Words by Cathy Struthers
Illustration by Jonathan Tran
Snapped up a late summer bargain holiday? Leave a bit of room in your suitcase and you could be bringing back some of your best ever holiday souvenirs. We're not talking tacky straw donkeys or hippy hair wraps here. The best souvenirs are the ones that give you a holistic health boost or serious style points. And, even for today's internet-savvy shoppers, there's plenty of amazing stuff out there that just isn't available in Europe yet. So, by-pass the tourist trap market stalls and get hunting for a healthier kind of souvenir.
Its more than 5,000 years old and is known as the ‘science of life’. If you want a modern day stress buster with no side effects, seek out an Ayurvedic consultation so that you can bring back holistic health wisdom, diet advice and herbal oils, tonics and preparations. Ayurveda is practiced all over India, but the most authentic experiences are in the Ayurveda Shalas of Kerala on the South Coast.
The system based on the belief that there are three essential 'humours' which cause disease if they become imbalanced, either through bad diet or lifestyle. There's no shortage of Ayurvedic practictioners at Ayurvedic colleges, hospitals, spas and nature cure federations all over India. For tips on the best, see www.incredibleindia.org / www.indiatourismparis.com / www.india-tourism.com.
Learn from the real gurus and bring back a clutch of new yoga positions and in-depth knowledge. A bootylicious body is not the ultimate objective of yoga - heightened physical, mental and emotional wellbeing are, based on the belief that a healthy person is a harmoniously integrated unit of body, mind and spirit.
'I did two week Iyenga course while I was in India, which tought me to slow down - a lot,' says hectic action girl Jain Spero. 'I learnt just how much benefit you can reap from just doing certain twists and stretches and even just standing still. Even though I wasn't moving, I felt that I was burning loads of energy.'
Some of the best centres include: Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore (www.ayri.org); Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, Mumbai and Lonavla (www.kdham.com); Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, Pune (www.bksiyengar.com); Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai (www.kym.org).
If you want to heal anything from cracked heels and lips to sunburn and wrinkles, seek out Himalaya Herbals fabulous range of ayurvedic beauty creams, herbs and supplements. Available in most chemists and department stores.
Finally, the choice of healthy teas in India is phenomenal. Get your hands on a couple of small chai glasses to bring home and get used to having smaller cups of tea, which will help you really appreciate the blend.
If you want to avoid a hangover, bring back some Russian Standard Vodka, premium quality. You can't get it in Western Europe,' says Moscow-based Fiona Porter. 'It comes in a clear or a frosted bottle and it’s very pure and clear - the best vodka around.'
An unusual meditation aid or relaxation souvenir can be found at the craft markets in Moscow (try Ismaillovskii Park or Partisanskaya). Look for a St. Basil's Cathedral music box - the blue, green and yellow towers of the red cathedral move around to the music. It may sound like a touristy gimmick but it's actually incredibly soothing.
If you've got the spare cash, fork out for a jar of Beluga, the best Russian caviar, a rich source of vitamins A and D, long-chain fatty acids and zinc.
Duck into a pharmacy before you leave Down Under and get your hands on Natural Glamour, a shimmery face powder that sets off sunkissed skin perfectly. Ignore the terrible 80s Dallas-style packaging, this SPF12 shimmer compact is definitely worth the AU$40 it retails for in most pharmacies and will prolong your healthy glow. 'We Aussies abroad are forever having friends buy this wonder-stuff in bulk when they go back home,' says Cooler contributor Kirsty de Garis.
Stock up on swimwear, bikinis and wetsuits while you're in Oz, home of surf culture. Anything related to swimming and surfing tends to be far cheaper than in Europe. 'The best place to buy mix n' match bikinis by the bucketload is from a shop called Rif Raf,' advises de Garis.
And of course, you can't leave without packing a jar of Vegemite. It's even got solid medical research to back it up, with studies on the immune systems of devotees suggesting it boosts skin health and vitality in general (probably down to the B-vitamin group that is in Vegemite in abundance).
DESTINATION: NEW ZEALAND
Look out for a brand of natural skincare products called Living Nature, started by one woman in a garage up north in Keri-Keri. All prodcuts contain the potent properties of New Zealand plants, honeys and clays. 'It's amazing line of products,' enthuses Kiwi fashion distributor Sian Leigh. 'All-natural moisturisers and cleansers for guys and girls.'
New Zealand isn't short on hip young fashion brands either and, being such lovers of the Great Outdoors it's no surprise that many of them have their roots in freesports. Huffer used to be the hottest brand to snap up - offering a collection of well-styled street and skate clothes. It still is a hot ticket for us Europeans, but seems to have lost a bit of street cred in its home country by becoming quite mass market. A similar, but slightly edgier brand is Federation, that has its roots in skateboarding and snowsports.
