Souvenir hunting is a timeless travel tradition, so it’s only natural that we want a T-shirt from the dive center that arranged our whale shark sighting or a Trobriand wood carving from Papua New Guinea. But not all souvenirs are created equal. Here’s some advice on what to buy, and what to leave behind.
Buy: Local art, crafts and jewelry
Skip the cruise-port gift shops; take time instead to explore the side streets of your destination. Chances are you’ll find local artists, weavers or jewelers offering handmade wares — and you’ll end up with a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
Leave Behind: Anything made from marine life
All divers should know better than to buy souvenirs made from sea creatures, whether they’re loose shells, black-coral jewelry or shark’s teeth. Often these are not harvested sustainably, but even if they are, buying them still contributes to the market for unsustainable items.
Buy: Spices and sauces
Keep an eye out for street markets where you’ll probably find local spices and hot sauces for a song. On Grenada, for example, you can snag whole nutmeg, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and (carry-on size) bottles of vanilla extract — all locally grown — for around $10.
Leave Behind: Anything in large bottles, like liquor
The TSA liquids ban killed the glory days of duty-free liquor. Yes, you can carry it on the plane, but unless you fly direct to your home city, chances are you’ll have to recover your checked luggage and pack the bottles when you change planes. It isn’t worth the risk of spiking your scuba gear with coconut rum and glass shards.
If you do hit the gift shop, T-shirts are always a safe bet. They’re functional, easy to pack and — let’s face it — badges of honor on any serious dive boat. Plus you can enjoy these reminders of your dive vacations every time you mow the yard.
Leave Behind: Gems and electronics
The vast swaths of jewelry and electronics shops that populate Caribbean tourist zones really aren’t a great deal — chances are you can find better deals at home. Save your souvenir dollars instead for items unique to your destination.
Indonesian wooden dolls; photo courtesy Bayu Harsa