The t-shirts that are found at gift shops and souvenir stores around the world are one of the dumbest things you can buy. It ranks on the lower end of the t-shirt spectrum in terms of coolness. It’s right between the free t-shirt you got when you signed up for a credit card in college and the free t-shirt you received for running a benefit 5K race.
Think of how many t-shirts you own. Like me, I’m sure you have basic color t-shirts, band/concert, sports teams, designer artwork, etc. Now take that amount and half it. You still have too many t-shirts.
The souvenir t-shirt can be used as a statement of where you traveled. “Oh, you went to Senor Frog’s! So did I. Let’s be friends or have sex,” said no one ever. Those Senor Frog’s shirts, and the million other tropical/beach tourist destinations, are pretty much the ugliest things you put on your torso.
The other intention can be as a memento of your journey because the Facebook and Instagram updates and 10,000 photo uploads are not enough to help you remember.
If these are your intentions of buying them, then it’s time to reconsider why you travel. Is it to show off to others and make them jealous? Travel is about you, not what other people think of you. You can put that on a t-shirt.
For shops, the t-shirts have a big profit margin. The shirt itself costs $3 wholesale. The printing can be done from a professional outfit or through your computer and ironed on. Sell them for $20-$30 a pop to a dopey tourist family with screaming kids and you got yourself a winner.
Thankfully, I only buckled once in the souvenir t-shirt department, and alcohol probably played a part in my purchase. When I went to Lisbon in 2008, I went in a small, funky shop in the Barrio Alto district. They screen printed the shirt right there. I saw a design that said “I ♥ Barrio Alto” and had it put on a green t-shirt for €20. It’s seven years and I’ve maybe worn it 5 times. It’s sit on the bottom dresser drawer on top of 100 other t-shirts.
Because the “I ♥ New York” origin, every city has a variation and with different substitution for the heart. I (Lobster) Maine or I (Bagel) Tel Aviv. The one pictured above is what I saw in Beijing. Yeahhhhh, I’m not sure they know what a BJ can mean in English.