I can’t wait to go on a Rick Steves tour but I have to ask those who have been, with the incredibly light packing, how do you buy and bring home souvenirs? Do you have to stop at the post office in each destination to send off your goodies?? Let me know!! Thanks!!!
Just what do you intend to buy?
Our bags ( carry on) have always been sufficient
I stopped buying souvenirs years ago. I might buy a cookbook or a small item but usually I don’t.
I only take a carry-on bag.
RS tours are pretty active with some free time built in. I’m not sure you would have enough time to shop and find a post office at each destination.
If you intend to buy a lot, bring an empty carry-on bag for your purchase.
Great idea Diane! I’m a dunce - didn’t think it would be allowed. 😀
I always travel with a checked bag but I rarely buy souvenirs other than a fridge magnet. What looks good abroad often looks odd at home - why did I buy that huge batik painting in Bali or that colourful pottery in Portugal? I did buy an Amish quilt in America that now sits atop one of our beds, but forget about the rest!
Take a checked bag or hold back on the purchases.
I always like to bring a few things home - if you have a carry on that you can expand out, that's always helpful. If you pack your bag 90% full, that should give you some room for creative packing of souvenirs - even if you pack your personal item with some space. Unless you end up buying something big.
I have a couple nice folding bags - just got what looks to be a half decent one off amazon, but last year we used a small folding 'back pack' from IKEA, as well as a cheaper, smaller folding bag. Hubs and I always fly home from London and usually spend a few days there before coming home and we always visit our fav stores and pick up food and whatnot. We check our carry-ons on the way home and carry our fragile/breakable/squishable stuff in the folding bags.
You're worried about the limit on bags you're allowed to bring. Dont be. As the others have said, we always bring an empty duffle that gradually fills with souvenirs. As long as you can manage your own bags, its OK. We check bags on the way home. Mailing stuff home can be extremely expensive.
Think small souvenirs. Tea towels, Christmas ornaments, and refrigerator magnets seem to be popular choices. We've picked up a couple of very small stuffed animals over the last few years, as well as small pottery pieces (like a small bowl) that nestle in our bags. On another recent trip, we saw a man outside a popular castle making small watercolor sketches. I bought one for just a few euros; it slipped neatly in between the pages of my journal. Cashmere shawls are also a good idea, and make wonderful gifts.
Forget the cuckoo clock and replica medieval armor.
Some ideas for souvenirs include colorful prints from Paris with advertising motifs from the 20s and 30s, small packets of dried saffron, gift boxes of chocolate (small), tubes of toothpaste in weird flavors, high end postcards (suitable for framing) from museum gift shops. The operative phrase is "small."
Murano glass can be shipped from the factory to your home. Yes, it's expensive to do that, but you don't have to lug it through Heidelberg. Same thing with pottery and ceramics. I bought a ceramic bull in Nimes which cost 80 euros, plus another 40 to ship it. I wanted it a lot.
My ultimate souvenir is a large marble rock from the quarries in Carrara. It was free; I picked it up on the ground, and it weighed almost 20 pounds. I carried that onto the Alitalia flight from Rome back to Los Angeles, then on to Reno from there. I hated that thing by time I got it home, but it now graces a space next to my fireplace.
Ask yourself, "Will this give me pleasure and provide me with memories for years to come?" If the answer is a resounding yes, buy it and figure out a way to get it home. My pair of Croc flip-flops from Ischia didn't meet that test.
I like bringing snacks back as souvenirs/gifts. They might not last too long, but it's always fun to discover new treats! I bring an empty canvas grocery bag with me on trips. It's easy to fold up & pack in my suitcase but can provide a decent amount of extra space when used as a carry-on or personal item on the return trip.
It depends on what you want to buy. SIL and I bought lots of Christmas ornaments. I was able to pack mine in my tote and suitcase but SIL shipped some of hers home. One of the shops we bought (a lot) from in Rome shipped hers home for her, about 35€ and took two weeks. Other than those, we bought dish towels, cameo jewelry, small leather goods, bookmarks and odds and ends of small gift items; all of which fit in our luggage. Besides our RS rolling carry-ons, we each had a tote and a packable backpack. Flying home, we expanded and checked the suitcase then stuffed the totes and backpacks full for carry-on.
