11 Inexpensive Things Designers Always Bring Back from Their Travels

published Jun 1, 2023
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Whether you’re embarking on a road trip or taking to the skies, we have ideas for making your vacation as stress-free as possible. This content is presented in partnership with Hampton by Hilton; it was created independently by our editorial team.

Interior designers have long lived by the travel hack of bringing home small yet stylish mementos. So why not take a cue from the pros and use your next as an opportunity to source unique travel decor to brighten up your space? You can add so much personality to any room with artwork, textiles, or even something as small as a pack of restaurant matches. Found a shell on the beach? That’ll work, too, according to designer Tavia Forbes, who says you can elevate “objects in the sand into pieces of art” simply by displaying them in a glass box or “perched on a stand.”

You’ll quickly get the hang of bringing home the best finds once you know what you’re looking for. We spoke with design experts about their all-time favorite items to pick up when they head out of town — none of which will break the bank or jam up your

Credit: Mahsa Afsharpour

1. International Design Magazines

“On a recent trip to Sweden, I brought home a couple of issues of the Danish interior design magazine Rum International. Not only do they serve as an excellent source of inspiration, but they also provide a sleek look on my coffee table without blowing my budget.” —Mahsa Afsharpour of Saga Interiors in Millbrae, California

Credit: Mahsa Afsharpou

2. Chic Coasters

“On a short weekend trip to Santa Barbara, I went antique hunting and picked up some beautiful coasters made of concrete. The stunning material and texture caught my eye, and they fit perfectly into my suitcase for safe transportation back home.” —Afsharpour 

Credit: Mike Van Tassell Photography LLC for Beth Diana Smith

3. Decorative Tea Towels

“I [like] tea towels that are reminiscent of where I’m visiting because they can always be framed as art. This is a tea towel I bought on a vacation in Bermuda; it used to be art in my home and now adorns my office.” Beth Diana Smith of Beth Diana Smith Interior Design in Kearny, New Jersey

Credit: Becky Carbone

4. Flea Market Trinkets

“These navy built-ins feature decorative objects from the Brooklyn Flea. My best friend from college lived in Brooklyn for years, and the Flea was a frequent stop.” Becky Carbone of Becky Carbone Interiors in Norwell, Massachusetts

Credit: Blanche Garcia

5. Beach Finds

“One of the things I always pick up if there is a beach around is coral. A lot of times it will wash up onto the shore, and it’s so pretty to decorate with. This particular coral came from Ponce, Puerto Rico, where my family is from, and I picked it up last time I was there with my mother and my aunt on a very special trip.” Blanche Garcia of B-garcia designs in Montclair, New Jersey 

Credit: Forbes Masters

“Nothing beats finding gems on the beaches. All over the Caribbean, I have collected rocks, coral, and shells. Monet [Masters] even found a piece of a turtle shell.” Tavia Forbes of Forbes + Masters in Atlanta, Georgia 

Editor’s note: Collecting shells or coral is prohibited in some states and areas; check local regulations before bringing home a souvenier.

Credit: Brooke Lawer

“This gorgeous sea shell is something I purchased for $10 on the beach in the Dominican Republic. It has so much texture with the perfect neutral colors!” —Brooke Lawer of Haven by Brooke in White Plains, New York 

Credit: Emma Jesberg

6. Ceramics

“I always collect ceramics when I travel. A little vase or candle holder [reminds me] of artisan technique[s], and for the most part, they’re easy to pack! Some of the green ceramics on this bookshelf are from Morocco, and I got the white vase on top at a farmers market in a small town outside Yosemite.” Emma Jesberg of EJ Interior Design in Tiburon, California

Credit: Anna Routh for Lindsay Speace

7. Hand-Painted Vases 

“I must be a glutton for punishment, because the items that are the most fragile seem to be the ones I gravitate toward as souvenirs from my travels. On our honeymoon in South Africa, I purchased several hand-painted blue and white vases from a local artisan, which I then gingerly carried for the 18-hour journey home.” —Lindsay Speace of Lindsay Speace Interior Design in Raleigh, North Carolina 

Credit: Christina Hussey for House of Drennan

8. Vintage Books

“One of my favorite things to collect are beautiful, vintage books. I try to find one pertaining to the area (even better if it’s in a different language!), and then I write the dates of the trip on the inside cover as a keepsake. Recently, I picked up a used Matisse hardback from Shakespeare and Company in Paris. It is written completely in French but has beautiful photographs of his work — and I snagged it on the half-off cart for less than 5 euros! I love it and it now resides on an ottoman in my home office.” —Rebecca Bridges of House of Drennan in Rock Hill, South Carolina

Credit: Teri Clar

9. Special Textiles

“Textiles are transformative in a room. They can be draped over a headboard, make an old sofa look new, or hung on a wall. I picked up a Suzani in Istanbul for no other reason than that I fell in love with the hints of blush woven into its soft gold and ivory ground. It is currently elevating the otherwise basic Facebook Marketplace sofa in my office.” —Samantha Sacks of Sam Sacks Design in Toronto, Ontario

“When I travel, I am always looking for fabric. You have endless possibilities for using different fabrics, and they are usually culturally specific to the area you’re traveling. It’s a great way to remember your travels while you use them as a pillow cover, tea towels, curtains, reupholstery on a bench, or a table runner!” Teri Clar of NAFASI Interiors in Charleston, South Carolina 

Credit: Allison Elefante for Kate Figler

10. Decorative (and Useful!) Trinkets

“I am always on the lookout for small pieces like paperweights, plates, and boxes when I’m on vacation. They are easy to carry back in luggage, and I love to layer them on coffee tables, place them under soap bottles, or style them on bedside tables throughout my home. They are wonderful reminders of some of the special places we have visited throughout the years!” —Kate Figler of Kate Figler Interiors in Nashville, Tennessee

Credit: Margaret Rose Larson for Taylor Fusco

11. Art Prints

“Small prints are my favorite, [because] you can roll them up and put them in your carry-on. I love these ‘Soul Eater’ Japanese prints I picked up at an art show in Chicago. My client is a big anime fan, so it was so fun to incorporate these prints in my own TFD way!” —Taylor Fusco of Tay Fusco Design in Long Island, New York

Credit: Forbes Masters

“Always make it a point to visit local galleries. Savannah, Georgia, had a lot to offer, including this stunning photo of the Suri people of the Omo Valley, Ethiopia. I had the piece for years before finding the perfect vintage frame at an estate sale.” —Forbes

This post has been updated to share proper guidelines for bringing shells and coral home from beaches.