It’s easy to get sucked into shopping at tourist traps while traveling abroad. But countries around the world have unique ties to meaningful gifts — you just have to know what to look for. Time to up your gift-giving game!
Go for the: Cork
Portugal boasts around 730 thousand hectares of cork oak trees, making the country the leading exporter of this material worldwide. It was during the mid-to-late 15th century that the Portuguese built ships and caravels with cork oak wood. Now, it’s used to make jewelry, purses, and even ties.
Go for the: Lace
Belgium isn’t just a mecca for chocolate and beer lovers; lace is a vital contributor to the country’s economy. The popularity of lace cuffs and collars throughout the Renaissance transformed Brussels and Bruges into some of the top lace-producing centers in the world. If you don’t want to break the bank on large and intricate works, most shops in the cities sell smaller, quality lace pieces.
Go for the: Leather
Cattle brought to Argentina by colonial settlers helped the country become the leather-producing hub it is today. Stop by the leather markets that fill the streets of Villa Crespo and Montserrat in Buenos Aires. You can scout out the best quality by making sure the stitching and seams are the same color as the actual item. And remember: a plastic odor is a good indicator that the material isn’t the real deal.
Go for the: Silk
Legend has it that Empress Hsi Ling Shi discovered this luxurious fabric when a silkworm cocoon fell into her lap. Folklore or not, it’s undeniable that China held a global monopoly on silk production for nearly three millennia. Trace its roots at the Suzhou Silk Museum or head over to the Silk Market in Beijing to put your bargaining skills to the test.
Go for the: Beer Stein
You don’t have to hit Oktoberfest to return with a beer stein from Germany. This product became synonymous with the country when the bubonic plague sparked a German law requiring all beverage containers to have lids. When you bring home your own nowadays, ensure it’s not an imitation by keeping an eye out for the “Made in Germany” label.
Go for the: Olive Oil
Greece has strong ties to olive oil thanks to Crete’s early cultivation of olive trees during the Neolithic period. Pay a visit to the Agricultural Cooperative of Kritsa to purchase the Rolls Royce of oils. Or, opt for olive oil-infused soaps and cosmetics if a bottle doesn’t fit your carry-on requirements.
Go for the: Ceramics
Spaniards used ceramic tiles for decoration and construction dating back to Medieval times. Parc Güell and Casa Batlló show how magnificent these azulejos (tiles) truly are. You can buy traditional Castilian ceramics and visit the historic Ceramic Museum in the little town of Talavera de la Reina.
Go for the: Matroyshka Dolls
In 1890, a Russian artist intrigued by Japanese nesting dolls made his own figurine to represent Russian families. Today, the craftsmanship remains unchanged. Instead of purchasing pricey stacking dolls from the street vendors along Old Arbat, head on over to Moscow’s Izmailovsky Market for the best deals.
Looking for a bigger gesture to impress that special someone during the holidays? Swap the wrapping paper for a plane ticket instead. These romantic getaways and bucket-list adventures should give you plenty of ideas.