Last May was my first RS tour, South of Italy, and we had a great time. Can't wait for next year to be able to travel again. Enjoy your trip whenever you can go.
A lightweight duffle bag can be packed empty in your outbound carry-on and checked full on your return flight. The REI travel 40L bag is a good size: https://www.rei.com/product/124504/rei-co-op-roadtripper-duffel-40l?
Check the duffle for your return flight. And if you don't fill the 40L with souvenirs. use extra clothing as padding and lighten your carry-on for your return dash through airports.
Think small items to tuck away in your suitcase or personal carry-on bag. I have bought magnets, postcards & small artwork to frame, bookmarks, jewelry, soaps, lotions, etc. One of my prized souvenirs was a “Copper Grape Ice Bucket” from from Coppersmith Master Cesare (Bottega Del Rame) Montepulciano. (2006). We were celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary. We had it shipped. It brings back fond memories, especially now.
IF I buy souvenirs, and that is a really big IF, I tend to get smaller things that will fit in the nooks and crannies of my carry on. I focus mainly of food items (unfortunately many never make it home because snacks happen). Over the years I have brought back less and less in the knickknack category for myself as they mainly sit around and collect dust. Things I have brought for friends and relatives are greatly appreciated, but have little to no actual meaning to them.
When I do buy larger items, I find the merchants have been willing to ship the item for me (sometimes for no additional charge, which probably means I paid way too much for the item to start with ;-) ). This eliminates the dragging around for days and days and the items tend to arrive home with less damage than many checked bag items I tried to take that way.
I always throw away about 25% of the clothes I bring, which frees up room in my carry-on suitcase. As I clean out my closets all year, [clothes which I might have given to a charity], I set aside clothes for international travel. Usual examples that I ditch: sleep clothes, all underwear, one pair of pants, 1-2 tops. I bring two pairs of shoes, and often it works out that one pair of walking shoes is ready the be ditched. I plan my toiletries and medications to be gone by the end of the trip.
I also do not carry a purse; instead I wear a light-weight Scottevest or Exoffiocio vest, with inside zipper pockets for wallet, phone, and glasses. Without a purse, I can carry a backpack for daily items: water, snacks, guide books, and souvenirs. For my phone I prefer a Bandolier case, which has a strap, so my phone hangs around my neck. While not theft-proof, this is clumsy-proof, decreasing the chances of dropping my phone in a canal or off a ledge.
[I know many folks here do not like travel vest, so I don't want to start that great debate again; the travel vests work for me.]
Safe- and healthy- travels!
Sorry laughing at the post office mention merely because I’m still waiting a package from an Italian post office from a decade ago.
I’m a practical souvenir buyer and travel packer. Scarves, small watercolors, handmade jewelry, an occasional tile for a kitchen, coasters, ( like the Guinness ones a friend gave me), small silver commemorative spoons, teas, and an occasional key chain or two. I know the ones of the red phone booths and black cabs from London forays have been treasured by recipients.
No extra bag. All fit nicely into my carry on.
Pat - when I went to England and Ireland in 2000, I threw away all but the clothes I wore home! I didn’t get any souvenirs, but the friend I was traveling with bought several books. fortunately our bags were weighed together - mine weighted about 7 pounds - his over 50!
Wow!!! Thank you all so much for all the great advice. I loved hearing about the souvenirs you bought. You really came through for this newbie! I hope we are all out there traveling again quickly!
We are still using our original RS 21” carry-one. We put a fold up sports duffle in each bag. We’ve carried our wine limit (used more than a few swear words dragging that around, but worth when we got home) art work, olives in a jar, etc.. on various trips. On some of the RS tours there has been the option to leave things in deep bus storage for the duration of the trip, but you can’t do that with wine if you have unfriendly temperatures. We used the post office in Greece and got our poster in a timely manner and we had wine shipped from Sorrento that arrived just a little behind schedule. I echo the sentiment that if you think you’ll love it, get it. We’ve had more regrets about stuff we didn’t get than stuff we did.
