Travel Gift Buying Dos & Don’ts

July 15, 2013    |    By +
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summer travel gift etiquetteWe’ve all been there: it’ the last day of your vacation somewhere amazing and you realize that the crew at the office, your best friend and your mom are probably expecting a little trinket from your far-off travels. What do you do? You already spent your vacation budget and will be getting home on fumes. Do you have to buy everyone at the office something they’ll just throw away? Does your family deserve something pricey that might not even fit in your suitcase?  Here are some rules to help answer these questions and prevent drama that could ruin your vacation buzz when you return.


…Make a list of everyone you think you should buy for and determine who can get a group gift vs an individual one.

…Determine your budget for gifts before starting shopping so that you don’t go overboard and end up without something for yourself. In some places a dollar goes a long way, while in others you’ll need to plan on at least $5 – $10 per person.

…Get something for the whole office to share like a local delicacy. That way no one feels left out and its only one thing to fit in your suitcase.

…Buy jewelry specific to the destination for your mom and close girlfriends. You know what they like and jewelry is easy to pack because it’s small.

…Buy something uniquely from or made in your destination like spices, crafts, cloths and cultural objects. Find out the story or a recipe to go with them to make the gifts more meaningful and fun to give.

…Ship bulky gift items home if you have to buy them. Don’t pack them. It might take longer to get home, but it is less likely to get lost. I bought my sister a large jade carving of a horse when I was in China, I packed it up carefully and shipped it out before I left the country. It arrived in one piece and my sister still loves it 10 years later.


…Buy something different for each person.  It’s totally fine to buy the same travel souvenir for everyone.

…Accept money to buy something bulky or extravagant. You risk it getting lost or stolen and here’s a tip: Prada isn’t cheaper in Italy, so don’t get suckered into buying a $3,000 satchel while in the Amalfi Coast.

…Buy anything breakable like pottery or pastries. They will break in transit.

…Get something you can get back at home just because it says the name of the country/city on it. i.e. shot glasses, key chains, etc. The only time this is okay is if you know the person collects them.

…Spend a lot of money. Seriously most of this stuff, no matter how amazing, ends up at their next yard sale so don’t spend a lot.

See all of my etiquette advice for guidance on how to avoid ruffling feathers on special occasions. You can also check out our favorite gifts for travelers whether saying “bon voyage” to someone you love, or yourself!

summer travel gift dos and donts

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Meet the Gurus

Kathryn D.W.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is the senior manager of content at She was formerly the executive editor at Honolulu Magazine, and is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Shopping on Oahu. Her career has included staff positions at Country Living Gardener and Power & Motoryacht. Her latest book is "Hawaii's Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!"

Gwen P.
Gwen is the Editorial Curator at In addition to writing blogs, she creates gift guides, curates the site, and produces content for our social media channels. As a freelance writer, she created blogs on fashion, art, travel, health and lifestyle. A talented jewelry designer, she's also a yogi and a hospital volunteer with her therapy dog, Lilo, a Pomeranian.