Top Tips for Shopping Abroad

According to MMGY Global’s 2018-2019 Portrait of American Travelers, more than half of respondents consider shopping to be a desirable vacation feature. And interest in browsing and buying is fairly universal across all age groups, running highest among Gen Xers (57 percent) and Millennials (54 percent), followed by Boomers (51 percent) and Matures (50 percent).

In talking to travel advisors and other industry experts, we’ve learned that there’s so much more to shopping abroad than finding a desirable object and flashing a credit card. Following are tips on where to shop for what, how to pack before the trip, how to bargain where applicable and more, as well as advice on knowing the right people on the ground in other countries.

We’ll Always Have Paris…and Also…

When it comes to a shopping-themed vacation, it’s hard to top the classics: New York, Paris, London and Milan. “In honor of Fashion Week madness commencing in New York, I feel compelled to gush over the shopping experiences available in the ‘Big Four’ fashion capitals,” Katherine Wabler of KW Travel in New York City, says. “Each one unique in their own right — Paris, New York, London and Milan — are not to be missed if you are an international shopper.”  The best shops in these cities “don’t sell clothes, they sell lifestyles,” and that’s often what the luxury jetsetter is after.

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Fellow New Yorker Erica Jackowitz of Roman & Erica, Inc. agrees. “For luxury goods its Paris, Paris and Paris.” She adds that Italy (specifically Capri, Rome, Milan and Florence) is also atop her list. And these destinations are even better the closer the U.S. dollar and the euro get to each other.

You don’t need to be in a fashion capital to find great shopping, as the world has plenty of hidden gems for all sorts of items.

Agent Erica Jackowitz tells us that for textiles or cashmere, the go-to should be India.

“I love supporting local designers, shops and markets that I stumble upon during my travels,” Wabler tells Travel Agent. “My favorite stores and markets change with each season of travel and my recommendations vary by client as I uncover their personal interests and style.”

If you’re looking for home goods, textiles or cashmere, your go-to should be India, Jackowitz says. And for that pièce de résistance? Istanbul or Marrakech is the way to go.

Getting lost in the local market can be a great way to learn about the destination and its culture; however, it may be best to do a bit of research and planning in advance.

“When you are shopping in a new destination and you have a specific idea of what you are looking for, it’s important to consult with [your travel agent] or the concierge at your hotel,” Wabler says. “If you are looking for a shopping experience that is authentic to your destination, the last thing you want is to show up at a local market or shop and find ‘Made in USA’ [or similar] on the tag. Don’t assume that merchants are selling you an authentic local product and do your due diligence to make sure you are getting the real deal.”

Sometimes you won’t even have to leave your hotel or resort to find a great boutique. “There is nothing I love more than a good resort shop or local boutique with local designers you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else in the world,” Jackowitz says. She adds that, although resort shops may have hiked the prices, you will be taking home something unique. Now, however, many resort shops offer mass-produced items, which often aren’t worth it whether they’re priced appropriately or not (due to their availability elsewhere). “Nothing in these shops seems special anymore,” Jackowitz says. “Unless you find a good one.” And a good one, she says, is Club Cinq, a boutique for kids at the Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam.

Agent Jill Taylor says a visit to the Old Biscuit Mill is a must for everyone visiting Cape Town over a weekend. Shown above are products from the Woodstock bakery.

In Cape Town, South Africa, The Watershed and Old Biscuit Mill are two of Jill Taylor’s favorite places to buy local products. Taylor, a luxury travel designer with Jetset World Travel in Chicago, tells us, “The Watershed is downtown on the V&A Waterfront and has unique local products, including clothes, jewelry, art, and food.” At the Old Biscuit Mill, “The Neighborgoods Market is full of locals every Saturday, meeting friends, grabbing yummy snacks and toasting delicious South African wines and craft beers. It should be on everyone’s itinerary when in Cape Town over a weekend.”

