How to Shop While Traveling Abroad

Though it might sound superficial and most of us don’t like to admit it, traveling abroad is the perfect excuse to shop. It’s a feeling that whatever you purchase you will be unable to find back home because it is one of a kind and unique to its country of origin (and the classic mind trick also helps when prices look a lot lower because you conveniently forget to convert the currency. Why do math on vacation?).

Whatever your excuse, a vacation simply compels one to shop. While touring the Vatican or Buckingham Palace may hover on the agenda, let’s face it – you can’t bring those home with you and wear them over and over. With summer looming on the horizon, it seems only appropriate to visit the rules of shopping abroad.

Where do you draw the line between necessary and frivolous? There are a few things to keep in mind while shopping abroad that can save both your time and your wallet.

I know, touring the Spanish Steps can seem somewhat mundane when Yves Saint Laurent and Prada are calling your name right at the base, but rule number one, don’t buy designer abroad. Yes, the thrill of owning Prada from Italy or Vuitton from France is certainly alluring, but the exchange rate will make the already expensive items even more absurd, and, with the dollar at it’s weakest, it’s probably best to steer clear of unneeded expenses. When you can get the same thing in the states minus the currency exchange, it’s only the memory that you’re paying extra for. Visit the boutiques to window shop, but actually make the purchase back home. Contrary to the myth, designer is not actually cheaper in it’s homeland; quite the opposite, actually.

Rule number two, don’t waste your time shopping in places you can find in the states, and don’t be fooled by the trés chic European names. I’ve been to Harrods three times and it’s time to face the reality – it’s nothing but a supersized Bloomingdales.

With the exception of a few designers, most of the vendors Harrods carries are the same ones you’ll see inside any Bloomies or Neiman Marcus. Not to mention, the department store is a mad house and you’ll be lucky to navigate your way through without getting lost, frustrated or trampled by the amount of people, leaving you wondering if you’re actually in central London or on a safari in the middle of a stampede.

Skip it. If you want the same department store feel, Fortnum & Masons is much more accessible. It has the same feel to it, but with less crowding and unique-to-Britain products. The bottom level is produce, the middle has home décor and the top has lingerie, with various other categories interspersed in between (and not to mention a delicious old-time ice cream parlor). The same can be said of other countries. Avoid the mall-type venues; they’re nothing more than bigger, more hyped up versions of our American department stores.

So that brings us to rule number three, try to spend your shopping time buying things that are truly unique to the country that you honestly can’t buy at home. Of course every Paris visitor wants to check out the famous Saint Germain shopping district, but don’t spend all day there. Get lost on the backstreets of Paris, navigate your way through the cobblestones of Rome and don’t miss the old bookstores hidden through London’s Covent Garden. The local shopping may not be what your magazines are hyping, but they’re the most affordable and most rewarding spots to shop. There’s something incredibly memorable about bringing back a 3 Euro Parisian scarf from a shop in Montmartre, or a Venetian glass ring from a hidden store off the Grand Canal – those are truly the items worth purchasing items you can’t find anywhere else.

Truth be told? My favorite travel purchase will always be the one made at 31 Rue Cambon (the address of the original Chanel store), but it still can’t beat the memories conjured up when someone asks me where I got the 10 Euro glass ring on my hand, and I lose myself in memories of canals and gondoliers.