I’ll admit, I’m not the greatest travel souvenir shopper. I tend to travel on a very small shoe-string (budget that is) so there is usually very little to buy extras with. Plus, I hate the feeling that comes with haggling on a price in one stall or store, just to see the same item for less than what I paid for it in the very next one I walk into.
Not to mention, the brain strain of trying to decipher which family member or friend should get what souvenir, when I really just want to keep them all for myself. Finally, there is the task of getting it all home. Do you mail your purchases back or take a chance on being charged by the airline for luggage that’s over weight…eh, too much trouble!
So, odd as it may be, I prefer to do my souvenir shopping when I’m not traveling. That way I get to relive my adventures over and over again AND I get to keep everything!
I am an adoring fan of all things, art and décor from destinations around the globe. And when I discover an item that reminds me of a country that I have once lived or visited, I’ve just got to have it (for the right price, of course!).
If you live in a global city like New York or Chicago, finding an outdoor market, an authentic import store or gourmet food market run by recent immigrants or their dedicated descendants is a fairly simple task. Which got me to thinking what if you live in small town? Where do you get your Kabanos, Beignets, Pad Thai, or Curry Paneer when you live in say, Peoria?
The most obvious retail chains providing an opportunity to shop for world treasures would be Pier 1 Imports and World Market. Though both stores can be a bit pricey, I would gladly move out my apartment and take residence in either one, if they’d let me.
I love spending time in these stores and often use them as inspiration when putting together a room design using antique flea market finds or furniture pieces from lower-end décor from close-out stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and Home Goods.
Though a lot of these stores deal in reproductions, if you look closely you can find authentic pieces, like actual Senegalese wooden masks and kente drums among many other treasures. For my design tastes (which are always changing) reproductions are fine as long as I know exactly what I am getting and they’ve been priced accordingly.
If I had to list my favorite shop it would probably be Ten Thousand Villages, a non-profit store specializing in fair trade house wares, clothing & accessories by artisans from Pakistan to Uganda to Bali and beyond. They have locations all across North America. Chicagoans are lucky enough to have two locations in the nearby suburbs; one in Oak Park and one in Evanston.
Two additional lesser known gold mines that you may have in your area would be Tuesday Morning and Hobby Lobby. Tuesday Morning is a close-out store, much like Marshall’s, but dealing primarily in home goods. You can find anything from bamboo placemats to Belgian Chocolates at any given time. But you have to pounce because everything’s priced to sell and almost guaranteed not to be there when you return.
As far as food goes, much to my delight, Meijers is stocked with entire food aisles dedicated to Mexican, Asian (including Indian & North African) and Eastern European foods, respectively. Now there’s finally a place to pick up that can of pickled herring that you just couldn’t wait to try again! (Selection may vary by location).
Lastly, on my most recent trip to TARGET, I was surprised to find an end-cap filled with a selection of Kronung coffees, Delicje & Napolitanke cookies, European chocolates and mineral waters from Poland. All of which were rather moderately priced!
Keep in mind, I am all for picking up “the real thing” when you are on your travels, if you can afford it. And though, there will never be a substitute for the rewards of exploring other countries in person, it’s nice know that there are such awesome ways to shop the world in your own backyard.