When you travel, it’s nice to buy something small as a memento, or as a gift to show people you were thinking of them while they were stuck at home. But what to get? If you’re travelling long-term, it needs to be something small you can post back, or tuck into a side corner of your luggage. On the other side of the equation, how can people get mail and packages to YOU if you’re busy gallivanting from place to place?

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First, let’s look at souvenirs. Size is the key. The bigger and heavier a souvenir is, the less likely it will make it home. Either the cost of postage will be prohibitive, or you’ll decide it isn’t actually worth lugging around 16 countries (oh how glad I am that we didn’t buy that marble chess set).

Look for items that are light, small and inexpensive. Remember a souvenir is a memory, it doesn’t have to break the budget. Some ideas:

  • Jewellery, especially earrings for girls. We also found some nice tooled leather bracelets for guys in the Baltics.
  • souvenir belgium mannekin pis statue square

  • T-shirts and other clothing items. Buy yourself a tacky tourist t-shirt and wear it for the next few months of your trip. It might not make it home, but will appear in all your photos and you’ll remember it well.
  • A CD. Find some music from the place you’re in and grab a CD of it. Or pick it up on iTunes; it might not be a physical item but you’ll be taken back every time those songs come up on your iPod.
  • Playing cards. Practical and fun.
  • A shawl. Another practical clothing item that is also a great gift to stuff down the bottom of your pack to give to your mum when you get home.
  • Money. Keep a few coins and low-denomination notes and make a collage with photos and other bits and pieces when you get home.
  • Postcards. Send them out indiscriminately, including to yourself.
  • Other stuff. Find something you want to collect and get one in each place. We collected patches, but maybe you like magnets, or spoons, or pins.

Getting your mail

An obvious first step is to cut down on the amount of mail you receive in the first place. Cancel magazine subscriptions and ask loyalty programmes not to send you any information. For essential information, try to get it by email rather than in the post.

A good plan is to ask a friend or family member to keep your mail for you and send it to you

However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to cut off snail mail entirely. A good plan is to ask a friend or family member to keep your mail for you and send it to you (wherever you are) every month or two. If you particularly trust them, get them to open the mail and only send the important stuff.

Earth Class Mail

If you don’t have someone to do this for you, try Earth Class Mail, a company that exists to perform just this service. You direct all your mail to them, and when something arrives, they’ll take a photo of the envelope and send it to you. You can then decide to have it sent,

post mail box
shredded or opened. If they open it, you can again decide to have it shredded or sent on. You’ll have to have a bit of spare cash to afford this though (which is why getting your dad to do it for free is better).

But both of these ideas require having somewhere to send it! If you’re based somewhere for a while, have it sent to your new place. Or to relatives or friends that you’ll be visiting soon. Or to your work. Hostels and hotels will hold mail for you, but there’s more chance that it will go missing.

Poste Restante

If none of these options are for you, use Poste Restante. Basically you have your mail sent to the main post office of the city or town you’re going to be in, and then you go in and pick it up. You usually need to take your passport, and you may be charged a small fee.

Different countries require you to address your mail in different ways, but make sure you include your name, the words “Poste Restante” (or “general delivery” in the US) and the name of the town or country. It will usually go to the main post office. If you’re expecting something and it doesn’t seem to be there, make sure they check under both your first and last names.

Over to you…

Please help us win the Entirely Kiwi competition by following our blog at http://entirelyworldfamouscraig.blogspot.com/

Check out the Indie Travel Podcast Magazine. You can get a free digital download or buy a print subscription.