When it’s time to take a break from browsing, “It is always fun to go to Bascule Bar at the Cape Grace Hotel,” Taylor says. “It is a great patio for lunch or to enjoy sundowners as they have over 400 whiskies and an incredible wine cellar. Or for breathtaking views from the tallest building in the V&A Waterfront, you can head to the rooftop bar at The Silo for sunset and views of Table Mountain.”

Taylor spends a lot of personal and professional time in Tuscany, Italy, where Montepulciano is her number one town for shopping. “For incredibly high-end and cool leather goods, Maledetti Toscani is one of my favorites. I always go to La Bottega del Nobile as they have over 60 wines by the glass. They use an enomatic system so you can taste some of the best Brunellos in the region by the glass. Plus, their staff is very knowledgeable and can help you buy wine to go. They also have their own artisan shop that only carries items that are made in Tuscany.”

For clients visiting the other side of the world, Daniela Harrison, travel advisor and director of marketing at Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, AZ, shares the following advice about shopping for pearls in the South Pacific.

“Make sure the pearls are certified. Pearls are qualified in categories A-D, with A being the best. Even street vendors can certify their pearls — but you have to ask.” Most vendors — even jewelry stores — are willing to barter, she says.

“Make a reasonable offer and most of them will be very willing to accept it. For cheap pearls [$5-$30 range for gifts] buy them right at the pier in Bora Bora. They look nice and come in many styles, but they are generally quality C and D. For nicer pearls, category B and A, I would recommend to purchase them in Moorea. From what I saw, this is where we got the best prices on higher quality pearls. If you purchase pearls in a jewelry store you will need to get a customs form stamped before you board your flight home. There is a separate window at the airport for this, before you walk through the doors,” she adds.

Sometimes, you’ll find real bargains in the places you weren’t expecting to shop, says Melissa Jumper of Vacays 4 All, who tells us: “The best deals on clothing in Cambodia were at the first temple in Siem Reap, because who is expecting to shop for $3 pants at the entrance of a temple complex?” She also advises that while taking a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap might be more cost effective than flying, “It’s not worth the hassle of overheating for hours before crossing a border that many might consider terrifying.”

Closer to home, Jumper, a frequent visitor to Hawaii, offers this advice: “Oahu thrift stores off the beaten path are chock full of interesting trinkets at a much lower price point” than mainstream establishments.

Wine bar at Monteverdi Tuscany, a post-shopping respite recommended by Jill Taylor.

Make Room, Make Room

It’s important to plan for any purchases you might make. Be sure to either leave some extra space in your suitcase to fill up on your trip or pack a foldable bag that you can use if you’re planning on hitting the boutiques frequently. Jackowitz suggests The Adjustable Bag A10 by Piorama.

Wendy Sarama of Edgewood Travel concurs, telling us that, “For a shopping vacation, it’s easy to double your luggage. Try packing a duffle-size carry on if you are checking bags and bring home packed with some of your new finds.” Alternatively, “If you are shopping in a store that offers shipping, ship it home to you so you don’t have to pack it. It’s always best to pay with a credit card and get a business card from the owner to keep track of purchases and make sure you can track your package.”

Sarama recommends Luggage Free, a company that allows you to prearrange pickup for your luggage or packages from most destinations. “It’s an easy way to get your new treasures home. You pack it up and they will pick up and provide tracking.”

Packing a smaller suitcase or duffle in one’s suitcase to ensure space for their purchases is just one piece of advice Jennifer Doncsecz, president, VIP Vacations Inc., has for clients, especially if they “are specifically traveling to a destination because they have incredible shopping venues.” Here are some other tips:

Shipping: “Before I automatically feel like I have to lug my purchases home, I often ask the retailer I am shopping at, if they ship things. Example: While in Italy, I found many of the wineries actually shipped the wine to the U.S. for a very small fee which was so much better than lugging the bottles around and allowed us to purchase more bottles than we would have due to the customs restrictions on carrying wine home.”

