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Backpacking with souvenirs?

I've previously been to Europe (mainly Germany) about 12 times to visit my family, but this will be my first time backpacking. My hubby and I are going all around Europe for 5 weeks on our honeymoon. I've always been big on souvenirs and certain products that I love to bring back, but never had to worry about how to bring it back because we've always brought a lot of luggage. How does everyone go about bringing back souvenirs and such with just a carry-on pack? I don't plan on bringing back as much as I normally do, but will want at least one thing from each country. Any tips on factoring in souvenirs while backpacking? Thanks!! :)

Posted by
3159 posts

Where are you going? Might help with specific suggestions but here are some general ones:

Pack as light as you can to begin with.

Discard or donate clothing as you go (bring things you would be getting rid of anyway).

Think paper (not heavy books) or cloth for souvenirs.

Think memories and pictures rather than things.

Ship back from time to time but factor the expense of shipping into what you're willing to pay for the souvenir in the first place.

Just some ideas.

Posted by
729 posts

I backpacked for 8 months a long time ago. Don't bring a full pack. Don't buy much. The only hard thing to carry would be breakables. Wrap them in clothes and put them on the top of your pack. Ship if it's too much to carry.

Posted by
31510 posts

Alexandra,

First of all, congratulations!

With just a carry-on size pack, you're going to be very limited in what you'll be able to bring back. Your options are to either buy very small items or ship items home as you go. That's the reality of travelling with a very small pack. Keep in mind that if you completely stuff the pack for the return flight, it may be either over size or over weight and larger than the airlines permit.

One option you could consider would be to use a Backpack that has a detachable Daypack. Plan to check the main pack (which I've found isn't really a big deal), and use the Daypack for carry-on. If the main pack is lightly loaded on departure, you should have room to bring back some souvenirs, and weight / size won't be much of a concern. A couple of models you could look at.....

I believe both models offer front-carry capability for the backpack, which is a good feature as it tends to provide better load balancing. When purchasing any Backpack, it's important to be properly fitted according to your individual torso length, so that the majority of weight will rest on your hips and not your shoulders.

Even though I'm "older", I always prefer a Backpack and have travelled for as long as two months at a time.

Posted by
5788 posts

Bring or buy a duffle bag for your souvenirs and check the duffle bag with clothing and non-fragile stuff for your return flight. Mainline air carriers typically allow a checked bag at no extra charge.

Posted by
5697 posts

Take photos of each other on your honeymoon. Keep a journal. Save ticket stubs and museum booklets, and make yourself a souvenir scrapbook when you get home.
Scarves are light and packable (and useful on the trip.)

If you have specific products you really want to bring back, see if you can buy them at your last stop and check a bag on the plane home. (Even if this means buying a new cheap suitcase in your last location.) Otherwise, every time you're tempted to buy something calculate how many more times you will have to move it.
(That being said, we had cans of goulash soup and jars of Nivea cream in our checked bags when we flew home from Frankfurt, picked up the day before we left.)

Posted by
167 posts

I have mailed things back to my home. If it is something I really want and may never pass that way again, I am willing to pay to mail. I have mailed items back home while traveling in Spain , Portugal and Austria.
Worth it to me because I travel extremely light and despise adding anything to my pack.

Posted by
1040 posts

Depending on what you buy, you can take it with you (jewelry, scarves, etc.) or have it shipped from the purchase point. We have done the latter with a beautiful alabaster bowl in Volterra and an equally gorgeous ceramic bowl from Deruta. Both arrived in excellent shape from the shipper, and we didn't have to cope with the time, effort and annoyance of finding a post office ourselves. The alabaster bowl even arrived home before we did!

Posted by
13659 posts

Think small and light. Jewelry and scarves, for instance, don't take up much space or weight and can even be worn on the plane. We've also brought home CDs from street musicians we've enjoyed; lightweight and don't take up a lot of space. Otherwise have larger items mailed home but be prepared to pay the price.

Posted by
5788 posts

Why think "small" if this is going to be your BIG (special) trip and you are big on souvenirs? Of course excessively big and fragile will be a burden. Your decision on lugging goodies from village to village.

Posted by
415 posts

We traveled with just carryons this summer. I told my kids that anything they bought had to fit into their carryon and we had to be able to squash it.

Posted by
20 posts

Thank you all so much for your advice and suggestions, it really helps throughout my planning process to know that I can come to these forums and everyone is so willing to help! :)

This really is a huge bucket list trip for me so I don't want to skimp on anything I really want, but don't want to lug a bunch of things around from country to country either. Some of my most prized possessions are things like art, steins, various trinkets and household decor that I've bought in Europe in the past and will probably want to continue to buy things like that. That being said, I'll just have to ship what I don't want to carry around and leave room in my pack for the rest. I know that's an obvious "duh" :) I just wanted to make sure I know all of my options, I love hearing everyone's tips and tricks in these forums!

