Bringing back a bottle of wine takes just a bit of planning ahead, since there are steps to take to make sure it arrives home in one piece. Bring a BottleWise wine carrier to stuff that gorgeous South African white or deep Italian red safely into your suitcase. (Of course, wine has to go in checked luggage.) Try bringing back a bottle that isn't easily found at home and open it on a special occasion.
Foreign and exotic chocolates are readily available in tons of shops across the country, but buying them straight from the source can make that dark, bittersweet chocolate extra special. Chocolate makers like Mast Brothers Chocolate, from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Valhrona, just outside of Lyon in France; and Cotton Tree Chocolate in Belize all do a fantastic job of being both delicious and hyper-local products.
Dario Cecchini is the famous Dante-quoting butcher whose macelleria (butcher shop) is a destination in itself, on a quiet side street in Chianti. One of the best products to bring home from the region is his "Essence of Chianti," which is a mixture of Sicilian sea salt and aromatic herbs from Tuscany like sage, lavender, rosemary, thyme, fennel, and juniper. Just smelling it will conjure up images of those rolling Italian hills.
Hunting down exotic spices in your hometown can be a thrill all its own, but imagine the joy of cooking a Moroccan recipe with ras el hanout brought home from markets in Marrakech, adding real Spanish saffron to that paella, or attempting a mole sauce with spices from Oaxaca. Spices are easy to carry and can be bought in all sizes (even carry-on friendly).
Most liquors can be found stateside at this point, whether at grocery stores or specialty shops. But bringing back a bottle of rum from the Caribbean, a local mezcal producer's wares from Mexico, a bottle of port wine direct from Portugal, or even a bottle of bourbon from a trip spent tasting your way through Kentucky can make every sip a reminder of the fun you had when you first tried it.
Many places are known for stellar local coffee production — Costa Rica, Hawaii, Colombia, Peru — so bringing back a bag of rich, aromatic coffee from there not only supports a local farmer, but connects every morning cup of joe to that trip and that place. Take a tour of a coffee plantation, learn about its roots and production, and then bring some back to let the holiday linger a little longer.
There are a few places where maple syrup is a source of local, and even national, pride — Canada and Vermont the most iconic among them. While traveling through either of those regions, pick up a bottle of true, local maple syrup for yourself and a few for your friends. Visit a local producer to see just how it's made.
Salt is such a unique and vital part of every diet around the world, from the Himalayas to the South of France. No matter where the road leads, there will surely be some local salt that brings an individual taste to a dish — fleur de sel, pink Himalayan salt, gray salt from Alsace, Indian black salt, Sicilian sea salt, and even salts from Hawaii can add unique flavor to any dish (even if you're just sprinkling it on a slab of butter before spreading it on warm toast).
A large wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano may seem like something Customs agents would have a field day with, but if it's vacuum-sealed, it's good to go. Imagine a big, beautiful wheel of handmade local cheese just waiting to be shaved onto a plate of pasta for dinner. It will last a very long time, and the rinds can be used for flavoring soups and sauces, so you'll be able to reminisce about your trip through Italy for a while to come.
Diving into new cuisines is fun and eye-opening, and the best part comes when you bite into something you absolutely adore. The worst part comes when you go home and try to recreate it, or find someone else to, and it just doesn't measure up. So bring the original home — sweet things that locals eat all the time, like kaya in Singapore or dulce de leche in Mexico (pictured), are easy to find there and can be hard to locate at home.