Bringing Souvenirs Safely Home

An antique silver teapot that once belonged to my grandmother, with all the memories of tea at precisely 3:30 each afternoon attached. Two huge prints that Mr. FGH and I bought along the Seine, at the bookseller stalls. An antique Madonna that took up a whole “carry-on” all by herself, wedged between two pairs of sweaters and wrapped with every t-shirt we both took on the trip. You name it, Mr. FGH and I have figured out how to get it home after a trip without shipping, per se. Love antique souvenirs? Fragile, oversized or precious, here are my best tips for Bringing Souvenirs Home Safely.

Bringing Souvenirs Safely Home


Bringing Souvenirs Safely Home


Over the years, I’ve carried home more things in my luggage than you could imagine. Long before, I became an antique dealer, I carried precious things home from Europe to the states. When I was 15, I went antique shopping in the attic of my grandparent’s large home, and toted a few things home with me. {with their permission, of course.} Once I married, I again asked for “a few things” from the attic of my parents-in-law, that were lingering there, forgotten. Mr. FGH was sure “it wouldn’t fit!” but I assured him I was an old hand at making it work, and work it did!!


Here are my best tips for taking home those wonderful antique souvenirs from your travels:


For when it’s fragile, precious or just precious to you, pack it in your personal item {hand luggage} and take it on the plane.

When I found a 17th century Madonna I fell head over heels in love with at the Parma, Italy, antique show, I got the largest “personal item” bag you are allowed to have, and carefully nestled her inside. When my grandmother gave me her silver teapot, I wrapped it in bubble wrap and put it in my large hand bag/tote. You want to put things like this in a bag only you will carry, and touch.

Surround it with your sweaters and or scarves, and keep it with you where you can see it.  You don’t want to risk checking in your most precious souvenirs, or putting it in the overhead compartment, because no matter how well you bubble wrap something, it’s not worth risking it. {You know how people squeeze in their bags or shove another bag on top of others if they can!}

If it’s too big to go in our personal bag, put it in a really sturdy carry-on. The life-sized Madonna bust I bought in Belgium was something we didn’t want to ship, nor did I want to check it in. I ended up measuring very carefully, and buying an inexpensive extra suitcase in Europe. Not for the Madonna, but to put all the things that would normally go into my trustworthy carry-on in. That {my regular} carry-on was filled with the bubble-wrapped Madonna, layered between every sweater and t-shirt both of us took on our trip. She did have to go in the overhead compartment, but my carry-on can practically be danced on by gorillas so that was as safe as I could make her.


Bringing Souvenirs Safely Home


For all the small antique souvenirs you buy, but you are fine with packing them in your suitcase.

Because I am an antique dealer, we often have suitcases filled with more little antiques than clothing! But even if you are not a dealer like I am, you may pick up some things for friends and family, or a small collection of things you love for yourself that are fairly easy to pack. First, I always suggest you take some bubblewrap in your suitcase from home, and some tape. Wrap things that need it in some bubble wrap, and then roll them in your sweaters, your pants, your socks etc. Small breakables can sometimes fit in shoes. Be creative, just keep an eye on the weight of your suitcase.


For something you adore but it won’t fit in a suitcase.

If you fall in love with something that is larger than a suitcase, or a different shape, check out what the airline regulations are. Not technically a souvenir, but I’ve convinced Mr. FGH on many occasions that a small chair or ladder was a souvenir!

I’ve seen people bring all sorts of things to the airlines check-in counter in Europe, bubble wrapped. There are size limits, but often you can have an antique store either shrink wrap something for you {think something unbreakable} or crate it for an extra fee. Wrap {or have it done} oddly shaped souvenirs before you get to the airport. It will make you feel better if you are checking in a sturdy box or well-wrapped object than if you are trying to stick tape here and there at the airport. Just be sure to check on the size and weight limits with the airline you are flying, and if they can give you an idea of cost. Some antique shops may even be willing to deliver it to the airport for you when you are leaving.


For when you hit the dreamiest flea market collection and it’s a lot of souvenirs.


Sometimes, you are out there traveling, minding your own business, and fate strikes. Like when you come across the most incredible collection of antique and vintage cameras. So while you’ve left extra room in your own suitcase, and threatened your husband to only take what he absolutely NEEDS so he has plenty of room for antiques, it’s not enough. Your original estimate for how much space you might need went straight out the window.

Here you have two options. I usually end up going to a store and buying an inexpensive extra suitcase. Again, that inexpensive suitcase is for clothes {I put our easily replaceable t shirts, jeans and shoes in that one.} It doesn’t cost that much to take an extra suitcase, check with your airline. I’ve found it much, much less expensive than shipping boxes from Europe to the states. Or you can pack an expandable duffel bag that fits in your suitcase on your way to your vacation, and then use it as an extra bag on the way home for clothes.

Failing that, you can ship boxes to yourself at home. It isn’t as expensive as you’d think, and there’s a box that feels like Christmas that is coming in the mail to you, from you, once you arrive back at home.

Vintage Camera


For when you fall in love with art.

I fell in love with a collection of antique French fashion prints while walking around the bookstalls next to the Seine one year. Deeply, madly. But I knew that no matter how much cardboard I sandwiched these in between, there was a good chance they would get bent corners or wrinkles. So my father-in-law sandwiched them between two really sturdy pieces of cardboard, and I hand carried them on the plane. I was sure I would have “a lot of ‘splaining to do” to the airline check in stewardess since I had a personal bag and a carry-on, but no one even said anything. As a general rule, if it’s relatively small and flat you can probably get away with it, but be prepared to check your carry-on, just in case someone mentions you have too many things.

For when you want to make friends with customs.

In general, you are allowed to import $800.00 worth of goods to the states per person each time, without paying import duties. So divide and conquer. You can also import the same amount in shipping per box. So if you bought a lot, it pays to ship the least breakable, precious items to yourself via the postal service. It’s been my experience that you can ship big boxes from Europe for way less than it would cost you to ship them TO Europe via our own USPS.

There are lots of things you can, and can’t bring home as a souvenir. The Customs and Border Patrol has a great website where you can find out all about it. Each state also has their own rules, I remember that my European father-in-law was extremely miffed when upon arriving here one year, the customs agent took away his French Saucisse. Generally, food, plant and animal souvenirs are risky. Some shells are also prohibited, I suggest you familiarize yourself with all this before going shopping!

I hope you have found this post, Bringing Souvenirs Safely Home, helpful for your next trip!


I’ve just recently brought home a suitcase full of small antique souvenirs, and also some more breakable ones in my hand luggage. : )  You will find them sprinkled throughout the website.

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8 thoughts on “Bringing Souvenirs Safely Home”

  1. All great travel tips! Another I have found us to take photos of everything purchased along with a photo of the receipt. If items are lost or damaged, these can be invaluable for insurance.

  2. Mary Anna Bailer

    “I went antique shopping in the attic” Perfect!

    I will follow your wise advice to pack bubble wrap and tape. Easy and so sensible.

    1. Mary Anna, : ) That is my favorite place to shop, unfortunately I’ve run out of European relatives with great attics!!

  3. Great tips Lidy! I have also wrapped a porcelain pitcher and confit pot in our tees and jeans, packed my clothes into a French straw shopping bag, then loaded it all into my suitcase! Where there’s a will,there’s a way!

  4. Janet, you’re my kind of traveler! That’s my motto pretty much for everything in life.

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