December 20, 2014

Travel Decorating: Make Your Home Look Amazing with Those International Souvenirs

Once you’ve done the travel circuit for a while, you’ll notice that it isn’t all kitschy crap at some of those street stalls and tourist shops. We’ve found elegant pieces of Czech crystal, fun Polish pottery, unique Middle Eastern carpets and hand-blown Egyptian glass holiday ornaments to name just a few items. We’ve also been able to coordinate all of these pieces into our home’s décor in a way that receive tons of compliments on. Here are a few tips to pull off a successful travel decorating experience for yourself.

Be comfortable with eclecticism.

Whether you are moving forward with higher-end loft decorating, exploring a more tribal, travel-themed décor or going the traditional route with crystal and paisley throws, travel decorating can work for you. At a fraction of the usual home design cost. Explore the shopping options on each trip you take with home design in mind. Are there some unusual oil paintings available? Hand-woven table runners from Peru’s Sacred Valley? Purchase your souvenirs with your home in mind, and start laying the groundwork for a true showcase.

Pay attention to what will actually fit in your luggage.

Textile items are always doable of course, but if you lean more towards unframed street art that you can carry in an art tube, you’ll be able to start collecting a few treasures while you’re still on a backpacking budget.  When luggage permits, I have been known to bring home a hand-carved Balinese frame or two. But if I’m on a one-bag trip, it’s charcoal sketches and street-vendor water colors all the way.

Make a statement for a song.

Street-side art purchases aren’t the only affordable travel decorating souvenir. I’m a huge fan of picking up throw pillow covers to use on couches, guest beds and larger sitting cushions for the floor. If there happens to be a coordinating lap blanket at the same store, I’ll toss that into the mix as well. Table cloths and piano scarves are other huge hits, both from a home décor and gift perspective.

Functionality is critical to long-term enjoyment.

If you’re dishing out travel monies on them, these should be items you’ll be able to enjoy for years. That doesn’t mean you have to dish out for the most expensive items at every specialty store. It does mean that you’ll need to think about what you’ll be using these items for. If you just pick up the smallest trinket to have a souvenir, then you’re really better off skipping that purchase altogether. It’ll just end up collecting dust. On the other hand, fruit bowls, candle sticks and hand-woven baskets purchased from around the world see daily and weekly use in our home. I’m just sayin’.

Christmas tree ornaments can make amazing travel souvenirs as well.

A collection of international holiday ornaments is something to consider. And I’m not talking tacky ornaments. I’m suggesting holiday items that might be a bit pricey per ornament if you were decorating your tree from the ground up, but that make an affordable, elegant souvenir from a holiday that will fit easily into your carry-on bag. Some of the items on our annual Christmas tree include hand-painted cloisonné bells, beaded crystal snowflakes, gilded Egyptian glass baubles, porcelain angels, a variety of special ornaments from the Christmas markets in Germany and hand-tatted New England lace.

You can also go rustic with this strategy, and when those types of ornaments call my name, I incorporate them into a kitchen tree that I decorate in a less formal style. These types of ornaments make great gift-wrapping decorations as well. I brought home a number of hand-painted llama ornaments made from dough that I purchased on a trip to Ecuador. They looked great tied onto holiday gifts of baked goods.

These are some of our strategies for incorporating travel decorating on the home front. I’d love to hear some additional tips from other expats and adventure travelers.

Photo Credit: The Cambodian fabric photo was shot by the folks here at Trek Hound, but is available through a creative commons agreement on our sister site, Pictures of Travel Places.