Ahoy friend! And welcome, to what I hope will be a really valuable post for those of you looking to make some money from your travels so that you can travel even longer!
I’ve got a lot of experience picking up shiny baubles, colourful silks and unique items across the world which I have then sold back home; either on the side of the street, on Ebay or at music festivals.
Selling your travel souvenirs is really a fantastic way to make some easy cash from your adventures, but how does it work I hear you ask?
It’s all about buying in-demand and unique items on the road, often in bulk and selling them once you get back home for a TASTY mark-up. As far as travel jobs go, it has an extremely low risk for a potentially huge reward.
People – especially those frequenting sites like Etsy, Poshmark and your local hippie fests – love goods from “exotic” countries. Jewelry, pashmina shawls, and silk sleeping bag liners are just a few of the souvenirs that I’ve bought in bulk on the road, and flipped for a pretty profit when I got back to the UK.
And here’s exactly how I did it: I’d stuff a bag with as many lightweight trinkets and accessories as I could carry and when I arrived home, I’d immediately get to work. Back then, I focused on eBay listings, where I’d price each item about 10-20x higher than I actually bought it for and often these items would sell FAST.
Later, I even arranged a couple of bigger shipments of leather satchels (think Indiana Jones style) from India which worked out real nice until I had to abandon a shipment because of a little thing rhyming with, and about as outdated as, faxes.
These days, there are even more sites out there (Poshmark, Etsy Mercari, etc) but what REALLY moved the needle for me was selling my stuff at festivals and events. Music fests, weekend markets… that’s where I was able to make an 800% mark-up. And while you’re not about to be making millions, as there’s a limited amount you can stuff in a backpack, making a profit of $2000 – $6000 per trip is more than doable.
Why YOU Should Try it Out
Out of all the business ventures I’ve launched over the past decade and a half, none have been as easy or have had a lower bar for entry than selling travel souvenirs. And the best thing is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. You can grab 1000 necklaces for $2 a pop while backpacking India and sell them back home for $25 each.
I know a couple of travelling antique dealers who go to Nepal, amongst other countries, to buy wrought iron lamps, copper door handles, religious paintings and masks for around the $10 mark to sell back home for up to $300 each!
With the ease of online business, you can absolutely find buyers no matter what you sell, and the work involved is minimal. Set up your listings and ship them out (while charging for shipping of course) OR go to a festival and profit in straight cash.
I always tell fellow vagabonds that what makes this way of making money on the road so worth it is that you don’t have much to lose. If you have a keen eye (or have just done your research) on WHAT sells, you can rest assured that by just lugging around ONE extra bag (or stuffing your main pack to the brim) you can potentially make hundreds or even thousands of dollars. And if you’re sticking to a broke backpacker budget, we all know that means a few more months on the road….
Looking to make money ON the road? Here are 35 EPIC travel jobs to get you started!
What Types of Souvenirs Should You Buy?
Not all travel keepsakes are equal, my friends. If you’re going to make money off of this, you have to think about what sells, and what the general public wants and likes.
Even if it’s not something that YOU personally enjoy, it may be exactly what performs best. That’s what I found with leather satchels – not exactly my cuppa’ tea, but a prime example of an item I was able to flip for a MASSIVE price hike.
Another niche to consider is making your own travel jewelry – YES, this involves more work, but it’s certainly worked for many vagabonds before you. The principles are essentially the same
Art and Handicrafts
Asia (and other regions) are absolutely overloaded with incredible gifts that fall into this category. From wooden elephant statues, to crystals, to hand-woven hammocks and about one billion more items, you’ll probably have a hard time deciding what to leave and what to buy.
Unless you’ll be hopping on a flight with a heavy baggage allowance the next day, I advise you to think lightly. You still have to bring all these goods across half the world, so even if weight isn’t an issue, you don’t want your souvenirs to break before they’ve even hit the market.
Clothing and Accessories
The lightest, and perhaps most in-demand category tends to be clothes and accessories. Belts, wallets, satchels and purses have never let me down, nor have flowy pants and shirts. Handcrafted leather items are another winner, as are things like silk scarves or sterling silver rings. Those particularly do well at festivals. High hippies love silk scarves and shiny jewelry.
As for accessories, you have a whole lot at your disposal. Handmade flip flops, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and the rest of the jewelry family should be on your list. You can easily score a TON and pack them away without hassle. A friend of mine once bought home a hundred brass kaleidoscope key-rings which he sold for $15 a pop at festivals, yet they had cost him just $2 each.
