At a straw market in Freeport, Bahamas, a large conch shell became a conversation piece while we chatted with an outdoor vendor about his life and country. Moved by the small talk, he offered the shell for $7.50, a 50 percent discount from the marked price. It was a good deal for a souvenir that echoed the ocean and sounded like a fog horn when air blew through it.
On display in our living room, the shell is proof that low-cost or no-cost trip mementos can provide meaningful alternatives to high-priced souvenirs, which can cost as much as an extra night's stay at a hotel.
Curiosity and creativity can fill your bags with souvenirs without emptying your wallet. Bring back stylish souvenirs that keep your budget in check with the following strategies:
Off-price detours: On a small street in China we found a small thrift store that sold action figures, jade statues, old coins and antique toys at low prices. In London and Paris, affordable one-of-a-kind souvenirs are available in second-hand stores tucked beyond glitzy boulevards. In the U.S., dollar stores in tourist towns are stocked with picture frames, t-shirts and other items for a buck a piece. Flea markets and community bazaars also sell affordable, but unusual gifts to take back home.
Beads: Inexpensive necklaces and unusual beads from world markets can provide souvenirs or raw art material that may be difficult to purchase back home. Unstring the necklaces and use individual beads to create zipper pulls, hair sticks or hat pins.
Rubbings: From the temples of Cambodia's Angkor Wat to the epitaph-rich Boot Hill cemetery near Tombstone, rubbings make unique and affordable souvenirs. Get started with a carpentry crayon, painter's tape and parchment paper. Attach parchment or rice paper to an interesting surface. Rub the paper with the side of the crayon and create an impression of the scene beneath. These rubbings can be framed after your trip. At culturally sensitive locations, ask permission first.
Street art: Watercolors from Prague, charcoal sketches of quiet Roman streets and on-location caricatures are available from local artists, who create frame-worthy souvenirs. Affordable street art can be found along Lincoln Road mall in Miami Beach and near Union Square in Manhattan. Or bring your own materials and turn an afternoon of sketching into a memorable vacation activity. Carry an art tube or an empty paper towel tube for lightweight, stress-free storage.