Since I scrapbook, I try not to purchase too much and I use free items as souvenirs. Menus, maps, publications and receipts make for a great scrapbook page. Other things I look for are art-work, unique statues/sculptures or one-of-a-kind housewares. Staple souvenirs I collect from each destination are patches. I sew the patch onto a backpack I've had since high school. I took this bag on my first trip abroad and the idea stuck. It has proven to be a great conversation starter when I am sitting alone in an airport.
Another neat idea I picked up a few years ago is to find things to frame. Currency looks beautiful matted and framed. I met a lady who collected menus on her trip to France. She had them matted and framed, then displayed throughout her kitchen. On my cousin's last trip to Africa, I was gifted a drum. I loved it. On top I placed a wooden Geisha doll I got in Japan. The decor at my place is very United Nations with trinkets that have no apparent connection or theme - but that is the point. I take what I collect on my travels and a create an environment (both abstract and concrete) that is inspiring and reflective of my lifestyle. I do collect the cute I ♥____ T-shirts and key chains - those come in handy.
Sometimes people forget about using their camera to collect souvenirs. Don't want to buy it, snap a picture of it. Want to remember a beautiful desert or delicious meal? Snap! Flirted with a cute waiter? Snap! Snap! Picture can be the best souvenirs.
I missed out on one of these from Kingston b/c someone was rushing me.
Shopping also gives you a great opportunity meet and interact with the locals. They’ll probably ask "Where are you from? " and " How long you are visiting?" Those are great conversation starters. You never know - that simple interaction could take your trip in an entire new direction. A friend of mine was invited to a wedding in Cambodia by his cab driver. How neat is that?