Clothes- rather than a T-shirt with the place name sprawled all over, go for something you will actually want to wear and then you're good to go. Some of our best purchases: a fleece jacket and wool hats from Nepal. And our custom-made T-shirts commemorating our China trip.
shirts commemorating our Nepal trek (we still wear them, though not at the same time)Jewelry- this is one of the best! If you buy something you like, you'll actually use it. D has a dozen earring from various trips that get used frequently. Plus they carry that extra little memory of the place they came from. Classic: Indian bangles worn at our wedding!
Music- nowadays this may be obsolete with iTunes and all, but we still love getting our hands on a local CD. Recordings from the Indian Bahai, the Sikhs in Amristar, and Tibetans of McLeod Ganj still get played on our iPods. There's nothing like a little Churi Churi to get your mood uplifted after a long day.
Homegoods- things for the home that you actually use are great! They serve a subtle reminder of the trip and make great conversation starters. Likewise they are not just takeing up storage space. Our faves: a tie-die tablecloth from Southern China, and candlestick holders from Rajasthan, and curtains from Mumbai.
The little stuff- it's only functional if you actually use it. But a nice keychain is a fun reminder of vacation days. A shot glass, if you actually drink shots. A pen, if you don't lose it. A notebook if it doesn't go unused.
So next time you're traveling, skip the figurine/ snow globe/ randomly shaped gadget, and go for something you can use! Your memories will stay with you and your souvenirs will have a purpose that doesn't involve paying for overweight luggage.