Buying Souvenirs Abroad

I got an email yesterday from a reader who is in Africa doing the Nairobi to Capetown overland truck route. He is in Capetown now and looking to buy some souvenirs from his trip and from Africa in general. He still has two weeks on the continent and wants to buy a bunch of stuff including some of those big African masks that everyone likes to buy when they are in Africa and some other heavier items. My advice to him was unless you’re shipping them home ahead of time-forget it.

The way it seems to me is the more you travel the fewer souvenirs you buy. Heavier souveniers are a nightmare to transport and you have to worry about breaking them and about theft. I rarely buy anything when I travel except for tee shirts. But maybe thats just me. However, I have a few examples of why it’s not worth it to buy bulkier souvenirs and both examples are from Africa.

Again, if you do choose to buy stuff on the road-make sure you ship it home ahead of your trip home to save time and certainly hassle or it could end up like this. I was in Morocco last June for a few weeks and at Ait Ben Haddou I found a painting in a cave that I thought would look awesome in my office. So against my better judgement I bought it. I love that painting and still do but it got beat up and dropped and on planes people put stuff on it and I always had to worry about it. Additionally, it wasn’t packed that well as I did buy it in a cave and the canvas got a little scuffed. The bottom line is I had to carry it around for nearly two weeks and worry about it the whole time because it was too big to just stick in my backpack.

Another good example of what not buy on the road is also from Capetown. I was there with my friends Jake and Mike and Mike decided he wanted one of those big and bulky African chess boards they sell all over the streets down there. Aside from the fact that it cost about $100; it was completely annoying to watch Mike carry around for the next few days before we left and even more laughable to watch him try to handle it on the plane. And in the end, he’s never even used it once-so go figure.

I’ve seen many others in many other areas of the world buy large rugs, statues, animal carvings or blankets or whatever and then say-how am I going to carry this crap? The answer is I don’t know and it usually is crap. If it’s that important to you and/or valuable-just ship it home and save yourself the stress or worrying about it. Also, don’t get caught up in the moment of one of those tours that end with you in a souvenir shop and you feel compelled to buy something or because you are there in an exotic place you feel obligated to buy something-it’s not worth it and it’s usually not good quality anyway.
When people see my apartment and look around they always say to me-where are all your travel souvenirs? The answer is they are all in my photo albums and drawers because tee shirts are a lot easier and more comfortable to transport home. As for my painting from Morocco-it is still hanging in my office and no matter what I won’t be losing that after all the hassle I had getting it home-but I don’t foresee ever doing something like that again.

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  1. haha, morroni and that chess board was hilarious especially his bargaining skills…

  2. The vendor says, “that’ll be $100 sir for this crappy chessboard”…”OK good deal” says Morroni

  3. I try to keep my souviners small too, mostly because i dont feel like worrying about breaking or losing them. I have 2 magnets from the 2 wonders I have been to and then a wood statue of two Muay Thai fighters from Thailand. The only painting I ever got was from Bangkok and it was small but still i worried on every flight about it being broken.

  4. I almost bought one of those chess boards in kenya but they did look like crap, as you so eloquently put it, so I stayed away and have been happy about it ever since.

  5. I never buy anything, like you said, too much of a pain to carry. I don’t need a little niknak to remember my trips.

  6. As a proud owner of a rug that we dragged through 3 countries, could have bought on eBay and most likely will not use I can agree that we\’d have been better off just saying no.

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