8 Tips For Finding Free Souvenirs You Can Use As Unique Wall Decor

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I love traveling, and always look for unusual and interesting things to bring home with me. It’s so much fun to display all the mementos on your walls, and they bring back those happy memories every time you look at them.

Photos are nice of course, but I also like to complement them with other items from faraway places. And they don’t have to be pricey works of art – there are lots of fun items available for free in most locations.

Warning: this can be quite an addictive hobby. I never travel with fewer than 2 huge suitcases (and one carry-on) so I have plenty of room for all my finds. This was much easier (and cheaper) before the airlines started charging for everything, but what can you do.

Here are a few things I always look for:

1. Free Postcards

You know those racks with free postcards that you see in some clubs, bars and restaurants here in the US? Look for them in other countries as well – they make for unique and fun wall decor. When we were on Iceland, I found one in a dark, downstairs space of a restaurant (I was looking for a bathroom, not snooping around!). It contained lots of interesting cards and I picked up several, but this Austin Powers one is my favorite. Here are 2 more I’ve found:

3. Menus & Napkins

I mentioned this in my Decorating on a Budget post as well, but here it is again: When eating in a restaurant, ask if you can keep the menu, or see if they have a take-out menu – they’re always free! They look great framed on a wall in the kitchen or dining room, and they are great resources if you want to try to recreate a dish you had in a particular restaurant at home. Sometimes the napkins can be really fun too, and as long as they’re not fabric, you don’t even have to ask if you can take one.

2. Coasters

I always ask if I may keep the coaster in bars and restaurants, and 99% of the time, they say yes. Free souvenir/decoration! This is a fun one I brought home from Paris:

4. Magazines/Ads

Look for free magazines and ads for various things. While they may not be super exciting to people who live there all the time, they might be really fun for you. Here in Boston, we have a free bi-weekly one called The Improper Bostonian. A few years ago, they had a full page ad for (a Swedish brand) vodka with a picture of a bull terrier. One of my friends in Sweden had a bull terrier (and who doesn’t like vodka?), so I cut that out and sent it to her. She loved it and still has it up on her wall.

5. Shopping Bags

This one is technically free, but you usually have to buy something to get them… although if you’re browsing around a store and notice they have fantastic bags, by all means, ask if you can have one, or buy one for a few pennies. You could also walk in with an armful of stuff and ask if they would be willing to give you a bag since you have too much to carry. I can’t think of a reason why they wouldn’t, since you’ll be walking around advertising their shop for the rest of the day. Anyway, back to the bags. Some are really creative and colorful and look great framed on a wall at home. Or if you just like part of the design on the bag, cut that out and frame it.

Here are 3 that I have saved (one from Paris, one from Cambridge, MA, and one from Stockholm):

Note about bags: as you can see, these have creases on them because I wasn’t thinking and folded them when I put them in my suitcase (I’ve had these for a long time). I have since learned to either lay them out flat, or even better, roll them around something. I like to bring cardboard cores from either paper towels, aluminum foil, or gift wrap and use those. You can roll a whole bunch of bags on top of each other and they stay nice and flat. Also works great for table cloths and fabric napkins.

6. Labels

Food and drink labels can be so pretty, and it’s especially fun to keep and display them if you had a specific experience associated with them. If you go on a wine-tasting trip for example, ask if you can keep the labels from some of the bottles of wine you drank. Or, browse around in a local grocery store and pick up inexpensive items with labels you can cut out or detach in your hotel room and bring home.

Sometimes you can find really funny ones too. I’ve brought home a bottle of shower gel called “Discussion” (I have no idea why it’s called that, but it cracks me up) and a travel set of plastic plates and utensils called “Trippy”.

7. Travel Journal

Keep a travel journal. Jot down something every day accompanied by a small sketch and ask your travel companions to do the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re not an artist, just draw a quick impression from the day, and once you’re back home, turn the book into a collage in a frame, maybe with some photos, ticket stubs, bottle caps, etc. If you don’t want to cut up the book, just scan or copy the pages.

8. Shells & Fossils

If you’re on a beach vacation, take some time to search for shells and fossils. Back home, display them in a shadow box, or glue them to a sturdy board, or a picture frame, in an interesting pattern. You can also drill holes in the shells and hang them on a string.


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