Periodically, I think about starting a thread about the different things to buy, or wish you’d bought on a RS tour. We still talk about wishing we’d bought and shipped the wine from the wine tasting in Volterra on our Heart of Italy trip.
Ideally you choose small or light items that are easy to carry. If you wish bulky items, such as handmade sweaters or artwork, it used to be possible (years ago) to have a merchant mail these home for you. This is far more convenient than packaging and mailing them yourself. I don't know if this is still possible, but it never hurts to ask!
My favorite souvenir is always the Shutterfly photo book I make on my return. Other then that, I bring back mainly memories and the occasional small thing. My favorite from my last trip was ear rings made from compressed heather than I purchased in Scotland at Urquhart Castle.
We try to wait to shop for heavy/ bulky items at the LAST stop before coming home -- and then put the items in a checked bag or carry-on depending on fragility. (As noted above, used clothes make excellent cushioning.)
My favorite souvenirs have been jewelry! Pendants take no room. Most of my purchases were not expensive but some were. My husband tells people that I really wear my jewelry purchases.
My most memorable souvenir is a Dale of Norway Fridtjof Nansen Sweater on my first trip to Europe. The sweater honored Nansen, an Arctic explorer who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Our sweaters (wife also bought a Dale sweater) were expensive enough to claim a VAT rebate when we departed Norway.
With a few exceptions, the most shopping is in the airport! Yes, you pay a bit more, but some airports have beautiful stores ie: Dublin airport had gorgeous hand knit sweaters, the same ones that I resisted buying from the actual store in Ireland, as I would have had to lug them around the country. Booze, no problem at the airport. London - great little souvenir from Harrods, etc...etc....gives me something todo while waiting for our flights and get rid of all that foreign currency (if there is any left) . I also love to shop at museums, they have great gifts that are all small and packable, like shoping bags, earrings, prints etc. My fav was a beautiful pair of drop pearl earrings from the Van Gogh mueseum.
Oh, I forgot to mention bringing back chocolate. It's never around long enough to collect dust. I can't explain why, but chocolate in any European country is SO much better than chocolate in the USA.
It’s the cows, Pat, the cows are why the chocolate is better! :) (Seriously, I think the milk has a lot to do with it.)
Two of my favorite accessories are from RS tours—garnet earrings from Prague and a scarf from the Budapest market hall.
I agree with the comments about thinking “small” and going for items that have meaning yet can fit in the corners of the suitcase.
Pat- the milk is likely part of the reason (I remember them explaining at one chocolate factory tour in Switzerland that their tasters could tell which season the chocolate was made because of differences in the milk from local cows based on the cows’ diets during different seasons!). I’ve also heard that chocolate to be sold in the U.S. has to have a higher melting point so it can be shipped around the country in trucks in hot/humid weather. Whatever the reason, the same brands of chocolate definitely taste different when purchased in Europe vs. the U.S., and chocolate factory tours are amazing, if you ever have a chance to go on one! We always bring back Swiss or Belgian chocolate as souvenirs.
Love reading what everyone purchases, great ideas. My main purchase is always a charm for my bracelet. It is small enough and gives me great pleasure when I wear my bracelet at home and people ask me about it. Every charm tells a story, all the way back to 1977; my first European trip. I purchased a windmill from Amsterdam. In fact, I have a few charms not mounted yet cause I ran out of room. As soon as we can shop again I will get my second bracelet. I am missing though, a charm from Hungary. Our first trip there, in 2002, we couldn’t find a jewelry store. When we asked at another shop, they told us that they mostly used silver, gold was too expensive and not easily available. When we went back in 2014, I still couldn’t find one. There were jewelry stores but I didn’t have my bracelet with me and they didn’t understand my request. Maybe our third visit with be the “charm” (pun intended).
Pat, it is also true of many items eaten overseas. After eating those big, delectable pretzels in Germany, we don’t enjoy them as much at home. I was told it’s because they use lye in the dough and that is banned in the US. I order my Dutch poffertjes mix online to get that wonderful taste at home.
