1. The Mini Buddha
If you've traveled in Asia, chances are you've been blindsided by an overzealous man selling a figurine of a fat man sitting/standing/laying while reading/praying/laughing. That's Buddha. And chances are you've bought one and it now adorns a shelf somewhere in your home. They come in everything from glass to gold and copper to wood, and they can be strung around a necklace, hung from a rear view mirror, or set to hold up your books. According to legend, if you rub the belly of your newly obtained chubby friend, you will have wealth, prosperity, and a lifetime of good luck.
2. The Sombrero In Spanish it means "hat with a brim," which is exactly what it is. If Mexico had a theme song, and a music video was created, the background dancers would most likely be wearing sombreros. Initially devised to protect horse riders from the sweltering rays of the sun, it is now a staple wardrobe piece for embarrassing dads, drunken college students, and the men hired by mega-resorts to play "authentic" mariachi-band music for the hotel guests. Sombrero land, commonly called the Mexico border, is a beehive of brims--go all out and get a pom-pom edged beauty, or stay classy with a felt, intricately decorated one, typically worn by the more wealthy sombrero-lovers of yore.
3. Dashboard Bobblehead Hula Girl
So tacky, so cliché, so kitsch. But we (and every truck driver in America) love them. The originals feature a dark-haired girl, usually strumming a ukulele--now there's bobble men in leis, bobble monkeys rattling gourds, and even bobble Jesus and Obama in Hawaiian shirts.
Made-to-Order: Custom build your own bobblehead likeness atop a wobbling spring with your pick of any body.
4. I Heart New York T-shirt Duplicated by many, worn seemingly only by tourists, and hated by most every legit New Yorker: the I Heart New York T-shirt. It can be seen everywhere throughout the city from billboards to bumper stickers, socks to earrings. The logo is the brainchild of a man named Milton Glaser, a graphic designer born and raised in, you guessed it, New York City. He has helped redesign the covers of Fortune, Time Magazine, and the Washington Post. Milton created the logo in the mid 70s for the New York State Tourism Department and it has since become a pop-culture phenom with kudos given by Apple, Madonna, and the Red Cross.
5. The Lousy T-shirt
Call the fashion police, tacky tees have struck again. Remember the ones with a tongue-in-cheek declaration that somebody in your circle of friends/family went on a trip somewhere and all they brought you back was a lousy T-shirt?
6. A Photo of You Holding Up the Leaning Tower of Pisa It's a tourist trap unlike any others--the souvenir is free. Yes, free. The catch? You only have to be willing to endure a five-minute session of, "a little to the left. Now down. Back up a scooch. Good. Oh wait, you moved. Go left a bit. Okay, smile."
Each year inquiring tourists flock to Pisa, Italy, to get a glimpse and a chance to hold up the famous leaning tower. Originally thought to have been conceived to flaunt the wealth of the city to neighboring rivals, the plan was set in motion to construct an ornate bell tower. But before they even reached the fourth floor of the seven-story structure, it was starting to lean due to unstable soil underneath and a thin, less than ten-foot-deep foundation. And now, 837 years and a 20th-century construction that removed 15 inches of lean later, the site is a world-famous landmark that greets more than a million tourists per year.
An easy way to waste a few hours of your day: An entire website dedicated to Tacky Tourist Photos.
7. Wooden Clogs These clunkers have made the rounds on airport luggage carousels around the world--and landed in garage-placed boxes throughout America. Originally made to protect the tootsies of Dutch workers, these shoes were believed to be impenetrable, as well as warm in the winter, cool in the summer.
8. The Snow Globe So the story goes like this: In 1889 the French created a rounded globe with the Eiffel Tower, fake snow, and water inside for the Exposition Universelle, a world fair held in Paris, France. Within a year the fad had spread throughout Europe, and manufacturers were churning out the mini-winter wonderlands. The trend didn't make it across the pond until the 1920s. They were still primarily being made in Germany until 1927 when an American named Joseph Garaja patented the first snow globe. Two years later the wild idea he had been harboring sprang to life--an underwater fish version. The transition from glass to plastic globes in the 50s only helped propel the trinket to tacky-land.
The snow globe has taken over pop culture with a fervor. Gasping his last breath, Charles Kane drops a globe to the floor as he dies in the movie Citizen Kane. The character Donald on the popular tv show Lost, mentioned to the others that no one will ever get off the island because it is "a snow globe." And the tourist tack is acknowledged in several episodes of The Simpsons. Not all pop culture references cater to the serene, peace-evoking feeling of the figurine though--in the movie Unfaithful, the character played by Richard Gere somehow manages to kill his wife with one, and for a special release of the movie Halloween in the 90s, a snow globe with a famous movie scene inside was packaged with the video.
Knick Knack: In 1989 Pixar (the brains behind dozens of children's movies including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles) created a short film to pay tribute to the snow globe and other souvenir doodads. This is the original.
9. Mardi Gras Beads
Mardi Gras beads are a staple of the festivities surrounding the holiday, though it's perhaps not the most refined way to earn a souvenir. The event is celebrated differently in every country, but in the U.S., Mardi Gras means New Orleans! Throngs of vibrantly dressed people descend upon the city's notoriously rowdy French Quarter to partake in the celebrations of Fat Tuesday. Masks, richly colored feathers, dancers, thumping music, and thousands of festival participants infiltrate the streets. The tradition of throwing beads dates back to the 1920s when carnival organizations began tossing out cheap necklaces of glass beads imported from Czechoslovakia and Japan. The trend was soon adopted by Mardi Gras parades all over the world. The ritual of the removal of one's clothing in exchange for a gaudy jewel started in the 1970s, and traditionalists are quick to point out that it has nothing to do with the holiday itself.
10. Statue of Liberty Foam Crowns Nothing screams "I'm a tourist" like a Statue of Liberty spiked crown... well, that and a fanny pack. Given as a gift from the stylish people of France, the statue is now a symbol of peace and freedom in our country. Towering 305 feet high, Lady Liberty is visited by more than three million tourists per year. Departing from Battery Park in lower Manhattan, a ferry shuttles you across the waters of the Atlantic to two stops, Ellis and Liberty islands. For only $12, the ferry ride is packaged with a chance to explore Ms. Liberty's piercing headdress. And of course, a departure through the gift shop, where you too can leave adorned with green foam spikes.