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The Best Travel Tip Ever: Look But Don't Buy!

Updated on June 26, 2019
GeorgeneMBramlage profile image

I love to travel and I love to shop. On a trip to Poland, I realized that buying pottery and glass ornaments to carry home is absurd.

Look, But Don't Buy!

Why is "Look, but don't buy!" my number one travel tip? This became my motto because of my observations and experiences during several trips to my ancestral Poland.

Primarily, following my tip makes packing for the bulk of your trip, but especially the homeward trip light and easy. Following this tip avoids damaged or ruined purchases and disappointment. But it can lead to getting significant mementos home.

This lens focuses on visual exploration and paying attention to the thousand-and-one souvenir items competing for a traveler's attention. "Window shopping" becomes an educational experience. A close Israeli friend once told me that you could tell more about a country from exploring its material culture in malls, markets and gifts shops than by haunting museums.

However, this exploration also leaves an opening to decide what you really have to buy and carry home, or might be able to buy from an online merchant once at home. I'll also show, from my personal experiences, how you can substitute small, lightweight memorabilia for heavier, cumbersome and breakable objects.

Taking a long hard look can increase your powers of observation and also leads to memories. Strengthen memories with business cards, easy-to-pack pamphlets and postcards, and your own photos. Keep a travel diary.



Travel Tip #1

"He who would travel happily must travel light."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

French Writer 1900-1944

Souvenirs Travel Home

Homeward bound: Jana Pawła II Kraków–Balice, Poland airport.  © Georgene A. Bramlage
Homeward bound: Jana Pawła II Kraków–Balice, Poland airport. © Georgene A. Bramlage

Travel Tip #2

Leave your shopping list at home!

Go with the flow.

Have fun by looking and appreciating what's around you.

Plenty of Goodies to Buy on the Streets of Krakow and Zakopane

Street vendors. musicians, and small farm shops are great for watching people.
Street vendors. musicians, and small farm shops are great for watching people. | Source

Travel Tip #3

Enjoy the color and vibrancy of the local markets and market squares. Take pictures and buy postcards; collect teabags, soup packets, and chocolate bars. Keep a travel diary; use business cards as reminders of where you've been, what you've eaten and what pleases you the most.

My Reminders of Poland

Polish blown-glass Christmas ornaments bought here in the U.S.  The house reminds me of architecture of Beskid mountain houses.
Polish blown-glass Christmas ornaments bought here in the U.S. The house reminds me of architecture of Beskid mountain houses. | Source
One of several sets of costumed dolls - baby-doll style - bought in a Cepelia shop.  This couple is dressed in the Lowicz-style from central Poland near Warsaw.  Items like these can be wrapped in clothing and placed in the middle of carry-on luggage
One of several sets of costumed dolls - baby-doll style - bought in a Cepelia shop. This couple is dressed in the Lowicz-style from central Poland near Warsaw. Items like these can be wrapped in clothing and placed in the middle of carry-on luggage | Source
This Madonna, most probably carved of larch wood, was made by and purchased from a woodcarver in the village of Chocholow.  Small statues like these are easy enough to carry, wrapped in tissue, in a camera bag or backpack.
This Madonna, most probably carved of larch wood, was made by and purchased from a woodcarver in the village of Chocholow. Small statues like these are easy enough to carry, wrapped in tissue, in a camera bag or backpack. | Source
Packets of types of soup hardly seen in the U.S. with instructions written in Polish make great little gifts for friends and relatives.  They are especially nice if the recipients are both Polish and have a sense of humor.
Packets of types of soup hardly seen in the U.S. with instructions written in Polish make great little gifts for friends and relatives. They are especially nice if the recipients are both Polish and have a sense of humor. | Source
 Wood plates decorate the interior of Polish homes.  They're easy to find in gift shops and ethnographic museums and easy to carry home in suitcases.  The large, complex ones are expensive.,
Wood plates decorate the interior of Polish homes. They're easy to find in gift shops and ethnographic museums and easy to carry home in suitcases. The large, complex ones are expensive., | Source

Lightweight and Inexpensive Mementos

Easy-to-pack and sure-to-please friends and relatives, especially those with a sense of humor.

