One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Unless you’re buying souvenirs in a panic at the airport gift shop; then chances are most of it is trash. Why do we spend our hard earned money on trinkets and other worthless items that we will only ever look at or use once? How come we budget so conscientiously in the lead up to the trip but once we land we forget the value of a dollar? Why is it necessary to bring a mug that says Cuba on it home to someone who’s never been to Cuba?
When you go on holiday, or on a longer travel excursion, it can be tempting to throw your newly exchanged currency at anything that represents the country because it’s new and exciting. You might feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you’ll never be here again so why not? But a hundred “why not’s” over the course of a week or two can lead to a significantly overweight suitcase.
There are also things we buy in advance of our trip that might seem necessary at the time, but can be wasteful or needlessly expensive. If you travel smart and put your money where it’s value is maximized, you can already start saving for your next trip while you’re on this one.
25 Worthless: Ride Photos
For 199.00 USD, you can pay for the Disney World Memory Maker pass, which means your photo will be taken all around the park by staff; you can then download a digital version as a keepsake (available online for 45 days). But why would you spend your money on this? You probably have an iPhone that will take amazing high quality photos for free, and you can always ask a friendly stranger to snap a photo for you to get the whole family in.
Parks and rides charge large amounts of money for the photos of you on the ride in the moment because you’re having a great time, you know this is a once in a lifetime experience and you’re very likely to part with more money than you normally want to. Sometimes though, it’s okay not to have a photo of a particular moment. You lived it, and you have photos from the rest of the trip. Is the extra cash worth that moment? Sometimes the answer could be yes, but more often than not it’s better to close your wallet and walk away.
24 Worthless: Keychains
A very impractical purchase that people often make at the airport to take home as a souvenir or even to bring to a loved one back at home. While the thought is lovely, this is just going to be another thing you could lose with your keys.
Often gaudy and heavy, souvenir key chains might be good as a one time buy, but if you’re going to purchase them everywhere you visit, you won’t have much room left in your pockets. Before spending ask yourself, am I really going to use this? Or will it be allocated to my junk drawer?
23 Buy Instead: Local Artwork
If you were thinking about redecorating, hold off until after your travels and then bring a little piece of them home with you. Artwork is abundant, particularly in Europe, and can sometimes be found for sale on the street for a reasonable price.
Try to avoid purchasing anything sold around major tourist attractions because that’s not likely to be one a kind, but if you do some exploring and venture down the streets of local markets, paintings and sketches you can roll up and transport home are a great find.
22 Worthless: Airplane Comfort Kit
An airline makes their money just about anywhere they can, so of course your comfort is a major profit. Some airlines, or classes on airlines, will provide these items free of charge, but if you’re in economy class, you may have to pay upwards of $9.00 CAD for a comfort kit.
These include a pillow, blanket, headphones and sometimes an eye mask and ear plugs. While it may seem like a small price to pay for comfort on a long haul flight, you’re purchasing these items meaning you now have to carry them with you when you get off the plane. Try bringing your own neck pillow if you can’t sleep in flight without one, and remember a set of earbuds to save yourself from these additional airlines costs. Always pack a pair of socks in your personal bag if you’re wearing sandals so that your feet can stay warm while you sleep on the plane.
21 Worthless: Food In Flight
If you’re trying to save money by flying with a budget airline, there’s a good chance even an international flight won’t include a free meal. If you don’t check out the in flight menu ahead of time, you’ll be stuck paying the astronomical fees for a sandwich (roughly $15.00 CAD) when you’re hungry and no longer on the ground.
Try to plan ahead and save instead by purchasing your food for the flight in the airport after you go through security. Something easily stored in a container like a salad, hummus dip or a sandwich is ideal and can be half the price it would be on the plane if you purchase it in the airport. Be courteous to other passengers and try to avoid nuts (for allergies) and foods with a strong smell like fish or eggs.
20 Buy Instead: Street Food
To avoid sitting down at expensive restaurants and potential tourist traps, looking out for authentic street food is a fun and affordable way to get a sense of a culture’s dishes. You’ll save a lot of money by eating this way and will be able to try a lot of different things by having smaller portions.
Looking for where the locals are eating is a good indicator of what’s most authentic and safe, because they have enjoyed it before and are going back for more.
19 Worthless: Tacky Clothes
It’s very tempting to purchase a t-shirt or hoodie in every city you go to that proudly states the name so people will know you’ve been. The problem here is that you probably already packed what you needed. If you purchase a sweater in every place you stop off along the way, you’re going to need to buy an extra bag for these sweaters as well.
Additionally, clothing articles like this typically don’t wash well and won’t keep for a long period of time. But if you know you’re going to cave and buy it anyways, at least leave some room when you pack your suitcase.