Pat, ABlue, and Rachel, when we took the Belgium/Holland tour, we decided to take chocolate home as gifts. Well. From that point on, that's all anyone wants us to bring. It makes gift shopping easier - we don't have to wonder who wants a scarf, will Aunt Tilly really use that saffron, and what on earth will our crazy friend Alline want?
We generally have room to spare in our bags, so on the way home I end up taking most of the clothes in my bag, and my husband takes the chocolates in his. (We both carry backpacks, but his "personal item" is an old laptop case, much better for packing small boxes of chocolates.)
We stopped buying souvenirs years ago. But I once specifically brought a small box of chocolate back from Germany for my son-in-law who has a massive sweet tooth. And so many people got upset with me for not bringing back any for them. So now, I just get chocolates for everybody. So easy as gifts go.
My husband, tho, does not like buying souvenirs of any kind, Until this last trip when we transited thru Heathrow and the duty free shop had a promotion of buy 2, get 1 free bottles of Glenfiddich single malt. The price per bottle, even with the exchange rate, was just too good to pass up. We dumped some of our clothes at the airport to make room for the bottles, then checked our bags when we got to JFK for the final leg home.
My rule is if I can’t eat it , wear it, or hang it on the wall I don’t buy it.
I like paintings because I can look at every day to remind me of our trips..
I never needed an additional bag for my souvenirs, have not mailed them too save for postcards I send to myself and friends. But then again I usually keep them small enough.
I tell people before we travel that I pack light and won’t be bringing home a lot of souvenirs. But an inexpensive souvenir is coins. I bought 50 two pence pieces for 1 bps our last day in England. People loved getting a tuppence Since it’s not something we have here. Plus you get to sing ‘Feed the birds‘ from Mary Poppins!
Just to clarify, while Rick makes it sound like you HAVE to pack light on his tours, you don't. What you do have to do is be able to handle all your bags yourself, including walking several blocks with them (if the bus cannot pull up to the hotel) and walk up a few flights of stairs with them (if the hotel does not have an elevator). If your bags are bigger than carry-on size, you won't be banned from the tour - but you may be sorry.
And yes, many do bring a spare duffel bag and fill it with purchases. The tote bag sold on this site used to be called the "Don't Tell Rick Bag." Looking now, I see they've taken that name out - but the idea still applies. Checked luggage is less of a problem on the return home, when you probably have to wait for immigration (so your bag is usually waiting for you by the time you get to the belt).
All that said, you will definitely be happier if you pack light, and limit yourself to smaller and more useful souvenirs.
We tend to bring a larger-than-necessary second carry on bag (think a small duffel or backpack) that is nearly empty on the flight to Europe. It would contain electronics and a camera for example. We then add the rare souvenir to that carry on. Like others, I tend to carry my souvenir in my mind's eye or my camera. In a pinch, I could ditch some clothes to make room, although I'd never thought of that. Great suggestion.
I do the expandable suitcase that was previously mentioned and that gets checked in on the way home. We don't take an extra bag for the souvenirs, we buy one while traveling. we have even purchased another suitcase at one point. Sometimes we find big things other times we pick up small stuff. My husband likes to find unique liquors and spirits to bring back. I like food, oils, herbs, prints, bookmarks, tiles, beauty and hair products.
Basic rule, don't buy junk. Last trip to Hawaii is represented by a nice little oil painting from a gallery in Hilo. Prague is the crystal wine glasses I use every day. Vienna is my gold watch from 1905. Stuff like that has value; refrigerator magnets are just something you're going to end up throwing away.
It always amazes me to see people get upset when I talk about buying clothes and then getting rid of them as I travel, and then they recommend hauling around mass produced stuff that eventually heads to a landfill.
And I don't haul anything very far. The postal system works very well for sending stuff home, as do DHL, UPS, and FedEx. In over 30 years I've never had a package lost, although I have had some held by Customs.
My standard souvenirs are jewelry, purses, and artwork from local artisans. The jewelry and purses get used periodically and each time I change earrings or purses, I am reminded of the city, shop or person that created it. The artwork I buy is usually a small watercolor or sketch that is matted and fits in a 5x7 ish frame from IKEA. I bought many of the frames in advanced so when I get home they go instantly in a frame and up on the wall. My current favorite I purchased in October 2019 near the booksellers across from Notre Dame. It is a little watercolor of the back side of Notre Dame, that the artist did before the fire collapsed the roof. We had a very nice conversation. All my souvenirs are small and easily fit in my personal item or backpack.
