Evelyn Hannon: Aging Disgracefully


Find The Best Budget-Friendly Souvenirs For Kids

A shopping guide for travelling moms and grandmothers

I have four grandchildren under the age of 12. As a travel journalist I travel a lot. On each trip I try to bring one gift that will be of special interest to each child. Where possible I try to include an educational element. As a rule I try to stay within a $10-$15 budget. 

Here are 5 of my tried and true tricks for finding fun kids' gifts from far away places. I hope these ideas inspire you to find the types of goodies your own grandchildren will love.
Rule #1 
When travelling in foreign destinations my personal rule is to avoid tourist shops. They're seldom terribly interesting. Instead I head to supermarkets, farmer's markets, drug stores and specialty shops that offer up a creative treasure-trove of goodies. That's where I buy toothpaste, soaps and shampoo for the kiddies. Really!
Examples: Soaps, shower gels and powders sold in your hometown drugstores are utilitarian and everybody you know has tried them. However, a stop at a chemist in the U.K. or a pharmacie in France, will yield moderately priced body-care products that become a novelty when you bring them home. Au Printemps, the renown Paris Department store has a fantastic assortment of soaps, lotions and creams — probably the best in Paris. At Boots, in London, ask to see their offerings of inexpensive aromatherapy products. In South America, a familiar type of toothpaste (i.e., Crest) with the brand name written in Spanish can be matched with a new toothbrush and voila, a culturally-correct present for the young people on your "hard-to-buy-for" list.


Rule #2 
Generally, there will be wonderful books for children in museum gift shops but I try to avoid making purchases there. Instead I use my time in the boutique to gather ideas and then I pop into local bookshops including used bookstores to find titles that tell stories about that particular culture. Often these books are much less expensive in neighbourhood shops and this grandma has the added fun of browsing for her own reading as well. 
Example: On an Alaskan cruise that stopped in Ketchican, Alaska, I found the beautifully illustrated picture book, 'Mama, Do You Love Me' at the Scanlon Gallery, 318 Mission Street. In this timeless story of a child testing the limits of her dependence, an Native American mom proves that a parent's love is forever. (Chronicle Press) Board Book: $12.95 
Rule #3
Think ahead. Before I leave home I make a tracing of the littlest one's feet on a piece of paper. I put these outlines in my wallet and when I see adorable children's footwear in stores or in markets, I can easily find the correct size for my little ones by comparing the shoe soles with my drawings. And then, I go up a size because little feet grow so quickly and I want my gift to last as long as possible.
Example: In Beijing, China there are countless opportunities to buy the cutest little shoes at unbelievably low prices. They light up, they squeak, they are fabulously multi-colored and they are available in most Chinese city markets.
Rule #4
Make note of your grandkids' favorite t-shirts; the ones they wear over and over again. We all know that most tweens live in t-shirts. But, grandma needs to know which sizes to choose and (G-d help her) be able to identify the 'cool' factor. For each of the tweens in my family I pack one t-shirt that fits them now. When browsing through markets I don't try to estimate S, M. or L. Instead, I the samples in my backpack help me to purchase the perfect size. In terms of 'cool' I simply rely on what local teens are making a fuss about, say a prayer and purchase.
Example: In markets in Tel Aviv, Israel, I was able to find the designs that locals were raving about and hoped that my older grandkids would love them, too. They absolutely did! I admit; I was lucky.
Rule #5
Start collections for your young ones; on subsequent journeys you can search the second-hand shops and markets to add to those collections. Each addition will be appreciated. 
Examples: In the window of a shop in Argentina devoted to tutus and ballet shoes, I spied the first ballerina doll that started one child's collection. In Russia I found a fabulous hand-painted box for another, and in South America I picked up a gorgeous carved wooden horse that I have not seen anywhere else I've visited. All were around the $15.00 mark and were worth every bit of joy they brought to the kids. 
BONUS! I often try to get a photo of the person who has crafted or sold me the gift item. Then I can give this to the child along with the present. They love that!