When traveling and visiting a new location, whether it’s a theme park, museum, zoo, or national park, all this mom is interested in taking home are great memories and breathtaking photos! The kids, however, always seem to want an item or two (or three…) from the gift shop.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that we travel with 9 little (and not so little) souvenir wanters (let them choose what they want, times 9, and we are talking big money!), or that we live in 400 sq. ft and have no room (or weight to give up) for
plastic junk more memorabilia, or just that I have an aversion to collecting things (I have never been known to be big on dusting), but souvenirs are nowhere to be found on my ‘top 100 vacation priorities’ list. But they are important to some of our kids. To alleviate the pathetic puppy-dog eyes, and occasional pouts, we’ve come up with some ‘souvenir rules’, and ideas, that work for our family.
Traveling in an RV and all, many of our restrictions are due to weight and space issues. Whether you have those same limitations or not, these are a few of the fun, yet frugal, souvenirs that work for us. We’ve also included a few additional ideas that we have found valuable for limiting the struggles that often come with visiting gift shops during our travels:
*Bumper stickers – this is a family collection for us – we keep our bumper sticker collection displayed on the back of our RV! The kids help us chose which sticker to purchase at each location that has them, and the kids usually put them on the rv themselves. This souvenir is unique to the destination, practically weightless, and inexpensive (typically run between $1 and $4). If you don’t want to display them on your vehicle like we do, let the kids adhere them in a sketchbook and write out a favorite or humorous memory of the visit to go with it!
*Jr. Ranger badges and patches – These are actually my favorite souvenir ever! Offered at nearly all National Parks, you and your kids can earn plastic badges (and sometimes patches) by completing an educational workbook about the park. The program is almost always free, usually takes anywhere from half an hour to two hours to complete, and is educational yet fun. (you can learn more about the Jr. Ranger program here).
*Postcards – costing anywhere from 25 cents to $1.00, postcards are the perfect souvenir! Go prepared with a small slide-in photo book, encourage the kids to chose site specific postcards, and then have them write down the date and their favorite thing about the location or a fun memory on the back. Slip the postcards in the booklet in order of visit, and the kids have a great journal of their trip!
*Pressed Pennies – this is the souvenir of choice for several of my kids! They love to look over all the different designs offered in the pressed penny machines at a location before deciding which one to get! Cost? 51 cents = 2 quarters, and the penny that they press. My kids like the way shiny new pennies turn out best, and each of my collectors have a book just for displaying their pressed pennies. Some locations even offer machines that press quarters; the kids have done a few of those, but they are considerably more expensive (anywhere from $1.25 to $2.25 each – adds up x9!).
*Magnets – site specific, or state magnets, are popular memorabilia; many traveling families find them a fantastic, travel-friendly collectable due to their small size – they fit well in luggage or an rv, but they do tend to add up weight-wise over time. Some families hang a large cookie sheet in their rv just for displaying their travel magnets.
*Photo Books – Give older kids a digital camera to take their own photos through-out the trip. At the end of your roadtrip, let them make a photo book, using the pics they took, at a site like Shutterfly, Snapfish, or Blurb. (the books are incredibly easy to create!) To keep it inexpensive, search for Shutterfly coupons at retailmenot.com, or join the photo site’s mailing list and wait for them to send you a code (which they do frequently).
Other tips for taming the souvenir beast:
*Decide on a memorabilia budget before you hit the road…some families set a ‘per destination’ monetary cap, while others give their kids an amount for the whole trip. Decide which will work best for your child’s spending habits ahead of time. Set the rules and talk them over with your child before you leave; vacation is not the time to get into a drawn out disagreement with your little shopper over their money management.
*Let your child earn ‘souvenir dollars’ before leaving home. Give your child special jobs and goals that credit them money to be spent on your trip. You can print up fake money (just google it) that they can change into credit from you in the store (then you can still use your credit card if desired), or just keep a chart of their earnings…
*If you are embarking on a crazy-fast roadtrip over several states, without hitting lots of destinations on the way, think of a single keepsake to collect from each state to commemorate your crossing. Magnets work great for this one, as do bumper stickers. Visitor’s Centers on main highways, at the state lines, almost always have a great selection of state-specific mementos.
*Consider agreeing ahead of time on a consistent, inexpensive item to collect. In addition to the above ideas, some others are: collectable spoons, a paperback book about the location (we are history buffs, so love this one!), walking stick emblems or location exclusive embroidered patches, or even a small stuffed animal that is a native to the area (like the 8″ stuffed alligator that we bought Caleb when we toured Gator & Friends in LA – he even named it George just like the G&F’s real gator, “George”, that we all got to hold!)
Remember that only you can determine which ideas will work best for your family. Being pro-active about setting up some boundaries about vacation keepsakes ahead of your trip, and talking about them with your children, will help to ensure those forays into tempting gift shops are enjoyable for everyone in the family!