I am in a constant struggle to buy new and exciting gifts for friends and family (especially the friends that watch Babka and Latke, so that we can travel). Having been on close to a zillion cruises to the Caribbean (only a slight exaggeration), I can tell you that buying rum gets old fast. Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, here are my top tips for gift buying while traveling:
Buy whatever is the local thing. When we were in Madeira recently, we visited Blandy’s Wine Lodge and brought home several bottles of wine. Booze is usually a good gift, and superb booze is always welcome with my friends. We’ve also bought local rums, olive oils, and more.
Nobody wants one more tchotchke that they need to find a place for on the mantle. Trust me on this. Skip the figurines and go straight for something delicious. While in Spain, we bought our friends some ham, but it was no ordinary ham. This particular product came from pigs that dine exclusively on acorns, making them extra tasty. In addition to the booze noted above, we routinely bring home chocolates, olives, candies, and any other local treat that is packaged appropriately for airplane travel. (This is an important point: make sure you can bring whatever you buy back into the country. No fresh fruits or meats!)
THINGS IN OTHER LANGUAGES
Items that you or your loved ones would normally use are a good gift. One of my favorite souvenirs is from our first trip to Italy in 2001. I bought a simple ceramic olive oil dispenser with a wooden lid, and the front reads Olio. I use this thing almost every day and enjoy remembering our trips to Italy. I’m also always reminded that I should go back to Italy. Soon.
GO OUT OF YOUR WAY
One of the best parts of traveling is seeing new places and meeting new people. Go out of your way to find small, artisan shops. Spend a few extra minutes talking to shopkeepers. Get the story behind the product. Then, when you buy your friends yet another bowl, you can tell them where it came from, who made it, and what makes it so unique. We’ve bought handmade baskets in Hawaii and pottery in Canada. Whatever it is, make it special.
If there is a story behind the purchase, even better. On one of our first cruises, we stopped in Cozumel, and I found a painted planter that I thought was just fantastic. A three-foot high, large planter. Naturally, I bought it. (Hey! It was cheap!) FKGuy was not pleased as he was schlepping it back to the ship. He was even more displeased when he saw that it took over the entire couch in our room. Now, however, he enjoys telling everyone who notices the planter about how it took over our entire cruise ship cabin for the better part of a week. That was a while ago, and he has gotten a lot of mileage out of that planter, although I am not sure he has completely forgiven me for the whole incident.
HOW WILL YOU GET IT HOME?
This is an important one. You don’t want to end up like me, with a giant planter in your cabin. But it is of particular importance if you are traveling by plane. While the giant elephant statue looks great, it may not fit in your luggage. Make sure you account for packing breakable items, as well as anything large. You can always pack an extra duffel bag flat inside your suitcase, but you may incur hefty baggage fees on your return. Think about it before you buy.
Whatever you choose to buy for your friends and family, make it meaningful. Make it something they will enjoy. And please, make it something that you can easily bring home.