Laura - I probably should have made my end destination Frankfurt, goulash soup and Nivea cream are ALWAYS at the top of my "take home" list! Thank goodness for germandeli.com!

Ken - Thanks so much for all of the pack suggestions! We both got an Osprey Porter 46 for our trip and are currently looking into daypacks, I really like the idea of checking the main pack on the way back and carrying the daypack on board with souvenirs, wouldn't want to risk checking and losing that!

Posted by
31510 posts

Alexandra,

I've never had a problem packing souvenirs in my main (checked) Pack, but the important thing is to have enough clothing available to pad things adequately. I've even brought back up to two bottles of wine at a time, and they have always arrived intact.

The Osprey Porter 46 is a smaller pack, so may not provide much room for bringing back souvenirs. That's why I suggested the larger packs. The disadvantage of a larger pack is that you'll have to carry it all over Europe, which can be a "pain" at times.

You could also look at the Tom Bihn luggage as you may find something there that fits your needs perfectly. TB products are made in the U.S. (Seattle) and are exceptional quality (will probably last a lifetime).

Posted by
938 posts

My wife and I have become converts to the art of packing light but we have also struggled with the idea of bringing things back home. We decided to just get things that have a function, for example while in Ireland I bought my wife a beautiful Arayan Sweater that she loves and she was able to wear on to plane so it didn't change our packing situation. For myself I just don't bring back very many things anymore and if I do it is usually something to wear so it is not a burden. I will confess that we did buy a piece of Waterford crystal while in Ireland and we hand carried in a box on the plane. The more we travel the less we bring back, it just seems like the memories and pictures are what we like most.

Posted by
4373 posts

FWIW, on our last trip of 3 weeks, my husband and I each picked up about 20 lbs of beer steins (all planned) by Day 3. With backpacks. We just started out with not-full packs, AND we each travel with smaller day bags, so there's room for overflow. And that's including lots of train travel.

We each also have a bag that we check upon returning home; we usually end up buying a dangerous cheese knife or something while in Europe, so we need to check a bag or two. I always carry a 12"x24" sturdy duffle bag, flattened in the back of my backpack, that I check. I never check my backpack, because it's My Baby. It has a real hip belt, so the weight of that 20 lbs plus my clothing, etc., rests on my hips like it's supposed to, and not on my shoulders. Everything that I can live without goes into the duffle, and My Baby goes through the airports a whole lot lighter!

Choose a serious backpack that has a hip belt and a sternum strap for true comfort. You don't have to spend $300, but it will cost more than $75...You might troll eBay, etc., for some good deals.

As far as souvenirs - jewelry, magnets (cheesy OR nice), kitchen towels, aprons, scarves, socks, Christmas ornaments, eyeglass-cleaning cloths, nice bookmarks, etc., are lightweight and flat/small/easy to pack. I use an espresso spoon every day of my life and I'm reminded of where and when I bought them...so your souvenirs don't have to ALL be cuckoo clocks (have 2!) and wooden shoes (will def buy when I get there LOL!). And if you see something and really want it, Buy It Right There And Then! Don't plan on returning - they will be closed (never mind what the sign on the door says), you will forget to return, you will take ill and not feel like returning, etc. It probably won't be cheaper in the next town...if you ever see it again :-(

Also, I highly recommend Rick Steves Hide-Away Tote Bag. In your daybag, it provides cushioning for delicate items, and a quick (and lockable) tote to carry all of those little bags you might accumulate throughout the day (little souvenirs, items for picnics, souvenir programs, gloves you want to take off). Plus, it's water-resistant, so that's very convenient. It's easy to leave something behind when you're carrying more than one or two items, and this bag can consolidate all of those little things into one large, hard-to-leave-behind bag...that can stand to get a little dirty, too.

My husband and I took our first 5-week trip to Europe for our honeymoon, too - 16 years after the fact LOL! Have fun planning your trip, and a great time while you're there!

Posted by
15035 posts

Over the years, I've picked up a lot of souvenirs. Some of them are in a display cupboard I never look at, some have fallen by the wayside, some are in a closet somewhere. I often bring back things that will be consumed, like edibles and toiletries, usually from my last stop.

For many years, I collected book marks. They are inexpensive, don't need dusting, don't take up space. When I realized I had over 300, I stopped. I still love using them, and going through them to choose one for my next read. I still collect souvenir magnets. That's my favorite. My fridge is filled with them and I see them all the time. And I enjoy it when guests come and marvel at them. The only problem with carrying them around is being careful not to demagnetize hotel room keys (not terrible if you do) or credit cards (very terrible if you do). Lately I've started picking up key chains and hooking them onto my backpack. You can also do that with pins.