On the girls-only front Ruby (www.rubynz.com) is the label to look for, with beautifully cut clothes that ooze street-smart style. The label has also now launched a higher end range called Madame Hawke, if you have leftover holiday dollars to burn.
New Zealand is also a healthy eater's paradise, offering a vast range of nutritious natural goodies, from seafood to organic veggies. Look out for Lisa's Hummous, additive-free and super tasty.
New Zealand's active manuka honey is also a bit of a superfood and worth bringing home. Academic research has revealed that the best stuff seems to have antibacterial properties that can be used to treat everything from skin conditions to digestive disorders. Look for honey that has a UMF (unique manuka factor) rating and is referred to as 'active'. Those below UMF 10 are recommended for maintaining general health and good digestion. UMF10 to UMF15 are for indigestion and heartburn and can also be used externally on cuts, grazes, burns, fungal infections and wounds. UMF20 can treat gastroenteritis and stomach ulcers. There are also manuka honey creams for cold sores and acne.
Before you fly out of Auckland, squeeze in a visit to Iko-Iko on K Road. 'It's a wicked shop where you can buy anything kitsch and Kiwi without it being too touristy,' says Leigh. 'Pick up cool things like Tiki plastic Salad servers and Maori dancing ladies which you stick on your dashboard and watch them hoola.'
DESTINATION: SOUTH AFRICA
Fill your hand luggage with Rooibos tea. Although it's now available in many European health food shops and supermarkets (it's sold as Redbush in the UK), the best leaves are the ones you can pick up out there. It's naturally low in caffeine and super-refreshing on a warm day.
Pick up the healthy habit of Cape Towners by snacking on dried fruit. SA’s speciality, dried guava and mango, are particularly yummy - naturally sweet and healthier than that 4pm chocolate biscuit.
If you're spending time in Cape Town, head for Melissa’s Deli for divine dried fruit, veggie crisps and must-have munchies for healthy presents and to stock up for the flight home.
Pick up some healthy tips to start your day by getting into the habit of supercharging your breakfast. A healthy Cape-style breakfast of fruit and low fat yogurt, liberally sprinkled with mixed seeds will energise you for the day ahead and is so much better for you than croissants.
Treat your body to one of Africa's finest natural beauty products - African Shea butter. This stuff is the business for keeping skin baby soft. The spa at Cape Grace Hotel in the shadow of Table Mountain does a wonderful body butter that is deliciously rich and moisturising, without being greasy. Oh, and it incorporates the butter into all of its divine massages - just in case you fancy a pre-flight chill.
Another health essential to look out for is aloe vera. When ingested, a dose of aloin contained in the aloe vera, increases the amount and flow of bile to the intestines. Aloe grows wild on Table mountain and Cape Town is a great place to pick up all kinds of aloe products. There's even an aloe factory just outside the city.
Active girls will love Lululemon's delicious range of yoga gear and sporty urban togs. Based in Vancouver, the store also has franchises around Canada. Check it out before you travel at www.lululemon.com.
If you're headed for some action in the jaw-dropping Rockies, pick up a bar or two of Rocky Mountain Soap (www.rockymountainsoap.com). Based out of Canmore, they also wholesale to grocery stores, health food shops and kitschy places. Everything is made form pure natural ingredients and as well as soap they make bath bombs and crystals, creams and lip balms.
Although it's a bit of a tourist favourite, we can't fault Roots for selling some of the comfiest, most well-cut active wear around. The leisure brand dressed the Olympic team for the last couple of games, so are very patriotically Canadian - lots of white and red.
If you're looking for anything out of the ordinary, Japan is a great place to find it. Unusual, health snacks are worth snapping up for the flight back. 'This year I was the first time to Japan, which has crazy, weird and really good food,' says Lisa Filzmoser, pro snowboarder (sponsored by Elan, Helly Hansen, Nikita, Vans, Smith). 'There is a huge variety of things to bring home like, rice crackers, dried seafood, the best green teas or mangas. I also brought some Kit-Kat Green Tea and Melon.'
Also look out for Hi-Chews, a fun package of soft chewing candy that look like pieces of bubble gum but you can eat and swallow it. 'The best one I tried was melon-flavoured,' says Filzmoser. 'It tastes better than real melon - you just have to pretend it's as healthy!'
If you're after great gifts for the girls back home, take a look at the vast array of Japanese socks, including split socks and toe socks, which you can wear with sandals or high heels. 'I brought some really disco ones in gold and silver glitter,' says Filzmoser.