We’ve been on 8 RS tours and have taken many independent trips via car rental or rail. We have always taken three bags, one is basically empty. The memories sparked by the art and objects We have obtained from our travels have filled our home and bring us so much joy. On RS tours we leave the souvenir bag in the bag storage area on the bus most of the time. It’s never been a problem and it’s nice to have the extra room with that extra bag. For larger or heavy objects we have been able to arrange shipping with the merchant.
We’d be midway a RS tour of Turkey right now if it wasn’t for the pandemic - so disappointing to have travel on hold for an unknown period ahead of us. We are thankful for so many fun experiences and great people we have met from our travels and seeing the items acquired over the years from those trips make the travel drought we are currently hostage to bearable....
I like to buy baseball caps whenever i have chance-- in every country I visited. On many occasions I've been approached by strangers when they see me wearing a cap with a logo of their country of origin.
The last one happened about a month ago when a guy struck a conversation asking me if I've been to Hungary-- noticing my baseball cap with a Budapest logo on it. A wonderful exchange ensued.
He was Hungarian but speaks German and French. I bid farewell in German and I saw a smile on his face.
On another occasion, I was wearing a T-shirt with Balearic Isles logo on it when a couple eagerly started a conversation and telling me they both missed the islands since they immigrated to the US.
My closet has special rack for different kinds of caps.
I like to shop for everyday items to remember my travels. I buy placemats, silverware and small pieces of glass and pottery. I have several framed watercolors done by local artists. I also like Starbucks cups and use them everyday.
I scanned the thread and don't think I saw this mentioned. It's been my experience on a Rick Steves tour that the bus driver has an area of the luggage bay for "deep storage" items...things that you don't want to bring in every night but will collect at the last off-loading of the bus. A time or two they had it sectioned off by using something like a big cardboard box from an appliance, other times, it's just been an area he or she (yes, had a married couple as drivers once) knew not to unload. So...definitely bring a fold up bag to stash your stuff.
I'm not a shopper but on my 21 day Best of Europe a number of people bought big stuff like cuckoo clocks (St Goar) and had them shipped. On the Village Italy tour a number of folks bought stuff at the pottery we visited in Deruta and they were shipped by the company. BTW, even if the tour stops at a craft demo you are not under any obligation to buy. Other tour company guides get some kind of kickback from sales but RS guides are well-paid and do not.
Now, having said I'm not a shopper I almost always fall victim to a scarf purchase. The only time that worked against me was on an 8-week trip with 3 back to back RS tours and I wound up with EIGHT scarves. Yes, they are heavy when you get that many, lolol!!
I also agree that the tours are busy enough you'll never hit it right for finding a post office. Either it will be closed when you have time or you'll get in to town too late in the afternoon to seek one out.
I'm still using the wallet I bought over a decade ago in Italy. Nice soft leather, and apparently pretty durable since I use it daily. Once we got some pottery in Umbria and had it shipped. Other than that I like to buy fridge magnets; I see them every day in the kitchen and they remind me of the trips.
It's your trip and you're paying handsomely to be on it, so if collecting stuff is your thing then go for it. However unlike what I've read about some tour companies, taking the clients to souvenir shops (under the guise of a demo or whatever) is not part of the RS tour.
Shopping is my middle name when it comes to travel.
Here are my tips:
Carryon is recommended, but even my tour guide said she doesn't do carry on. I have a hard shell Delsey bag that is one step above the carry on size--just right, not too small, not too large. The idea is to be able to carry your bag through rough pavement and steep stairs.
Bring bubble wrap and tape, If you find something fragile, you can wrap it up and not worry. I checked my bag so I had my swiss army knife (from a previous trip!) in my checked bag. The scissors and blade came in handy to cut tags. Especially when you find something you like and can wear on the trip. Plus a corkscrew for wine bottles. On my most recent trip I got the coolest hand made Krampus candle lantern-- fragile and somewhat large-- it was fine in my hardshell and bubble wrap.
