What could possibly be the biggest worry for a 29-year-old? No, I’m not talking about the on-going existential crisis in my life, I am referring to a bigger concern, that of a budding traveller. From picking a destination to managing to find the best deals while booking your flight tickets and hotel, from pampering your palate with the local food and wine to enriching yourself with some folklore; the list is endless for me. But currently my biggest worry is: How do I pick up the best souvenirs for my family and friends? Because I wouldn’t want to come back home without any gifts for them.
The idea of choosing the appropriate souvenir is quite daunting. And what made me ponder over this in great detail was a link that this crazy friend shared with me, demanding, “I want all of this from your world tour, okay?” “Well, of course,” I said, delighted at the prospect of going on a world tour.
So how does one really pick a souvenir? Because no matter where you go, the options are abundant: A limited edition French wine from Spain? A block of Swizz cheese from Italy? How about a beautiful idol of Lord Ganesha from China? Or a pair of Dutch clogs from Belgium? Wait, that doesn’t sound right! With the global market increasingly spreading its roots in each nation, it’s easy to buy a bottle of “hand-pressed olive oil” from a store in South Delhi.
A souvenir, a small and inexpensive article, was traditionally meant to remind one of one’s travels, but it has comfortably replaced the word ‘gift’ in a more contemporary setting. Many shops selling T-shirts, postcards, fridge magnets are usually overpriced and identical, and often make the experience of buying ‘souvenirs’ for our loved ones a rather stressful ordeal!
In my struggle to decide what to pick, I had decided to just stick to postcards. My first experience was incredible, I loved the Indian Postal Services for being so super awesome, with my postcards from Pondicherry (now Puducherry) reaching all the way to São Paulo. But my last experience shattered my belief, let alone America, nobody in India received the beautiful ‘handpicked, handwritten’ postcards (some amount of melodrama is allowed when you are thoroughly disappointed) I sent from Udaipur.
In my opinion, a souvenir should not only be authentic but also exclusive. I remember when a friend was travelling to Canada, she’d asked me what I’d want and with all honesty I said, “A maple leaf, please!” Sure enough, that’s exactly what I got – not one but plenty. It’s a lot easier to pick a souvenir if you’re told what to bring back, but what if you want to surprise your folks with a present? And what if you’re a frugal traveller like myself?
The best way to go about picking these knick-knacks is to go local. I truly believe that “When in Doubt, Reach Out”. Instead of heading to a big store in India to pick up spices for a friend who loves to cook, talk to the locals and seek their help. In most likelihood, they’ll guide you to the more basic and authentic spice market, and it will certainly be easy on the pocket. A few local magazines or websites can also come handy here. And it’s advisable to ask the concierge in the hotel you are staying in instead of trusting a local guide because they tend to take you to places they get commission from.
One other way to pick souvenirs is picking them off the road, quite literally: A stone from the trek, a twig from the camp, some sand from the beach. And in case you are planning to trash all the maps and other handwritten notes from the trip, think again! Best way to preserve them, without making them look like trash, is to turn them into coasters and photo frames, by using some of these DIYs ideas.
However, a different school of thought believes in focussing on the experience, rather than shopping. Spending more on the experience will ensure a happier life, they say. And I couldn’t agree more.