- I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist. – Tammy Faye Bakker
Shopping can be interpreted in several ways: as any kind of purchase, or as a pastime in its own right.
Shopping is associated with travel. Travellers might be able to buy items unavailable at home, or items cheaper, or of better quality, than at other places. Shopping can also be extended to the purchase of travel supplies, before or during travel.
Tips for shopping
- Travel light. You can cut down on baggage when travelling out, by buying clothes and toiletries for your trip on arrival, especially if you travel to a low-cost location with good shopping opportunities. You can save weight on your way home by giving used clothes to a local charity.
- Observe price levels before shopping. At first arrival in a foreign country, you can only guess whether an offer is cheap or expensive, by local standards. In touristed areas, such as airports, hotel shops and cultural attractions, prices tend to be inflated. As you pass by several stores, you might learn the commonly accepted price for regular items.
- Rule of thumb for small purchases, calculator for big ones. Use a rough rule of thumb to compare prices. Let's say you live in the United States and visit Japan, while the yen is 83 to a dollar. Since 83 is nearly 100, the rule of thumb would be deleting two zeros from the price (those used to maths could additionally adjust with 5/6 when needed). This is a good method for quickly finding out whether you would pay ¥290 for a take-away pastry. However, before buying a system camera for ¥35,000, which is USD410 at home, you should use a calculator.
- Beware of incompatible electrical systems, region-coded media, incompatible video formats and warranty restrictions when importing electronics; likewise, if you intend to bring a vehicle back, be sure it can be registered for use in your home country. The beautiful thing about standards is that there are so many from which to choose.
- Shopping comes last. There are several reasons to save shopping until the end of your stay:
- You know how much money you can spare
- You are more familiar with price levels, availability and quality (see above)
- You minimize luggage during your journey, and the risk of losing items.
- Customs duty can be part of your costs.
- Shop knowing what your home country may charge in duty if you exceed certain limits. Regulations can vary surprisingly, e.g., the U.S. treats unmounted diamonds as "rocks", but when mounted in major jewelry pieces, their basic value can quickly exceed your duty allowance. Certain items may generate duty charges regardless of price or value, e.g., tobacco, certain products of certain countries or regions.
- Take nothing with you (that has substantial market value) before your home customs authority acknowledges your prior ownership .
What to buy
Arts and crafts are popular souvenirs. The cost of handicraft tends to follow local income level; making them cheap in regions such as tropical Africa, but costly in western Europe.
Clothing is needed at least when travelling light. Also supply for the local climate is usually better locally. Travelling to lower-income countries, you may also consider e.g. tailors. Beware of different clothing size standards.
Good and bad places to shop
There are plenty of exceptions — even an awful vendor may have some good deals or be the only place selling what you want, and even an excellent one may have some overpriced rubbish — but there are also some general rules for finding good places and avoiding bad ones.
There are some good deals in tourist areas, these areas will often have a better selection of tourist-oriented goods than you might find elsewhere and facilities may be better as well; for example they may have more English-speaking staff or be set up to accept foreign credit cards which other shops will not take. However, there are also some overpriced "tourist traps" in many such areas. Often you can do better if you discover where the locals shop and go there. In particular, it is often worth wandering through a local department store.
There are a few types of specialist stores worth looking for. Many museums have shops selling high-grade replicas of items in their collections or even those of other museums; the British Museum is one good example. Many art galleries sell good books or prints. There are also many government-run shops such as India's Central Cottage Industries, set up to promote local arts and crafts. None of these are remarkably cheap but quality is generally quite high, some of the goods offered are unique and you are far less likely to be severely overcharged than in either a tourist area or a general local market.
As a general rule anywhere with a captive market tends to take advantage of the situation and overcharge. Examples include shops in airports and some hotels and, fairly often, a shop that is the only one available to people whose tour bus delivers them to some attraction. On the other hand, the larger the place the less problematic this is likely to be. In a huge airport, a mall next to a hotel or a whole tourist district there is enough competition to keep prices mostly reasonable.
In many places — across much of Asia and sometimes elsewhere — a system of guide's commission is widespread. When a tour guide, a cab driver, a rickshaw peddler or even a random "friendly" stranger takes you to such a shop, he or she gets a commission on everything you buy; more-or-less all such places are overpriced. The ones that are most attractive to unscrupulous guides because they pay the best commissions are the worst of the lot from the traveller's point of view.
- At the airport
- Budget travel
- Clothing sizes
- Common scams
- Duty free shopping
- Packing list
- Proof of what you already own