18 Worthless: Snow Globes
Snow globes have long been a popular item to collect, particularly ones that have different cities inside of them, with a gentle layer of snow carpeting the buildings. While whimsical and fun, this is simply not a practical purchase.
Breakable and awkwardly shaped, the amount of space a snow globe demands in your bag is astonishing, and it’s still a gamble if it’ll come home in one piece. Should you find yourself in the North Pole, then perhaps it would be a more acceptable item to buy.
17 Worthless: Bottled Water
It’s really worth your money to remember to pack your reusable water bottle (empty for your flight). It might seem like a hassle when you’re trying to make space for it in your suitcase but it will save you a lot of money in the long run, especially if you’re traveling to a warm destination where staying hydrated is of the utmost importance.
In European cities like Rome, a bottle of water can cost you as much 2.50 Euros; that’s going to add up to a lot over the course of a week, especially when you could be refilling your reusable bottle for free at Rome’s many safe drinking fountains.
16 Buy Instead: Reusable Shampoo Bottles
A reusable bottle can go a long way; all the way around the world. Purchasing one use plastics is already questionable, but purchasing a tiny bottle for each trip is definitely not a good use of funds.
By investing in reusable travel shampoo bottles you can refill each time you leave home at no additional cost. They’re great for everything from shampoo to conditioner to sunscreen and hand cream. The majority you’ll find are leakproof and made from silicone, costing roughly $20.00 CAD for a pack of four.
15 Worthless: Shot Glasses
How many shot glasses does it take to break a backpack? I’m guessing you’d rather not find out.
Though this is a very popular souvenir item for people to purchase in every country they visit, it’s not very practical. Sure, it’s nice to have a collection, but you’re never going to use all of them and if you’re taking a trip that stops in more than one country, these breakables will really start weighing you down. Chances are you’re also really overpaying for the name of the city that appears on this glassware.
14 Worthless: Gift Shop Jewelry
Bringing back jewelry from a foreign destination can be an amazing keepsake, but you’ve got to get it from the right place. Tacky jewelry sold in a gift shop or near a major tourist attraction is probably manufactured as cheaply as possible and will not stand the test of time.
If you wouldn’t want to wear it if you saw it in a store back home, try to restrain yourself and don’t buy it on vacation. You might have to learn to say a firm no, as walking down market streets can sometimes mean vendors putting pressure on you to purchase these products.
13 Buy Instead: Handmade Jewelry
Handcrafted jewelry is a wonderful keepsake from anywhere in the world and making this a souvenir from your trip can also help support a local artist. It’s great to try and seek out local markets like Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens and purchase jewelry that is handmade by the person selling it to you.
Hopefully you’re only buying pieces that would also grab your attention if you were back home so you’ll be excited to wear them daily and be reminded of the experience purchasing it on your travels.
12 Buy Instead: Audio Guides
Downloading an audio guide book like Rick Steves Audio Europe, Field Trip or Sunday Drive is a great way to learn more about a city or country if you don’t want to spring for a tour guide or prefer to go at your own pace.
Apps like Cities Talking Roadside America that cost money can be worth investing in if you can’t find a free guide for a particular location. Roadside America is only $2.99 per region (7 available) and covers Canada and the US, pointing out must-see locations as you drive. Cities Talking is a free download but for each European city tour you must pay $6.99.
11 Worthless: Mini Toiletries
If you’re traveling with a carry on, you’ll be forced to downsize your toiletries to the maximum liquids limit of 100 millilitres. If you travel often, it’s going to seriously eat into your budget to pay for an overpriced tiny shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, hair spray and body wash before each departure.
Try to resist the urge to purchase mini roll-on deodorant sticks, mini floss and mini everything else they’ll sell you in the same aisle. You don’t need to spend money purchasing a small scale version of everything you already own just because it looks cute. As long as your liquids are under 100 millilitres, the rest of your toiletries are already good to go.
10 Buy Instead: Postcards
Postcards are a fantastic gift for family members and friends back home if you want to let them know you were thinking about them. They don’t take up much room in your bag, they’re light so you won’t be weighed down, and they’re fairly affordable as well.
If you’re buying for you, they’re easy to collect in a photo album at home that won’t take up a ton of space. If you’re buying for someone else, you can personalize this by selecting a photo you know they’ll love on the front, and then writing them a message as a keepsake on the back.
9 Worthless: Food Near Tourist Attractions
Walking that couple of extra blocks could save you up to $20.00 CAD in some cases. Settling for food that’s available right next to a tourist attraction like the Colosseum or Acropolis might be tempting when you’re hungry and tired, but resisting the urge will be worth it for your wallet.
Not only are food and beverages near tourist attractions grossly overpriced, they’re also much less authentic. Unsuspecting tourists might think they’re having real British fish and chips right outside The National Gallery, but if you want the good stuff, you have to go where the locals go.
8 Worthless: Food At Your Hotel
If you wanted to eat at the hotel, why did you go all the way to another country? There are plenty of hotels back home you can eat at anytime. Unless it’s a complimentary breakfast, which can be very beneficial to your budget, it’s really recommended that you skip the hotel menu.
By spending your money here, you’re denying yourself the chance to try authentic local cuisine and support local businesses. Eating at your hotel is like eating near a tourist attraction - the food is made with you in mind and is more likely to reflect the kind of thing you’d eat back home. If you miss the comforts of home, go for it, but if you’re looking for a taste of the country, you’d better venture outside.
7 Worthless: Umbrellas
In a rainstorm in Rome, it’s impossible to walk down the street and not be asked if you want to purchase an umbrella. In fact you might be asked fifteen times in the span of ten minutes and when you’re stuck in the pouring rain it might be tempting to say yes and fork out the fifteen euros they can charge you because you’re in dire need.
But you’ll be stuck carrying that around for the rest of your vacation and it might not even rain again. Since you probably already have an umbrella back home to, grit your teeth for a few minutes of cold rain to save that money for a meal.
6 Worthless: International Cell Data
Unless you’re going away for business, save yourself the money and look up from your screen for a little while. A trip can be incredibly refreshing and give you new perspective on your life when you may have been feeling stuck. It’s truly a wonderful opportunity for growth and change, but it’s difficult for that change to take place if you don’t unplug.
It’s okay to miss a week or two of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter updates. Most destinations will have wifi accessible at the hotel/hostel or in restaurants, so you can message friends and family via Messenger, WhatsApp or iMessage to stay in touch. It might be tempting to use Google maps as an excuse for needing data abroad, but you can download maps to use offline, and there are great apps like Maps.me as well that allow you to download a city map and receive directions even when your data is off.
5 Worthless: Magnets
Your fridge either has no magnets or so many magnets that you absolutely do not need another one. Magnets are a classic impulse buy at a gift shop in your hotel or at the airport. Try to remember that you don’t need to drop $5.00 CAD on a magnet as a memento - you have your photos and the memories of the trip for that.
If it’s something you’re giving as a gift to someone back home, the thought is lovely and we all like to know someone remembered us while they were away having a good time. However, how high is the likelihood this person may be thrilled to receive it but then will stick it on the side of their fridge and never look at it again?
4 Buy Instead: Maps
Not only is a map very useful to have when traveling abroad (especially if you decided against the cell data), but it’s also a great souvenir later. The map will travel with you on this trip and may be marked up with your routes, which will bring back memories when you dig it up in a year or two.
Easy to store and transport home, you can collect one from every stop on your trip. The best part is your hotel or hostel will probably give you a map for free, so you get an amazing souvenir without spending a penny.
3 Buy Instead: Authentic Clothing Pieces
Ditch the tacky souvenir shop sweaters for a more authentic, perhaps locally made, piece of clothing. Rather than your shirt screaming a destination name at people, look for a statement piece that will get people asking you where you bought it, which may then lead to conversation about your travels without sacrificing your good style.
This can be a costly investment as it could mean spending $200.00 CAD on a traditional Icelandic sweater or $500.00 on a leather jacket in Italy, but if it’s something you really want and it’s the real deal, it will last you for years.
2 Buy Instead: A Guided Tour
It can be tempting to skip out on guided tours to save money, but there are some sites where a tour guide can totally change your experience. Historical sites in particular like the Vatican Museum or the Colosseum and Roman Forum are places where you’ll appreciate the architecture and the artwork much more once you are well informed.
You might argue you could just read the plaques and signs at every monument and that’s true, but everyone else will be crowded around those as well, making it more difficult to do so. Plus, a tour guide in a small group gives you the chance to engage with a local and ask questions. You might even make friends with some fellow travellers this way.
1 Buy Instead: Coffee
Something unique to many cultures is how they brew their coffee. If you’ve tried coffee in Canada versus Ethiopia versus Greece, you’ll notice a significant difference in consistency, flavour and strength.
If you or someone you love, loves coffee, bringing back a bag of the grounds from a country you visit can be a really fun way to include them in part of the experience you had. Brewing it and trying it together back home allows you to relive a moment of your trip and gives them a little bit of insight as to what your time away was like.
References: Travel.gc.ca, Disneyworld.disney.go.com, Icelandair.com, Tripsavvy.com, Amazon.com, Cntraveler.com