I also like to pick up souvenir picture books, but they are heavy and you can find lots of photos on the internet. What I enjoy most, and what brings back floods of memories, are my photos. Take lots and lots of pictures. Have a way to back up your photos daily and take extra batteries and memory cards. Take photos of the signs so that you'll know where you took the photos. Be dorky: take photos of your food, your hotel rooms, people you meet along the way. Other tourists (and waiters) will take photos of the two of you. Use the video too. You are going to be in lots of places and it's going to be a blur by the time you get home. Use your camera to document your trip and you'll be able to sort it all out later. It's so easy to delete photos.

Posted by
6774 posts

TbT carryon only is fine, but don't let it rule your trip. We always go out with just carryons, but come back with an extra duffle bag (checked) because of things we buy on the trip -wine, olive oil, coffee, chocolate, and whatever trinkets we get for family & friends. We pack an lightweight empty duffle for this purpose (or buy a cheap one over there). We use the duffle for the liquids (have to be checked) and dirty laundry on the return flight.

Posted by
108 posts

I often bring a LeSportsac tote with me in my carry on. It's lightweight, durable, and easily packable. It's good if I want to bring back souvenirs, but also serves as a laundry bag, etc. while I'm traveling if I want it to.

Posted by
103 posts

Some thoughts based on souvenir shopping I didn't end up regretting in the past:

  • If there's something specific you have in mind, plan for it in advance.

When we went to Turkey, I knew I'd want a small kilim and brought it back in a very lightweight duffle that was packed in our bag. On that note, understand your baggage allowance and make sure you won't end up paying an extra $100 to take it home (or else factor that into what you're willing to pay).

On the same note, I wanted olive oil to bring home from Italy, so I brought several of those inflatable wine bottle protectors from home (took up very little space/weight), bought some on our last stop, and checked my main bag on the way home, using my daypack for stuff I wanted on the plane with me.

  • If you're going to fill a packable bag with souvenirs, do your shopping near the end of your trip. It really sucks carrying that all with you.

  • OR: think small and also consider having to schlep it with you. On our last trip to Europe, we bought a painting on day 3. My husband was in love with it, and it was totally not a problem as it was only about iPad sized and very lightweight, and so it lived strapped to the outside of his pack for the remainder of our trip wrapped in bubble wrap, newspaper, plastic bags and duct tape, and survived the next 3 weeks just fine.

  • If you love small knickknacks, plan for that. In Cappadocia in Turkey, we bought a tiny model of a cave house made out of the cave material. It lives on my desk and I love it. It hung out in my bag wrapped in a pair of socks I seldom wore.

  • Plan for things you might've brought with you: a towel in Turkey, a scarf or purse or jewelry....and don't bring those things with you.

Personally I would not plan on mailing anything because you'll inevitably end up wasting half a day at the post office, finding packaging, etc.

In the past, I have end up regretting bringing a souvenir bag and stuffing it along the way. It's just something terrible you end up having to take care of. And while I do enjoy a lot of the stuff I brought back, none of it is as impressive as the memories of my trip.

Last thing! We started sending ourselves postcards on trips and those are the best souvenirs, and you don't even have to carry them with!

Posted by
1115 posts

I have shoes from Dublin, shirt and sweater from Venice, socks from a market by Lago di Como, a cap from Budapest, and T-shirts from everywhere. These are souvenirs for me and I recall my vacations every time I wear them.

They pack like all my other luggage and since they are from 5 or 6 different vacations, the extra weight on each vacation wasn't much.

Posted by
518 posts

"Keep a journal. Save ticket stubs and museum booklets, and make yourself a souvenir scrapbook when you get home."

I know friends back home would love to have pewter viking ship, miniature Eiffel tower, etc., but these days so many things can be purchased online, unless it's a small shop, locally made handcrafts, etc. Instead, I like to keep things like subway tickets, hotel business cards, hotel receipts, things like that that truly are a memento of your having been to a place. I also keep a journal and instead of taking tons of framed/posed shots of the sights and monuments, most of my photos focus on passing moments of the day and other such things that remind me of how the day passed, the paths we walked. I don't even stop to compose the shot, I just whip out my phone, snap, and keep walking. Later when those photos are paired with my journal they make for a great retelling of the day.

When pressed to find actual souvenirs for friends, I'll stick with smaller things that are either light weight, foldable, collapsible, and not fragile (scarves, tea towels, etc.)

Posted by
15035 posts

I like l.p.enersen's T-shirt suggestion. I too love my souvenir tees. Don't bring clothes with you, pick them up as you go.

