Gift Shops are the Devil: How to Deal with Souvenirs & Spending on Vacation with Kids

My kid: “I swear I will use this can of fog every day, PLEASE Mom can I have it!” Every destination is about buying stuff and snacks. I can’t deal. How many times can I say it:

“This trip IS YOUR PRESENT!!!”

It’s kind of not their fault. We’re channeled through gift shops like cattle. The Vatican sells shot glasses and this apron for God’s sake:

I decided I needed to make the souvenir plan  a part of my preparation for traveling so I thought I’d share how we navigate this and I’d love to hear your ideas.

1.We start with a sit down family meeting. I discuss everything that we’re going to do on the trip. We go day by day through the itinerary so that everyone is prepared to pack, understand, and ask questions. I find that while I’m on the trip…navigating from point A to point B, keeping us in Uber’s and fed – it helps to have everyone in the know so that I can make things happen. I think we all like to know what’s going on – little kids are no exception. Of course I always share my TripIt itinerary with anyone on the trip too. (see my Must Have Travel Apps for more info.)

2. Second, I give each kid a budget. For our recent 10 day trip to the East Coast (itinerary here) it was $50 total per kid. They thought that was a small fortune at first until we talked about how it was going to shake out. Goes a lil something like this:

“Max, if you buy one jersey at the Red Sox game – you will blow $45 of your $50 on day 2” <<oh dang face>>

This is a great thing. They brainstorm how they’re going to spend their money and they visualize how that will look and feel. We talk about our favorite “must-have” things from which special stop on our trip and they write down their plan.

For our last few trips my kids have wanted to earn additional money to spend on the vacation so they ended up doing chores so that they could add to the allowance we gave them. I loved this because it really mirrored Paul and my’s efforts to do the same thing in saving for the trip. Felt like we were a little crew.

Sammy’s choice. She’ll never have to wonder where she got it, haha. She went for the something-little-at-every-stop approach.

3.  I’m not your sugar mama. Our rule is that every day the kids are allowed to have one snack and one drink that’s not water. If they choose to have a Slushie or hot chocolate or whatever while we’re out – it’s water for the rest of the day. Most days, my kids picked to save their “special drink” for dinner and their snack for the 3:00 hour.

If you think I sound like a dictator – you’ve clearly never spent any length of time traveling with a 1st grader. Sorry but this $tuff adds up and my bandwidth for “can I…can I…” is low when we’re already paying for travel.

Setting these boundaries up ahead of time is so nice because you avoid meltdowns and 1,344 questions throughout the day. It’s just understood. Ultimately, travel should be about learning and being together on vacation not “What can I buy”. I think a few adults could benefit from this philosophy too;)

I think another way to avoid the drama would be to start some sort of collection. If you started a snow globe collection, it would be understood that they could have a snow globe from each trip. This could turn into a tradition of sorts and it might turn into a treasured collection. I buy Christmas ornaments from everywhere we go. We pick them out together and when we put up the tree every year it’s a hodgepodge of great memories. It’s kinda tacky and I love it.

4. Finally – I have the kids write a little something in a journal on the ride home. I bought 3×4 spiral notebooks for .99 cents. I write down a few questions:

  • What was your favorite memory from the trip?
  • What did you learn?
  • What made you laugh?
  • What is something you will never forget?
  • What was your favorite city and why?
  • What did you discover?

The kids answers really surprised me! It’s fun to read, easy to pack, and I think it will be special to read in a few more years.

Like any other game plan and child rearing in general:  This only works if you do it. Sarcastic I know but…#parenting.

May you all breeze through the BS tchotchkes on your next trip. Leave your tips in the comments:) Thanks for reading!


3 replies
  1. Rickie
    Rickie says:

    I LOVE THIS! So far it’s all just been beach trips and trips out west to my family, but I believe this is gold for helping me navigate with the two littles solo and helping J understand funding his “surprises” as he likes to call them every time we walk the boardwalk.

  2. Kanika Bakshi
    Kanika Bakshi says:

    Interesting post. I liked your idea of making a diary for kids with few questions as by doing this we can also get ideas about what our kids are enjoying more on the trip and their interests as well. Keep posting such helpful articles.


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