Between must see – must do attractions, few travelers resist the lure of shops, bazaars, and markets. Most shoppers have their favorite shopping venues…outlet malls, trendy boutiques, markets and bazaars. As a former flight attendant, addicted leisure traveler and avid shopper, I spend hours bargaining, bartering, buying, and bantering with sellers at an outdoor markets throughout the world.
Here are some of my favorite tips and tactics to make travel shopping productive and fun.
Research guidebooks and websites and learn about local specialties. Make a list of things you want to buy and a gift list. Study prices so you don’t pay more for items than they cost at home. Use Ebay or enter the item as a search word on Yahoo or Google for price comparisons.
Read Know Before You Go from U.S. Customs at www.customs.gov. I learned the hard way how easy it is to accidentally bring in prohibited items. Returning from Barcelona after a cruise, I spotted a huge strand of fresh garlic in an airport shop. The shopkeeper assured me it was approved for import. I could imagine all the tasty garlic dishes I would prepare. I purchased it, tied it to the outside of my carry-on bag, and declared it on my Customs form. In New York, Customs took one look and ordered us to the Department of Agriculture. For two hours our bags were meticulously searched for other restricted items. I had nightmares of being branded in the annals of Customs as a garlic smuggler. As an experienced traveler, I knew better. My taste buds overruled commonsense. We missed our flight home and my husband never lets me live down the great garlic caper.
If you enjoy shopping in markets and bazaars, learn to bargain with best. Ask. your travel agent, cruise director, or hotel concierge about local bargaining protocol. Print a pocket-sized currency exchange cheatsheet from www.oanda.com. Compare prices at several local shops before buying. Begin bargaining at 50% off the asking price and expect to settle for about 40% off the seller’s original price. Decide what you are willing to pay and walk away if you can’t agree on a reasonable rice.
Don’t be intimated by aggressive shopkeepers. One seller tactic is to whip out a calculator and punch in the asking price as if making serious deliberations. We experienced this in Italy, Turkey, Hong Kong, and Mexico. Ask for the calculator and enter your own “calculation.” Don’t haggle over pennies. When negotiations reach that point, give in. Consider the economic conditions where you are and how much a few cents means in a poor economy. Expect to get “taken” occasionally. It’s part of the experience and makes a good travel story, if you admit it!
Read credit card fine print. If you pay for purchases with a credit card, the exchange rate you are charged is the rate the day the charge posts to your account, not the day of your purchase. If exchange rates are volatile, you could pay much more than you thought for charged items. Keep a log and receipts for all your purchases. Use your log to complete your customs form and verify purchases on your charge card statement.
Take a few small gifts. Inexpensive items such as sunglasses, bandannas, and ballpoint pens are sought after in many countries. Use the gifts to barter or simply enjoy the pleasure and goodwill they bring.
No matter where you shop, seek out unique mementos that have meaning long after your trip. I always search for a small item (not necessarily a traditional ornament) for our Christmas tree. Each year as we decorate our holiday “memory” tree, we relive wonderful travel memories. My garage walls are covered floor to ceiling with inexpensive travel posters/prints. I smile each time I pull into the garage and see favorite travel destinations.\