Certain Edible Items
This one is a bit trickier depending on import laws and restrictions but definitely something to consider. Unique snacks that you can only find in that country, small tubes of apricot oil, or spices can all be a hit back home, especially at farmers markets which have become all the rage these days. I would still say to absolutely focus on clothes and artsy shit, but don’t count out edibles. I know some folks who are making good money in the Indian spice department, but that’s about all I know about this side of things so don’t take my word on it.
Best Countries to Buy Travel Souvenirs to Sell
In my personal experience, these have been the best (and most profitable) locales to explore if you want to get into the travel souvenir sales game…
India may just be the Mecca of epic travel souvenirs, especially when considering all the goodies one can find in the lush mountains of Himachal Pradesh or the psychedelic enclave of Goa.
If I were going to get started selling souvenirs from scratch, India is absolutely where you’d find me buying in bulk. You can snag a ton of “hippie” pants and other unique and colorful clothes, handmade chillums that are sure to be loved by your local stoners, and of course: a whole lot of religious items. Religious items (particularly those pertaining to Hinduism and Buddhism) do very well in this sphere, but so do accessories.
Whilst travelling there over my two-year stint back in my early days of nomading, I came across very cheap leather satchels which I knew were selling in UK festivals for up to $200! I bought 30 of them, picked them up months later and crammed them in my pack. They made me well over $1000 and all I had to do was post them to the buyers. Talk about easy money! This was also, to young Will, BIG money…
During a trip to Vietnam, my interest in repurposing travel trinkets for money really caught fire. I spotted some colourful silk sleeping bag liners, and I knew for a fact that these exact same liners sold for around $50 in outdoor shops back home, so I bought forty of them.
I started off by buying one and haggling hard, got the price down to $2.50 from around $6 and then managed to negotiate a bulk discount. Vietnam as a whole is a very cheap country, and with a solid set of haggling skills, you’ll no doubt be able to get a shit ton of solid souvenirs for very good prices.
From traditional hats to chopsticks, candies and coffee beans, there’s a wide variety of potential goodies to be found. It’s also a sick place to backpack – especially the rugged north.
Just like India, Nepal is an absolute winner when it comes to finding souvenirs to sell. Like I said, I personally know multiple travellers who’ve made bank off of various handicrafts and other gems you can find in this mesmerising mountain kingdom.
Kathmandu and Pokhara are your best bets for finding souvenirs in bulk – though I recommend doing it when you’re about to leave (or stash your stuff in a guesthouse), especially if you plan on doing any trekking in the region.
As fantastic as it is to travel in Thailand, the country is also incredible for shopping, and may just be the best place on this list for actual clothes and accessories. From the infamous elephant pants to tube tops and an impressive array of jewelry, I can promise you that you WILL make a profit from whatever you bring back from the planet’s best backpacking destination.
Wood carvings, soaps, beauty products, and literally so much more that you couldn’t even think of right now await you in the Land of Smiles. While not quite as cheap as India, Thailand is still very affordable as far as travel is concerned, you can certainly make back a large chunk of your trip costs with a bag of carefully picked travel souvenirs.
Where to Sell Your Souvenirs Once You Get Home
Now that we’ve gotten into the details about where and what to buy, it’s time to discuss what you’re really thinking – how the hell these random trinkets are going to make a dent in your travel fund?
Back when I started more than a decade ago, eBay was really the only online marketplace out there, but things have surely changed. You’ve got half a dozen or more apps to play with now, which translates into more competition and more potential customers.
Which is why I far prefer to head to festivals.
Most of the stuff you’re going to come home with is insanely popular with festivalgoers to begin with, and when everything’s being done in person, you can haggle hard with folks, and really get into the story of the pieces.
But I get not everyone can make their way to a rave, or even live near places where they’re happening. So let’s ease in with the internet options…
These offer you protection as a seller, and do much of the posting work for you… BUT, they also take a cut of your money. Still, I implore you to give the online marketplace of your choice a go when you’re just getting started.
Make an account, set up an attractive profile, and get to listing. Considering you likely paid $1-$2 for each item, I’d go for at least a 10x markup but also get a feel for what other sellers are pricing similar souvenirs at.
These are some of the best marketplaces for the type of travel souvenirs we’re talking about:
- Mercari (USA and Japan only)
Back in the height of my selling era, Facebook was in its infancy and others were not even born. Despite the many ways that our favourite apps can ruin travel, they can certainly be an asset in selling your travel souvenirs!
Make an Instagram account for your “store” and put some ad spend on it, ads are super targeted these days and can for sure score you some sales. Facebook Marketplace is technically another option, though it feels more in line with one-off pieces than a collection of bulk items that I recommend you get. Still, FB is yet another place to run ads in general.