Customs: “Many countries have very specific rules for how much alcohol you can bring home as well as some forbidden items you are not allowed to bring [certain cheeses in the Netherlands can’t be brought into the U.S., as well as other items such as meats, flowers, and plants].”

VAT (Value Added Tax): “When shopping abroad, have your passport with you or even just a photo of your photo page of your passport handy [take a picture of it and keep on your phone] and the retailer will provide VAT forms and fill them out so you can get the taxes you paid credited back. You will have to keep the receipts, the VAT forms and the items with you and go to the VAT counter at the airport [many of the VAT counters are before the security check points] so keep that in mind before you check in your luggage.”

Scents and Sensibility

Whatever you’re looking for “it’s important to find special pieces that will remind you of the destination,” says Jackowitz — “whether that’s art, home goods, clothing or anything else.”

Possibly our favorite shopping tip is about a purchase you make before your trip. When Jackowitz is planning a special trip, she doesn’t pack any perfume or cologne. “Instead, when you get to the airport, head over to Duty Free. There, you should purchase a brand-new scent, something you have never smelled or used before. Use that scent exclusively throughout your trip and forever, into your future, that scent will bring you back to this freeze-frame moment in your lives and to that destination.”

Humans’ olfactory sense has, perhaps, the strongest link to memory of all the senses. So, this tip is a great way to boost that link by isolating a sense to a specific trip. “It’s surreal,” Jackowitz says. “I can literally ‘smell’ Cuba [where she recently celebrated her birthday] right now.” Her husband, Roman Chiporukha, adds one more piece of advice: “If you travel as much as we do, [it’s best to] put a piece of tape on the bottom of the perfume bottle with a reminder: Cuba Jan. ’19 or Courchevel Dec. ’18 and then, for sure, you’ll never forget.” /

Daniela Harrison saw these pearls in a shop in Moorea and later bought a small strand of certified “A” quality pearls after bargaining the price down from $850 to $350.

Expert Help on the Ground

Erica Jackowitz tells US that her agency, Roman & Erica doesn’t rely on a single destination management company (DMC) when it comes to shopping trips, as “it is very important to have the right personal shoppers, art consultants, interior designers in each destination throughout the world and we [Roman & Erica, Inc.] have spent years cultivating such contacts no matter where our client’s travel takes them.”

Also regarding DMCs, Cristina Buaas of CSB Travel in Houston says that the majority of the ones her agency uses have shopping-focused tours or expert guides. “We also have several preferred shopping venues in Virtuoso, such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris and The Mall in Florence. I always register my clients going to these destinations for these stores. They receive very nice amenities from VIP tax refund service to complimentary transfers.”

For two of her favorite destinations, Tuscany and South Africa, Jill Taylor of Jetset World Travel in Chicago uses Exclusively Italy and Giltedge Africa, respectively.

KW Travel’s Katherine Wabler highly recommends working with Abercrombie & Kent. “Hands down, I choose to work with the A&K all-star team worldwide. They can handle anything and always go the extra mile to create once-in-a-lifetime fashion experiences for my clients,” she says. “Clients can feel like industry insider in destinations where the world’s most famous designers exhibit their latest collections.”

“I try to encourage people to combine a shopping trip with getting to know the destination,” says Stephanie Turner, president and CEO of Brentwood Travel. “Don’t make shopping the entire trip because at the end you’ll just be blurry eyed and exhausted. Hire someone on location — we have on location suppliers all over the world — and they can help get into places clients wouldn’t be able to get into on their own. For example, in Italy I had a group and one of the couples wanted to buy leather coats for their whole family for Christmas. He got them into a leather factory that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”

Shops and such may change over time, she cautions. “I could have been some place and I haven’t been back in five years and a lot can change, so it’s good to have someone there who can get your clients to the right places.”

“We use our destination specialists around the globe … true experts who can get clients access behind the scenes and elevate their vacation experiences,” says Avenues of the World’s Daniela Harrison. “As part of Signature travel network,” she adds, “We have access to a huge network of destination specialists.”

Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

Stay Sharp for Shopping — