendition of that magnificent building ever made - but at least it's a talking point.

Once I carted a puppet from Greece around the world only to leave it in the bus on the way to the airport in LA. I was sad the whole way home.

And just recently we brought home beautiful smooth stones from the wild coast of New Zealand - and they were free.

Just remember to show whatever you've bought to the quarantine officer if you are flying back home. You wouldn't want your souvenirs to be creepy crawlies.

- Sharon Harvey Rosenberg, Myscha Theriault and Diana Plater

AP/AAP

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