The Best Illegal Souvenirs From Around The World (That Aren’t Shirts)

September 25, 2021 by , featured in Travel Guides
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God forbid your only keepsakes from your requisite time abroad be memories and thoroughly documented blogs, which is why all the big tourist destinations are filled with shops packed with mugs, key chains, and t-shirts emblazoned with vaguely sexual local references. I’m here to tell you that you need to forget about all that. Not only will those souvenirs be quickly lost in a drawer somewhere, they’re about as exciting to acquire and transport as a stool sample. Wouldn’t it be so much more fun to bring back something bad? Travel is all about adventure, the thrill of the unknown, and what’s more thrillingly unknown than international trafficking? If you’re onboard with that but not sure what to smuggle, we’ve put together a guide to the best illegal souvenirs from around the world, rated by their risk-reward ratio.

Europe: Absinthe

Do you remember hearing that absinthe was recently legalized in the US? Think again. What we have is neutered pisswater. The real stuff that’ll make you think your eyelids have turned inside out is still aqua non grata, but you can get it right alongside your authentic champagne and Amsterdank herb.

Risk-reward: Medium-medium. You could get hit with a hefty fine, and bottles are really hard to shove up your ass. (Take our word for it.) However, if you succeed, you can celebrate by getting hella fucked up. The bottle—which you can keep forever because I’m pretty sure glass isn’t illegal, piggies—is also probably wicked sweet as well. You should probably be a lot more worried about the Amsterdank.

Thailand: Dried lemongrass

Why is lemongrass, among other spices and flavorings, from our neighbors to the east illegal to bring home? To be honest, I don’t know, and I’ve already stopped caring.

Risk-reward: Low-low. It’s exceedingly unlikely you’re gonna get patted down for illicit seasonings, because nobody cares. The downside of that is that nobody will care. If you fervently point out your collection of contraband spices, your friends will just be like “Oh” or “Huh, I didn’t know that was illegal.” You’ll probably just give up and blend it into a smoothie that tastes like failure and lemongrass. I’m only including it as an option if you’re a huge chicken. Speaking of which …

Mexico: Chickens

For some reason, there are certain types of living food you’re not supposed to bring back from Mexico. Beef is cool, piggie is not. Bison is A-OK, chickens are right out. Are they pumping them full of wing-juicening hormones? Is that why the street tacos are so good? All I know—and again, please do not ask how I know this—is that you can stroll across the border with a calf strapped to your back, no questions asked, but not a trunk full of chickens.

Risk-reward: Medium-high. Listen, I’m going to take a guess that no one is rotting in max for felony possession of poultry. You’re probably looking at a fine at most. You’re *also* looking at the customs official’s face when they open your trunk full of chickens. You’re looking at all your ill-gotten chickens, hopping and clucking and making a run for it. It’ll be the time of your life. If you don’t get caught, even better. You can name the chicken Bonita and introduce it to your friends as your new companion, spinning her journey here as a cross-cultural but also star-crossed tale of unlikely friendship. You (and Bonita) can dine out on that story forever.

China: Pure China white heroin

This is the big time. The ultimate score. Are you ready for this? Are you fucking ready?

Risk-reward: High-high. You are definitely going to prison. If, by some miracle, you don’t, the souvenir is beside the point. You have a new career.

Canada: Kinder Surprise Eggs

Unlike dumb lemongrass, there’s actually a pretty good reason why these bad boys are banned. Sure, we have Kinder brand chocolate eggs in the U.S., but they’re not the fun kind with danger inside. When you go abroad, you’re practically obligated to snap up enough of these delightful foodstuffs/toys to dive into like an equally prohibited ball pit. But there’s no way you’re gonna eat all of them before you have to go back to Freedomland. Therefore …

Risk-reward: Low-high. For all the stink that is made about them, nobody cares. Just recently, I waltzed through security with a few of these suckers stashed in my purse, not even hidden, because I had temporarily forgotten they were illegal. I was even “randomly selected” for supplemental screening (air quotes because I am under no illusion that I look trustworthy). It’s actually even better if you do get caught. Now you have “candy smuggler” on your record for the rest of your life. No one can take that away from you. And isn’t that the best souvenir of all?


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