Festivals and Events
The holy grail of making money from travel souvenirs is none other than going to festivals. It’s here that people are basically frothing at the mouth for authentic pieces from the Far East, and where you’ll be able to make the most money, without having to give a multi-billion dollar company a cut of the profits.
I was lucky in that a whole lot of these types of events happen in and around the UK, especially in summertime, but you don’t need to specifically concentrate on psychedelic escapades. Farmers markets or car boot sales (which take place virtually everywhere these days) are another solid place to rock up to and set up shop. These usually happen weekly which means you can get rid of your stash and make some cash quickly.
Preparing Your Goods for Sale: Pricing and Packaging
You don’t need to be fancy: when I sold at festivals, I didn’t even have bags or price tags. When you’re selling online, you can look at what other sellers are pricing similar items for and maybe just undercut slightly to sell fast. For shipping; your local post office will have everything you need to ship things out. I typically chose the cheapest packaging possible; and bulk-bought a ton of bubble-wrap lined envelopes for shipping smaller items.
Souvenirs that are a bit more fragile should be given extra TLC: use some sort of parchment paper or bubble wrap, which can be bought cheaply online or at hardware stores.
As for pricing, the sky is truly the limit. It’s worth looking at what other sellers are selling their items for. Don’t sell yourself short either – I’ve usually made an average of around 800% markup on items I’ve bought home and been happy with that.
My Top Tips for Selling Travel Souvenirs
This isn’t rocket science, my friends. Anyone with a will and some solid souvenirs can make some pretty profits this way, but it certainly helps to have some tried and trusted tips in your corner.
Here’s what helped me and what I wished I knew when I started getting into the travel souvenirs game:
1. Shop around
Don’t just buy from the very first store you see while out on the road. There are always MANY that sell almost exactly the same things, check them all out to see who will give you the best bulk sale price.
2. Haggle your heart out
You’re buying in bulk and you’re trying to make a profit. In addition to checking out various sellers, put your haggling skills to the test and always try to get the lowest price you can. This puts you in the best money-making position when it’s time to sell.
3. Buy Souvenirs That SELL
There’s no point in bringing back a separate backpack of goods if no one wants to buy them. Do some pre-trip research and see what’s already working online – these are the kinds of items you want to seek out.
In general, you want to find items that are either exotic / unique and which can’t be easily found at home OR items that are overpriced back home where you can undercut that price and still make good money.
4. Load up at the end of your trip
Trust me, absolutely no one wants to lug around an extra bag for weeks or months while travelling around. Do all of your souvenir shopping at the END of your trip, you’ll thank me later.
5. Festivals almost always pay best
Though it may seem like more work, I found that I made a whole lot more money at in-person festivals and events than I did online. Get a good idea of what’s going to be happening in your area, and be willing to travel a bit for them: the payout is often worth the trip.
6. Avoid easily faked items
I brought back a load of sterling silver jewelry from the Middle East that I had real problems shifting, I suppose when it comes to an item that can be fake, like silver, people are less inclined to buy.
7. Do some pre-trip research
I like to head to the textile/leather centre of my destination for the best quality and lowest prices. These are often random locales quite out of the way, but I can assure you the condition will be 1000x better than what you can find in copy-cat capital city storefronts.
8. Leverage holidays and seasons
Festival season usually takes place during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer in most places, so plan on this being prime time if you really want to make the most cash from your souvenirs. The lead-up to Christmas tends to be fantastic online, whereas the period directly after it is not a great time to be in need of sales.
9. Tell a tale with your inventory
For your online listings, make sure your photos and write-ups are absolutely solid and beat out any competitors. Show the buyer that you handpicked everything yourself and aren’t just reselling random pieces like many folks are. You certainly don’t need a professional camera, but make sure your images are crisp and taken in well-lit backgrounds.
10. Give fantastic customer service
If you’re working online, ship as you get the order, and make sure the item is exactly as described. If you’re selling at a festival, be friendly, and offer people deals if they’re willing to buy in bulk. Good service often leads to more referrals, and more $$$.
Getting Travel Insurance BEFORE Hitting the Road
You’re going to want to grab some solid travel insurance so you and your souvenirs can actually come back in one piece…
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
Anything to add amigos? Have you picked up items to sell whilst traveling? What’s your experience been? Tell me in the comments below!
Looking for further inspiration, check out…
- The cheapest places to travel
- How to fall in love with slow travel
- My top backpacking tips
- An awesome guide to overland travel
- 82 important lessons from the road
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!