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Unique and Inexpensive Souvenirs To Buy Friends and Family

Posted by Emily Cummings on 3/8/17 1:25 PM

ILP ThailandOf course you want to bring home gifts from all of your foreign travels…but what if you’ve spent most of your money already?

You have this dream of coming home from living in a foreign country and having these really cute and personal and amazing gifts from the places you’ve visited. But what’s a traveler to do when all that extra cash has instead gone to donuts at your favorite Lithuanian cafe or pina coladas at these top beaches in Mexico? Well, we’ve got good news. No matter where you are in the world (even when living in Ukraine or Thailand or everywhere in between!) we’ve got a list of unique but affordable souvenirs for your friends and family:

  • Snacks
  • Shop Local Supermarkets
  • Something Cultural
  • Christmas Ornaments 
  • Jewelry 
  • Postcards
  • Art 
  • Nothing At All! (Sorta)


I’m not one for trinkets and wouldn’t really know what to do with a tiny figurine from some country my friend went to…So I tend to bring home snacks from where I’ve visited to give to friends and family. Not everyone is going to find meaning in that cheap little trinket you bought in Poland, but everyone can appreciate a yummy treat right? Amazing chocolate bars from Europe and that candy-cookie-thing called Pocky my friends and I were obsessed with in China? Yep. All things I bought for myself…and got a few extras for friends. All super unique, inexpensive and personal. 

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Shop Local Supermarkets 

This is sorta like the snack gift but goes a bit further; you can find tons of really neat or unique gifts to buy people at a good price here. Things like spicy mustards from France, or spices so they can make their own Thai curry.  Just remember; all of these products need to be able to go through customs (so no liquids over 3 oz in your carry on or fruit, etc!).

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Something Cultural

Again, I like more practical gifts instead of just knickknacks but it’s still very cool to gift things that are super cultural. Think tea towels from your weekend in London, chopsticks from China or Thailand, beach wraps in the Dominican Republic…you get the picture. Remember to buy multiples to get a better deal!

ILP Thailand

Christmas Ornaments 

Be careful of spending too much on a legitimate Christmas ornament, because it would be easy to make your own. Maybe buy a set of Russian nesting dolls (or Ukrainian painted eggs) and looping around a ribbon for a whole set of DIY ornaments. Poke around at old flea markets and see if you can make something into a little ornament for all your friends and family. Living abroad somewhere for a semester lets you hunt around for the perfect (and cheap) gift, so keep your eyes peeled. This is an especially great gift if your semester abroad is during the Fall with ILP because you'll be coming home right before Christmas!

ILP Russia


Outside of the touristy areas, stop by your local markets, and see if you can get jewelry for very affordable prices. Make friends with the sweet lady who weaves bracelets at the markets in Mexico or keep a look out for glass earrings while on vacation in Italy - remember to bargain!

ILP Mexico


You can get the typical cityscape ones, or keep an eye out for artsy/vintage postcards for sale at local cafes. They’re inexpensive and would make a great gift especially if you got it framed for your friends and family! Write a message about why you bought this specific postcard for them (picked this up for you while visiting Sweden because I miss our IKEA trips!) Perfect for the art lovers in your life.

We especially love this idea for thanking anyone who donated to your semester abroad. Did anyone help you with fundraising? Donate supplies for your classes? Thank them by mailing a thank you postcard while living across the world!

ILP China


On that note, you can get local prints or paintings done for a whole range of prices. Obviously, this could get pretty expensive if you got huge murals for all your friends, but think about getting their name written in Chinese by your Chinese friend (who also teaches calligraphy) or buying some painted seashells while in the Caribbean. You can typically find beautiful 4x6 inch paintings that won't take up any room in your suitcase.

ILP Europe

Nothing At All! (Sorta)

Or, don’t buy your friends anything at all! Come home from your semester abroad and tell everyone to come to your house for a traditional meal from where you’ve been living. So before you leave, ask your cute host mom to teach you her borscht recipe, watch that man on the corner carefully so you can fold your own dumplings or finally master the art of frying plantains. Invite everyone over and share a bit about what life what like in a foreign country!

ILP China

Come check out ILP’s blog about for more find hidden gems and to discover more travel destinations for to you check out during your semester abroad. Oh, and click on that button to know more tips to save money! (Because we all love saving money). 

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Topics: Life Abroad, Saving Money

Exploring The World For Over 25 Years

Over the years of assisting more than 6,000 volunteers in their desire to travel and make a difference in the lives of others, ILP has seen what works and what doesn't.

We've gathered our tips here for making your semester abroad a successful one.


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