  • My sister hates to travel, but enjoys knowing what I do. She also, like most of us, has enough stuff. So, I collect for her items typical to Poland like sugar packets which really do vary in different countries, tea bags, small pieces of chocolate often served with a cup of coffee, napkins, and complimentary bottles of local toiletries.
  • I love Boleslawiec Polish pottery but it is too heavy and cumbersome to pack for the trip back home. There are plenty of importers and wholesalers in the U.S. with selections just as good as those at the various factories. If you want a memento, why not look for a tablecloth (!) in a typical pottery pattern? I've never seen one for sale in the U.S., but did buy one at a Polish factory outlet store. Most factory store also have larger than life items on display. These make great pictures, especially with you in one.
  • Amber is everywhere, but specially in Gdansk and Krakow. Because so much of amber jewelry's beauty and worth is in the sterling silver setting, I prefer to buy in established stores around the marketplaces in Gdansk and Warsaw, and the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) in Krakow. It is possible to buy amber at home, but I do believe the selection, and at times, the prices are greater in Poland. And you can always wear your purchases home or tuck them, wrapped in tissue, at the bottom of a camera bag or backpack. It pays to read up on buying amber before you travel so you get some idea of value and what you want.
  • Lapel pins make great souvenirs for yourself or gifts for friends and relatives. Most museums like the Warsaw Uprising Museum have a lapel pin of their logo. There are also pins of crossed American and Polish flags as well as those commemorating the Solidarity Movement. Here is the link for an internet source of unusual Polish Patriotic & Religious Lapel Pins.
  • Polish Paper Cuts (Wycinanki) pronounced Vee-chee-non-kee means 'paper-cut design'. No one seems to know just when and how this folk-art form began in Poland. One speculation, among many, is that this was one way of bringing beauty to peasant cottages by cutting colorful scraps of salvaged paper with sheep shears. Two well-known modern styles of paper cutouts are the symmetrical Kurpie cutout and the complex and multilayered forms from the Lowicz area. If you find ones that you like and can afford, place them flat between papers and layers of clothes near the bottom of your suitcase.

    Happy Hunting!

Our Lady of Czestochowa: Images are plentiful. Holy cards make fine souvenirs for folks back home.

Jasna Góra Monastery [Public domain]
Jasna Góra Monastery [Public domain] | Source
Madonna of Czestochowa:  tradition says this was painted by the Evangelist Luke on a wooden board.
Madonna of Czestochowa: tradition says this was painted by the Evangelist Luke on a wooden board. | Source

DK Poland Travel Guide

DK Eyewitness Poland (Travel Guide)
DK Eyewitness Poland (Travel Guide)
DK Travel (May 21, 2019) A useful, but somewhat heavy travel guide. Note: There is an ebook Kindle edition of this guide which eliminates for the computer-savvy traveler carrying the book version. The maps are colorful and easy to use.
 

Cepelia Folk Art Shops

Cepelia: Warsaw, Poland
Cepelia: Warsaw, Poland | Source
Cepelia has stores in Warsaw and throughout Poland where you can find traditional folk crafts and art pieces.
Cepelia has stores in Warsaw and throughout Poland where you can find traditional folk crafts and art pieces.

Cepelia Polish Arts and Crafts Shops

Operates approximately 60 shops and oversees about one dozen cooperative shops throughout Poland. At times, an online presence is weak.

Begin your adventure in learning about Polish handcrafts in the "Cepelia" shops, tremendous places to begin learning about and searching for Polish goods. They are easy to find and sell among the best of Polish handcrafts and arts to the public. But unless you want tablecloths, wooden eggs or sculptures, be advised that Cepelia does have an online shop. and you can order from home. Because they are usually linked directly to the craftspeople, prices are steeper than items of lesser quality found from street vendors.

From the "Cepelia" website

"The purpose of the Foundation "Cepelia" Polish Arts and Crafts is to protect, organize, develop and promote folk and artistic handicraft and art and art industry. The Foundation has taken steps to ensure the conditions for the creation of new values and the cultivation of traditional material culture of the Polish nation, preservation of the cultural identity of the nation, and participates in the creation of contemporary Polish culture.

Company "CEPELIA" Polish Arts and Crafts carry on business in the retail, wholesale, and export of folk art and folk handicrafts and arts.

Visitors can buy textiles, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, wicker, went, jewelry, leather goods, textiles, lace, trimmings folk art, furniture, and memorabilia. On the market, there are also private stores using brand "CEPELIA."


Polish Pottery Honey Jar

Polish Pottery Market Honey Pot and Dipper from Zaklady Boleslawiec
Polish Pottery Market Honey Pot and Dipper from Zaklady Boleslawiec
Polish Pottery Market Honey Pot and Dipper from Zaklady Boleslawiec in the traditional honey pot shape. Polish Pottery Market offers many designs on this traditional shape. This little pot is a useful as well as a cheerful reminder of Poland.
 

Polish Pottery

Polish Pottery shop in Port Townsend,  Washington.  With permission of Janusz Leszczynski Photography
Polish Pottery shop in Port Townsend, Washington. With permission of Janusz Leszczynski Photography

Do you collect Polish pottery?