Thanks to @guyngirltravels on Twitter for asking the question that prompted this episode.

poste post box mail

Your thoughts on "Cheap souvenirs and easy mail podcast"

  • Two awesome ideas, Cindy. Thanks for them. I forgot that at one point we were collecting small pebbles and using FIMO to make necklaces; carrying a little bit of the place with you. I'm also glad to hear long, cheap postage options still about. That was something we didn't even consider in Hong Kong and considering the amount of stored stuff we through out when we arrived back in New Zealand, that's probably a good thing! We're trying to leave less stuff behind with family this time around...we'll see how it goes.

    on September 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm Reply
  • Hi Craig and Linda, Just wanted to chime in with a couple of things that have stuck with me on the subject of souvenirs while you are on extended travel. Related to your idea of collecting a few coins as souvenirs, I have a creative friend who has thought to make all the coins from different countries she's traveled to into jewelry for herself and as gifts. It makes a great jewelry conversation piece and is a fun reminder of your travels that you can wear but not wear out like clothes. And just in case you can't resist that marble chess set (or in our case a handmade silk bedspread in India that we bargained very hard for) - don't despair. The thought of carrying it to 10 more countries probably isn't your first choice, but most countries have very "budget" shipping options that won't cost you much money. We shipped our comforter home from India using their "BYSAL" shipping method - which means they'll transport it any way that they can manage. Ever wonder what those heaps of packages on the tops of buses or camels were? It may take several months to arrive at it's final destination on the slow boat, but so far we are 2/2 on sending these packages (one from India and one from Vietnam). Both packages cost us less than $30 USD/package. This way you can consolidate your gift and souvenir shopping and see it next time you swing by your home country. I still wouldn't send anything valuable, but it's worth the risk over carrying something heavy around for months!

    on September 8, 2009 at 1:16 am Reply
  • You mentioned that "the bigger the souvenir is, the less likely you will be able to take it home." I agree with this, but what happens when you want to furnish an apartment or something with items that you select from Indonesia? I've heard that you can get a shipping crate, but will they just leave everything in a crate for you until you come to get it? Same thing with the services that you already mentioned. Cindy mentioned shipping the bedspread. If I wanted to do that same thing from several different countries, over the course of a year, will the services you mentioned keep the boxes until I return to pick them up?

    on October 5, 2009 at 12:26 am Reply
  • I don't think companies like Earth Class Mail would, you would have to ask them. Post Restante normally only hold mail for six months and refuse to sign for courier parcels in most places. I think your best bet would be to get a friend or family member involved. Someone trustworthy, settled and unlikely to move too often! Of course, companies do things differently all around the world, so if you find a local solution, please let us know what it is so we can let others know.

    on October 5, 2009 at 10:42 am Reply
  • Lindsey, If you are shipping packages you may consider just shipping them to someone you know (Mom, a friend, etc.) where they are easy to pick up. Some of our packages send the "economy method" literally arrived four months after we sent them, so it may be even after you have stopped mail service. Just let the trustworthy person you send it to that they will be receiving the package "sometime in the next 6 months" and then hope for the best!

    on October 5, 2009 at 5:15 pm Reply
  • I like to collect coasters from bars all around the world, they’re free, light and they don’t take up too much room. What I love most of all about collecting coaster is the memories of the awesome people I met and got to have a drink with. They also look pretty cool too!!! I’ve displayed all mine on a massive pin board which sadly now is too small to fit them all!!! My souvenir horror story is from KL where I fell in love with Malaysian kites. My big problem was not the weight, nor the size more the awkward shape that I was convinced would sit flat in my backpack, alas it did not. The day I was leaving KL I had to rush to the post office first thing so I could ship them home. Trying to find the post office was a challenge in itself but trying to send the thing in one piece was even more challenging. After a lot of confusion between me and the girl at the counter I ended up with tape and brown paper and was told to wrap it. And that was that, badly wrapped with minimal bubble wrap. Needless to say they arrived at home torn, but luckily fixable with a bit of glue, tissue paper and sticky tape!!! The moral of the story is try and find things that aren’t awkwardly shaped and if you are shipping delicate items use LOTS of bubble wrap, i will never make that mistake again!!!

    on November 21, 2009 at 3:58 pm Reply
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