On your next vacation, skip the Mexican sombrero or, just make some room next to it in your carry-on – and score one of these great global decor finds from these hot, anything-but-cookie-cutter global destinations.
If you’re heading to: Honduras
Be sure to bring home: Earthy, geometrically patterned Lenca pottery.
Why: Lenca pottery is the original eco-friendly art form. Even today, it’s made the same way it was hundreds of years ago, with natural clay and without chemicals or dangerous toxic runoff. The bold graphic patterns and high-contrast dark-brown-and-cream or black-and-cream colourways make for a dramatic accessory for home or office.
Armchair travelers can score the find at: LencaArtStore.com, sells Lenca pieces handmade by women’s cooperatives in the Copan region of Western Honduras.
If you’re heading to: South Africa
Be sure to bring home: An old-meets-new hand-woven telephone-wire basket or animal figurines made by Zulu craftsmen or women.
Why: Recycled materials make for uniquely one-of-a-kind products, plus they redirect waste that would otherwise end up in garbage dumps. The myriad colours telephone wire comes in mean you can go neutral (tan, brown, cream) or flat-out Pop Art (bubblegum pink, cobalt, lime green, etc).
Armchair travelers can score the find at: Do-gooder cupcake purveyors Eat My Words, who now distribute the Monkey Biz collection of similarly stylish, colourful and fair-trade hand-beaded animals and dolls.
If you’re heading to: China
Be sure to bring home: A pair of bronze Qilin. These mythical creatures (with the head of a dragon, body of a horse and scales of a carp) are reputed to bring knowledge and maybe even wealth.
Why: They’re less common than the trendy Fu Dogs and given their symbolic connection to knowledge, they’re a natural fit as bookends.
Armchair travelers can score the find at: Any one of numerous online vendors. Just do a search ‘til you find a pair you like. The characteristics of Qilin (along with regional spelling variants) vary depending on the historical period and region of East Asia the reproduction is based on.
If you’re heading to: The Netherlands
Be sure to bring home: Some stellar modern Dutch decor objects. Find cool, quirky objets in Amsterdam shops. Pick up some Tord Boontje (he of the famed Midsummer and Garland pendant lights) Thinking of You vase covers if you’re traveling light. The laser-cut metal pieces pack flat but unfurl to cover a plain glass vase (or humble pickle jar!), turning it into a conversation piece.
Why: What better way to get more use from a humble food jar?
Armchair travelers can score the find at: Purveyors of cool, dutchbydesign.com.
Be sure to bring home: A hand-lathed, kiln-dried hardwood salad bowl and hand-carved salad tongs.
Why: You’re going to get accosted by peddlers anyway (on your way to the more popular Mayan ruins) so you may as well pass on the shell keychain and support local artisans with something useful and also beautiful. And great salad gear means you’d be more inclined to whip up a healthy salad more often than usual.
Armchair travelers can score the find at: fair-trade importers like Ten Thousand Villages.
If you’re heading to: Thailand
Be sure to bring home: They’re a bit cumbersome, but consider toting home (or shipping separately), a Thai spirit house. TIP: See our article How to score decorating finds while traveling. These intricate, hand-carved objects resemble bird houses in scale and can be placed indoors or out.
Why: Spirit houses are believed to shelter spirits who will protect your home and bring you prosperity and good luck. Besides that, they’re beautiful to look at. Show your respect by placing yours on a pedestal or high shelf.
Armchair travelers can score the find at: Vancouver e-tail (and retail) shop spirithouse.ca, which tries to buy direct from artisans rather than middlemen, to help ensure fairer trade practices.
If you’re heading to: Croatia
Be sure to bring home: Lacework from the island of Pag
Why: This isn’t your grandmother’s lace. Actually – wait a minute – it might be, but lace is a hot fashion ticket this season, so there’s never been a better time to pretty up an outfit with something so feminine and flirty. (Plus, you won’t be able to get any of the famed Croatian liqueurs into your carry-on, anyway).
Armchair travelers can score the find at: Sorry, we couldn’t find any online retailers carrying it. Better book that trip and open your own online lacework shop!