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Things you shouldn’t bring home from a holiday

One of the big things many of us think about while away on our holiday is what to bring home as a souvenir or as gifts for friends and family.

But research from the Travel Foundation and ABTA in their Holiday Shopping Report, reveals that British holidaymakers could be unknowingly spending up to 10% of their holiday budget on souvenirs that are illegal, environmentally damaging or destined for the bin. The report was undertaken to coincide with Make Holidays Greener Month, which highlights the simple things people can do on holiday, which can make a difference to both local people and their own travelling experience.

So where are holidaymakers going wrong when souvenir shopping?


The t-shirt is probably the most popular holiday souvenir, with over half of those surveyed admitting they have brought one back from a trip.

Even though some overzealous travellers will tell you they have 'been there, got the t-shirt', sadly these tokens of holiday fun often end up in the bin and are rarely ever worn.

The problem, according to the report, with bringing one, or even a few, shirts back home is that they are often imported and will not offer significant benefit to the local economy of your holiday destination. If you do buy a t-shirt keepsake, choose one you or the intended recipient will wear regularly (so steer clear of any that are garish, tacky or too colourful), preferably made from organic cotton and the sale of which will benefit a local cause.

Fake designer goods

If you get caught at UK customs with counterfeit goods you could be subjected to the humiliation of having them confiscated - or worse, faceprosecution.

Some holidaymakers go to places with the sole purpose of buying lots of counterfeit items, but what many don't realise is that these goods often fund more serious crime. 14% of people surveyed would bring back fake designer goods, but counterfeit items tops the list of things that are most likely to be thrown out or discarded once holidaymakers return, most likely due to poor quality workmanship.

Buying these goods doesn't necessarily damage the local economy, but they are unlikely to have been made where they were bought so won't have a positive impact either. The real thing is always better and if you choose the right country of origin you may be able to get designer cheaper anyway. American designer brands are cheaper in America etc.

Read How to spot fake goods for help avoiding these items.

Plastic goods

These can be in the form of key-rings, badges, snow domes etc and are found in souvenir shops all over the world. These mini keepsakes made of plastic can take millions of years to break down and are a threat to our entire ecosystem as often they are thrown away and not kept.

Most plastic souvenirs aren't even manufactured locally, but imported from factories elsewhere, so aren't real souvenirs anyway.

Ivory goods

Even though the trade of ivory has been under an international ban since 1990, 11% of respondents thought they could bring the substance back home in one form or another from a holiday.

If you bring back a keepsake made of ivory, you could be at risk of prosecution when you return to the UK for importing goods made from endangered species. You could be caught out when buying souvenirs from many parts of Africa and Asia, so it is important to check what innocent-looking knick knacks are actually made of.

Coral and sea turtle shell products

Coral and some types of shells (like sea turtle shells) require a permit to be brought to the UK as marine ecosytems are threatened when they are harvested for souvenirs. 15% admitted they had brought back coral or shell products, but a third of these people say they no longer have the items on show or have thrown them away.

With more than two-thirds of Brits admitting that shopping is one of the highlights of their holiday, the industry bodies are urging holidaymakers to choose souvenirs that support destination communities, reduce negative impacts on the environment and are likely to be enjoyed and valued for longer when they get home.

So what keepsakes should travellers be buying instead?

Handcrafted jewellery

The research found that people are more likely to use or keep locally-crafted souvenirs for longer. Handcrafted jewellery is often more eyecatching than a snowglobe and can be found in destinations all over the world. Look out for items made from recycled materials and sourced directly from craftspeople in markets, villages and road side stalls.

Locally produced food

Jams, sauces, oils, wines, vinegars, herbs and spices are just some of the fantastic, locally-produced food you can bring back to the UK as a gift or as something for yourself. Not only will you be supporting the local community, but you'll get an authentic taste of the country you have visited that you just won't be able to recreate using your local supermarket.

[SPOTLIGHT]Friends and family will appreciate a gift they can use rather than a magnet or badge that gets thrown in the bin when you're not looking!

Art & crafts

Wood carvings, traditional paintings and handicrafts all make great souvenirs that are more likely to be kept for longer. Make sure you avoid goods that are made from protected species (e.g. tropical hardwoods) and think about what they will look like on display when you get home.

A unique picture, a handmade rug, or a locally made bag could be the perfect way to remember a great holiday.

Savvy souvenir shopping tips

Make sure you keep shopping savvy even while on holiday to avoid buying anything illegal or damaging.

Shop local: Seek out the local producers and artisans at markets, villages or even roadside stalls. A holiday off the beaten track is often the best quality experience of a country. Do your research with a thorough guide book or ask tour operators to point these places out.

Haggle: Probably the only time any Brit will try and negotiate a price is while on holiday. Haggling can be fun and part of the culture but just remember, a few pence to us can mean a lot to someone where you are visiting. Have a price in mind of what you are prepared to pay for it and see where your powers of negotiation get you. For help read Improve your bargaining skills: how to haggle.

Ask questions: If there is no label don't be afraid to ask questions about where, how and by whom an item was made. It will protect you from buying anything unethical or illegal but also provide a better story when you hand the gifts over back in the UK!

Buy useful things: Filling your home with useless tat is silly but many of us are guilty of it. Try to buy things that will have a use like a photo frame, photo album, purses, wallets, baskets or scarves. Friends and family will appreciate it far more and your home will be filled with functional items not just things that gather dust!

Don't buy at the airport: While most of us have good intentions to buy unique gifts and souvenirs when we go away, a third surveyed admitted to buying their items at the last minute at the airport. You will get cheaper items that are actually made in the country from local shops, markets and villages so make some time on your trip for seeking these out.

What are your experiences of purchasing holiday souvenirs or recieving holiday gifts? What was your best buy and what could you have done without? Let us know in the comment boxes below.

More stories on holidays:

The best way to pay for your holidays

14 things you must do before your holiday

How to get top travel insurance for your holiday

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