Find The Best Budget-Friendly Souvenirs For Kids

A shopping guide for travelling moms and grandmothers

Find The Best Budget-Friendly Souvenirs For Kids

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!





8 Gifts That All Grandmothers Will Love

You'll never go wrong with these presents

8 Gifts That All Grandmothers Will Love

Birthdays, Mother's Day, I Love You Days. You want to show your mom and your children's grandma how much you love her but choosing gifts are getting harder and harder. She already has acquired so many things herself that really, all you are doing is duplicating. And, if it's not to her taste, she won't tell you and your present will be packed away in a closet. I know. I've been there with my own mom.

Now I'm a grandmother with a much better perspective of which gifts make a granny's heart absolutely melt with joy. I'd like to share five of the favorites I've received. Perhaps they will work for your moms, too.

Homemade cards or cards that young grandchildren bought themselves

My bulletin board is covered in homemade tributes from the little ones. Money cannot buy the unabashed sentiments expressed in a five-year-old's missive. Or when they lay out their own 'hard-saved' cash to buy the card and make sure that you know all about it. ie., 'Bubby, I bought this card with my own money.' Love xox Jessie or 'Bubby, this book cost me $8.00 and I paid for it out of my own money.' Love, Lotus.  


Coffee Table Books

Grandmothers love to show off photos of their families. My daughter Erica Ehm hit the birthday present jackpot when via Apple she created a picture book of a European holiday we all took together. Unbeknownst to me she had my grandchildren call me to reminisce about our trip. Speaker phone was on at their end and Erica was able to take notes of my highlights and put them into my book. You can be sure I show that book to every other grandma who comes to visit.

Straight from the heart

For Mother's Day my granddaughter Lotus bought a small heart-shaped box in the dollar store. She painted it red and put her house key in the box inviting me to visit her any time I liked. All I can say is, 'Be still my heart!'

My 70th Birthday

My daughters Leslie Ehm and Erica Ehm bought me a small video camera. On it they recorded mini segments from each member of the family offering their best wishes for the day and for my future birthdays. What an incredible gift. Not only is it useful for my work today but when I'm 90 and sitting in my rocking chair those little 2010 family videos will continue to make my heart sing.

Original art

Grandmas need not spend thousands on original art especially if you have young prodigies in the family. Other grannies can keep their Henry Moores, I will never, ever part with a sculpture called 'Fish Fantasy' created by my grandson Josh when he was three years old. What makes it extra special is that it has a real honest-to-goodness brass plate on it announcing who the artist is. These plates can be inexpensively purchased at engraving shops in malls and they work perfectly on kiddies' art projects that have been framed, as well. 
Now if my family is reading this blog, here are three more things I believe every grandmother young or older would love to receive.


Computer instruction from a grandchild

No matter how young a grandmother is we don't understand computers like our grandchildren do. I'd love an hour of their time to help me solve tech problems that seem difficult to me but are a snap for them. And they know about very cool apps and games that I might like to know about too. That's called 'keeping granny in the cyber loop.'

Shawls and scarves

Younger members of the family throw on a sweatshirt when they are cold. Many grandmothers rely on shawls to do that job. And, for me, scarves are a creative fashion statement as well. So, keep your eyes, peeled, kiddies! I would love the fact that you chose a shawl that especially matched an outfit that you've seen me wear. That shows me that you notice and are doubly caring.


Two months of Netfix

I've heard so much about Netflix and read about its 'cool' factor on Erica Ehm's blog. All I ask is that you get me started with their one month free subscription and your two paid months. Then I can continue on my own. I want to watch Mad Men and all the other TV specials and films everybody is talking about. I believe that all grandmothers should be up to date on their popular culture trivia. It makes them more interesting to talk to. Are you hearing me kiddies?



Do You Know What a Shawl Sister Is?

the kindness of strangers and how things come full circle

Do You Know What a Shawl Sister Is?

By now you must be sick and tired about reading that my bag was lost for 99 days coming home from Antarctica and then miraculously found courtesy of LAN Airlines. You probably also know all about how everyone online and off joined to try and locate my beautiful Indian pashmina.

Enough already. Right?

I feel the same way but something so very lovely has happened that I am compelled to blog about it if only to introduce you to the generosity of an American woman I met online but never face to face. Please bear with me. It's a sweet story.

On April 8, 2013 I received an email message from Facebook that said, Marie Fritz mentioned you in a comment. Marie wrote: 'Check out my latest post — it's yours Evelyn Hannon! Message me so that I can send it to you.'

Of course that's an intriguing message to receive especially from someone you've never met. I immediately checked her post and this is what I found. Marie wrote, 'For you, Evelyn Hannon. I just bought this item from a NOVICA artisan."

And this is what I saw. An absolutely beautifully embroidered shawl. For me. From an absolute stranger.

My first reaction was that my eyes immediately welled with tears. My second was to chastise myself for writing that 'poor me' blog lamenting the loss of my favorite pashmina. It wasn't the end of the world, after all, and now some sweet empathetic woman was trying her best  to make me feel better. I immediately wrote to Marie insisting that though I was pleased that she found the shawl for me, I absolutely had to pay for it myself. She wouldn't hear of it and true to her promise my new pashmina arrived via courier two weeks later. Oh my goodness that shawl was even nicer than I first imagined.

To add to the drama, soon afterwards, my lost suitcase was found with all my belongings in it and everything perfectly intact. My first thought was, 'Oh my G-d. Now I have two beautiful shawls and ... an awful lot more guilt. I immediately messaged Marie to tell her what had transpired. This was her exuberant, generous reply.

'Evelyn— I am OVER-THE-MOON happy for you! It was in my heart that it would be returned to you — and it was! You have made my day! I must come visit Toronto. It has been a long time since I've been there — maybe we can do lunch!'

This Facebook friend was simply just unbelievably thoughtful and caring!

Shortly after, I left for a two week assignment in Russia and I admit I selfishly made little time to think of anything expect 'getting my story.'  That is, until I walked into a gift shop and there hanging on a rack was an elegant, taupe and pink, oh so stylish, 80% wool, silk-fringed, made in Russia, absolutely wonderful woman's shawl. 

'I want that one.' I said to the clerk without hesitation. And she wrapped it and I brought it back to Canada with me.

Marie Fritz doesn't know about her new present bought in Moscow. She'll only find out about it when she reads this bog post.


'Marie, I hope you love your Russian gift. You are a very special woman and I'm extremely proud to call you my 'SHAWL SISTER.'

P.S. Yes, please come to Toronto. Yes, let's do lunch. My treat!