See results

Amber and Poland: A History Crafted in Resin

A neolithic solar amulet from the Castle Collection at Marlbork Castle, Poland
A neolithic solar amulet from the Castle Collection at Marlbork Castle, Poland | Source

Amber & Poland: A History Crafted in Resin

A Neolithic solar amulet discovered in the Vistula Spit, ca. 2500-2200 B.C., the Castle Museum in Malbork, 1982.
A Neolithic solar amulet discovered in the Vistula Spit, ca. 2500-2200 B.C., the Castle Museum in Malbork, 1982. | Source

Polish Baltic Amber

Buying Polish Baltic Amber Jewelry

There are numerous stores, market, and street vendors selling Polish Baltic Amber jewelry in Poland. There is really only one "trick" to buying amber jewelry. This is to check the settings or fittings and for necklaces and bracelets, the material that beads are strung upon. High-quality silk or beading cord will last infinitely longer than the elastic or cotton cord. The better settings are silver and reputable dealers should deliver a certificate stating so along with the jewelry. Ask for one if necessary.

Shopping While Traveling

Do you like to shop while traveling?

See results

Shop for the very best from Poland without leaving the comfort of your own computer.

Here are links for web sites that sell wonderful items that are either too heavy or too breakable to carry home from a Polish trip.

Polish Souvenirs: Ideas of items to collect

Do you collect:

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Georgene Moizuk Bramlage

Let me know what you think about this lens and my travel shopping philosophy. - I am listening.

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    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      5 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      Hi Lorelei Thanks so much for taking time to read this travel hub. Your thoughtful and gracious comments are very much appreciated.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      5 years ago from Canada

      I was holding my breath at every photo on your article. I love the beautiful old country items and would love to see these shops in person. Delightful and you did such an amazing job of displaying them.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      6 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Grasmere Sue: Oh, yes! Those wonderful, portable and lightweight beer mats! I have a whole shoe box full of them!

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 

      6 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      I still pick up local beer mats on my travels. Free, lightweight and a reminder of happy days when I get home.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      6 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @sousababy: Hi, Thanks for stopping by this lens - one of my favorites - and taking the time to read and comment upon it. Happy New Year!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 

      6 years ago

      Yes, travel light and don't be a slave to the camera either (I finally learned to "take in" the culture of various places).

    • profile image

      Snakesmum 

      7 years ago

      I'm with you on souvenirs - photographs are the best ones for me, not lots of stuff to carry home.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      7 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Anna2of5: Anna, Thanks so much for visiting and your great comments. Much appreciated!

    • profile image

      Anna2of5 

      7 years ago

      Good ideas really. As I get older, I realize the importance of business cards as ways to find the shoppes I like on Facebook, or Pintrest, then I can visit them online whenever I want- they appreciate the free exposure as well. I don't collect spoons or thimbles as storing and dusting is So not my thing. Postcards are nice in moderation, and when in college a Hard rock t-shirt from London was the ultimate gift for a couple friends of mine. So that Had to happen. :D. Good job here, so glad you were featured today, or I might not have found you here.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      7 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @BillyPilgrim LM: Thanks for visiting and for your comment! Yes, they are great tips to follow!

    • BillyPilgrim LM profile image

      BillyPilgrim LM 

      7 years ago

      Great lens...need to follow those tips now!x

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      7 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @anonymous: Hi...thanks for stopping by. I, obviously, think it's a good philosophy, but admittedly a little difficult at times :+)

    • tfsherman lm profile image

      tfsherman lm 

      7 years ago

      True confession: If it's a bead, I'll buy it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      It's a good travel shopping philosophy. Thanks for sharing. I will try to follow it next time.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      7 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @tfsherman lm: HI! I agree beads are "good" and very portable. Thanks for visiting and commenting....much appreciated.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      7 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Rosaquid: Thank you for visiting and for liking my simple souvenir ideas! Lightweight and fun :+)

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 

      7 years ago

      I love to receive mementos such as bookmarks or postcards of beautiful sights from my traveling friends. The idea of sugar or tea packets as souvenirs is wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile imageAUTHOR

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      7 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      @Camden1: Thanks for visiting, commenting and liking this lens. It was fun to write. We did that with our kids as well and when they set up housekeeping each had a nice nucleus of ornaments with which to begin.

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 

      7 years ago

      We always buy Christmas ornaments for each family member whenever we travel. Then we can remember each special trip when we decorate our Christmas tree. And the kids will each have a wonderful collection of Christmas ornaments when they have their own homes.

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