Minimize clothes and do a capsule wardrobe. I had plenty of room for my purchases as a result.
Bring empty travel cubes-- you can pack your things like loading up a fed ex plane.
Do your research for items that are unique to that area. I did the Christmas markets and had a good idea of what to be on the look out for and allocated space in my bag accordingly.
It's even better to find things that are lightweight and flat. Not knowing where you are going or your taste---- I love scarves, socks, stockings, chocolate bars you can't get here. I have a shelf at home where I put all my cheapo little touristy things-- a mini tower of Pisa, a mini Vespa, a little cigarette ash tray, little wooden carvings, pewter, I see my shelf of little things from all over and I think it's cool.
The ultimate guide to packing and great ideas is a private Facebook group "Travel Fashion Girl." The owner of the page also does a blog which is fantastic. I encourage you to check out Travel Fashion Girl.
I bring a packable Bagallini tote. I can put all non fragile stuff, larger items ( shoes!) and dirty clothes for the trip home. It frees up space in the bag and I don't have to worry about weight limits.
As for the bus- I was able to store my Delsey on the bus and took my little overnight carry on bag ( can fit under an airline seat) for a one night stay in Halstatt.. We had to take a boat to get to the hotel. There was no way I wanted to take a big bag. I took what I needed for the day, put it in my little carry on bag, and was fine. Know your itinerary. You can keep a large bag in the luggage hold.
We've been on three RS tours and the thing we always remember is to pack as light as possible! We use a rolling backpack each and that's it. We do pack at least one zippered tote bag that we can roll up and smoosh into our backpack. We use it for any souvenirs, laundry, etc. We usually limit our "souvenirs" to postcards, our photos and videos and the occasional tshirt or small Christmas ornament or trinket for our five grandkids. We continually remember that we're on the trip for us, and that we have to carry 100% of whatever we pack or purchase. I would find it very time constraining to try to find a post office at each stop. I want to use our time sightseeing and soaking up th local culture. Have fun!
We have been on 6 Rick Steves tours. We get a little better with our buying on each trip. My husband and I each bring a small empty tote bag. As we travel, we add to the tote and place it in deep storage in the bottom of the bus. Then we aren't carrying our treasures every day. When we re-pack everything to fly home, I fill our carry-on bags with all the dirty clothes and take the souvenir totes on the plane with us.
We like to purchase art from every place we travel. It is now scattered all around my house. and gives me wonderful memories as I walk from room to room. Prints and watercolors can be flat and easy to carry on the plane. If they are larger pictures, we will bring them home in a tube. We have had many of our treasures shipped home. Some stores will give you free shipping if you buy a certain amount. I have hand-blown glass, pottery and hand-carved nativity figurines shipped home with no problem. I usually ask them to wait a few days to ship them home. I want to be at home when they arrive.
I also purchase jewelry (which take up almost no room), scarves, tea towels and cooking utensils. I purchased scented soaps in France and placed them in my suitcase. It keeps your bag smelling a little nicer. If we go to London, we always bring home Countess Grey loose tea from Fortnam and Mason's. Although TSA get very concerned over the metal tins in our bags. On one of our early trips we bought several small books about places we visited. They got very heavy. On one of our free afternoons we took them to a post office and shipped them home. We realized that we have never looked at those books, so now we buy postcards of the places that we found interesting. There are a lot of details about the location on the back. Post cards of the interior of palaces and cathedrals are the only way to get pictures if no photography is allowed. It just wouldn't feel like a vacation without at least one momento.
The postal system works very well for sending stuff home, as do DHL,
UPS, and FedEx. In over 30 years I've never had a package lost,
although I have had some held by Customs.
I remember back to my young and stupid days in the 1980's and I tried to mail myself some beer. It made it through the post office fine but when I got home there was a letter stating that my package was not sent because I wasn't allowed to mail beer. I've always wondered if upon further inspection the packaged was stopped or if the postal employee that helped me knew all along and made it a contribution to the next staff party.
Chocolate bars and refrigerator magnets (locally made) are great souvenirs.