If, like me, you’re partial to a bit of homewares or memorabilia shopping whilst you’re travelling then I hope this post gives you some useful pointers to help you: get the best deal; stop any buyer’s remorse the moment you set foot back on home soil (ugh, I’ve been there); and fill your home with treasured memories that you will enjoy for years to come.
Tip 1: Research
Ok, this is probably a little bit nerdy for some, but if you are likely to want to bring something home from your upcoming travels, then it makes sense to take a little bit of time finding out what your destination is famous for producing or creating before you go. Some guidebooks will include information on locally made goods which is a good starting place. Otherwise, a quick internet search will probably provide you with all the information you’ll need. And hang tight as I am working on a range of interiors shopping guides for cities I have visited (here’s my guide to Marrakesh and to Abu Dhabi), which I hope will help you further. Make sure you subscribe to my email list so you don’t miss out!
Now, having said all this, you may not want to buy something that the particular city, region or country is famous for. That makes sense – for example, I have never wanted to buy lace goods – I just can’t think what I would do with them in my home. If so, you may be wiser to just wing it and see what takes your fancy whilst you’re there. That’s fine too, but leads me nicely onto point 2…..
Tip 2: Avoid the tourist traps
Many tourist shops, especially in major cities, have really upped their game lately in terms of stylish and good quality items to purchase. In Riga, Berlin, Copenhagen and Barcelona I noticed that the official tourist shops had invested in a range of funky items, often made by local artists or designers, that really stood apart from the more general souvenir shops. To me, these can offer a good choice for a little something to bring home. I chose three prints from Berlin from a local artist that really caught my eye earlier this year, and I almost came home with a stylised Copenhagen print from Denmark (I don’t rule out picking one up when I visit next….). So if you spot something in one of these stores (hand printed tea towels, stationery etc), go crazy, as you will probably still like it when you unpack it.
Otherwise, do think carefully about what you are buying and from where. In most tourist traps, the products on offer are overpriced, poorly made (often not even in the country you’re in!) and far from unique. And the money spent in these places generally does not even go to those who need it most. I would say that it’s fine to get your inspiration from some of these stores, but you should then try to look a little further afield to get better quality (and better priced) items that you’ll actually treasure. And that won’t disintegrate in your luggage on your way home.
Tip 3: Think about how you’ll use/ where you’ll place the item when you get back
Now, this one is pretty important. It may look great in the store, surrounded by lots of other similar items and decor. But where on earth will you put it once you get back into your home? I’m not saying don’t buy it – if the item is small and will add to an already quirky display on your shelves, or is a cool print that would fit right into an eclectic gallery wall – then by all means get your wallet out. But if it is a slightly larger piece, or it’s a dinnerware item that contrasts quite significantly from everything else you own, then think carefully before you indulge. There will no doubt be times when it still makes sense to buy the item. Quite often the key to an eclectic and individual interior is the range of interesting pieces within it and the stories they tell. So, all I’m saying is stop and think about how the item will work in your space alongside your existing possessions. If it will, then great, I can hear the till ringing it up right now…..
Tip 4: Be prepared to haggle
I’ll confess that until very recently, I considered myself to be completely rubbish at haggling. I would much rather determine whether the price being asked for a piece is reasonable or not, and then pay it. I couldn’t be dealing with haggling (and the horror of working out if you’ve offended the store owner or not by coming in too low on your first offer….), but in certain countries, they actually get offended if you don’t haggle – and so I’ve learnt to embrace it. Read how I overcame my haggling fears here! Generally speaking, you can haggle as much or as little as you want to – it’s about making a judgment call at the time and learning when the store owner has definitely reached his/her limit. And it’s always worth remembering that the shop owners need to make a living, so be mindful of that when you are chasing a bargain.
Tip 5: Pack it properly for the trip home
My final tip is a bit obvious, but so important, I couldn’t not include it. Do try to ensure that whatever treasures you’ve bought are packed properly for the journey home. There is nothing worse than opening up your suitcase to find your clothes covered in shampoo (or that unwise purchase of Ouzo – been there) or your treasured ceramics in several pieces. I often try to squeeze any breakables into my hand luggage so that I can keep an eye on them. If that’s not possible, wrapping items in clothes or putting smaller items into shoes can be a good way to cushion them in a suitcase and help them to withstand boisterous baggage handlers. Another great tip – pack a bit of bubble wrap in your case just in case. It weighs nothing, takes up no space but can come in super handy if you indulge in bit of impromptu overseas retail therapy!
And whilst the above are my top 5 tips, I should also stress the need to be responsible – don’t squirrel away mementos from ancient sites, and be careful with taking/buying flora or fauna if you can’t be sure where its from or whether it is cruelty free. Removing such items could be illegal, risks causing irreversible damage, and could be contributing to the illegal wildlife trade. No souvenirs are worth that and will certainly not give you that warm and fuzzy feeling when you get them back home.
What are your fave buys from overseas? And what are your experiences of shopping abroad – good or bad? I’d love to hear them and whether you think there is anything I need to add to this list.
Happy travels and shopping,