The Four Essential Rules of Souvenir Shopping


IMG_0343 I don’t think I’ve ever come back from a trip without something to remind me of it. And that’s not, I hasten to add, because I’m an indiscriminate shopper. It’s because somehow I’ve been blessed (or cursed, depending on my bank balance) with the talent of being able to sniff out a worthwhile shopportunity almost anywhere – in supermarkets, on near-deserted beaches, in pharmacies, even on the side of the road. My retail radar leads me right past the made-in-China-and-shipped-to-every-Caribbean-cruise-port crap straight to the lone vendor selling the hand-hewn sculptures no one else has. I know that while I might get a good deal on jewelry, I’m unlikely to find anything authentic or unique to my destination in a store whose name ends in “International” or “Emeralds.” And I know that buying three T-shirts for $20 is never, ever a good idea.

But even if you’re not a natural-born shopaholic like me, you can score good deals on great stuff; just take these tips.



1. Hands Off!

In the craft market or food market, if you’re not sure that you want it, don’t touch it! Fingering the merchandise only raises the vendor’s hopes and opens you up to unwanted pressure to purchase. The same rule applies if you find something you do want, because very stallholder worth their salt knows that if you pick something up, you’re much more likely to buy it. If you really want that straw basket or set of wooden coasters, play it cool. Feign disinterest, be prepared to walk away, and you’ll likely get the best price.



2. Go Local

Trust me, no one really wants another shot glass, beer coozie or T-shirt. Think beyond the norm and consider non-traditional items that are unique to the destination. I’ve brought home indigenous spices, hand-painted signs, original art and children’s books by local authors. Step out of the souvenir store and comb the supermarket and gas stations (great for local snacks). And don’t discount your hotel gift shop. While many are crammed with forgettable merch, more and more are stocking artisan-made items worth the space in your carry-on.



3. Wheel and Deal

Negotiating skills aren’t only useful at the market; they come in handy in those fancy-pants duty-free stores as well. In my experience, the price on the tag of that diamond ring is merely a starting point, so don’t hesitate to respectfully ask if the merchant can do better. And for high-priced designer baubles, make sure you know the MSRP Stateside because “duty-free” doesn’t always mean “bargain.” Sometimes you can do better on sale at your local mall.



4. Regret Nothing

Want it? Need it? Buy It! You’re much more likely to regret leaving something behind on the shelf than what you bought. As far as I’m concerned it’s far better to come back with something that, in retrospect, isn’t quite right than to sit on the plane home kicking yourself for passing up that amazing piece of art you saw in the gallery in town. So what if you bring back a dud? One shopper’s mistake is another shopper’s must-have; you can always sell it on eBay.