Posted by
11613 posts

I usually ship something home during a long trip. I take my stuff to a Mailboxes Etc., which are in most cities, and they pack and mail it for me. Takes less than 30 minutes at the Mailboxes facility. I have only had one mishap, with FedEx when they lost my package inside their own facility in the US (but they have great tracking capabilities, so it was found within a couple of days).

It can be pricey, especially if you mail things back from several stops, but if you like to shop for souvenirs, just include the estimated cost and space in your plans.

Posted by
2 posts

As others have mentioned, paper goods like receipts, ticket stubs, etc. make for great and easy-to-carry souvenirs. The trick is to DO something with them when you get home.

As an example; I am not a scrapbooker or the photo album type, but I do love interior design. After my last trip to Spain I decided that a great way to use some of the papers I'd brought home would be to make a wall hanging. I paired my love for Madrid with my love for subways as a focus for the piece. This allowed me to turn a used subway ticket, a small map of the subway route that I picked up at a station, a pretty paper bag from a Madrid gift shop, and a few entry tickets to museums that I'd used the Metro to get to into something that I have and will treasure for years to come.

Everything I used was free, or was something that I had no choice but to purchase if I wanted to use transportation, visit the sights, or carry away a small purchase. The only thing I had to buy when I got home was a cheap thrift-store frame and some poster board for mounting everything on. Long story short, for about $5 and an hour of my time (an hour spent joyfully recollecting my trips on the Madrid Metro) I ended up with a great piece of art that is now proudly displayed in my library. Even if you aren't the crafty sort or don't want to spend days and days on a big project like a scrapbook, something small-scale like this might save room in your bag, keep the going cheap, and provide lots of great opportunities to reminisce.

Posted by
5788 posts

If you buy high-valued souvenirs from a VAT-Free shop (tax rebate), you need to have the goods in it's sealed bag on exiting the EU. I'm not sure how you could ship a VAT-Free purchase and get the customs stamp demonstrating that the merchandise left or is leaving the EU.

We had a complication departing Finland and collection VAT Rebate. We had planned on an airport VAT Refund kiosk before checking baggage, but the refund kiosk curb side wasn't open Sunday morning. We had to repack to keep the VAT Refund merchandise in our carry-on to get our refund from the plane side kiosk. Did a lot of walking to collect that refund.

Posted by
21283 posts

Back in the 1970s and 1980s I sometimes mailed packages home--typically stuff that was bulky but not too heavy, so the cost was not high. At that time surface parcels of up to 1 kg. were relatively inexpensive. Those days are gone. I just spot-checked US - to - Italy postage, and the cheapest option was about $22 for 2 lb. and $75 for 5 lb. Not saying it's the same cost in the other direction, but that gives one pause, doesn't it?

A further issue is that in some European countries, parcels over 1 kg. must be mailed at special post offices, not just any old place you happen to find near your hotel.

Using UPS or FedEx to ship would probably be quite a bit more expensive, though certainly more convenient since you'd avoid having to locate packaging materials. Finding boxes and tape isn't as hard as it once was if you're in a major city, but it still takes time.

These days I'd only consider shipping for a very expensive/special item (like the kilim rug already mentioned), and on a short trip I'd probably have the seller do the shipping. If you take that approach, you must be very, very confident you have an honest seller. Many tourists have been ripped off. A business you're that sure of is probably going to be a department store or a well-known shop recommended by a reliable guidebook, so you may also pay extra for the goods themselves.

Like others, I try to begin my trip with a less-than-full suitcase and travel with a folding nylon bag. Still, more than a few small purchases can get burdensome even with the extra bag. It's not just the weight, but also the effect the additional items have on the organization of your luggage--which will probably keep changing as you buy more souvenirs. Unpacking and re-packing at each overnight stop will take more time, which gets old on a longer trip.

Keeping the right things cushioned can be a challenge. Though clothes can be used to wrap up breakables, how many extra clothes do most of us carry? On my last trip I ended up buying 3 souvenir T-shirts rather than one, because I had too many ceramics to worry about. I also had to locate an office supply store in Bulgaria in order to buy a small corkboard. It was the most practical way I could think of to protect some small pieces of unframed art.

I find that I love my souvenirs when I buy them, hate the heavy/bulky ones for the rest of the trip, and love them again once I've gotten them home. I definitely agree that trying to buy late in the trip is a good strategy; I've been known to set up an itinerary so my last few days are in a large city where I expect to find craft shops and street markets.

Posted by
1277 posts

pagan punks idea is spot on......I tape the best stuff into my travel journal, the stuff that doesn't make the cut (like odd receipts for gelato) I use as book marks. yeah, eventually , they drop off my radar, but whenever they surface its a reminder of a wonderful afternoon spending "funny money" on a sweet treat.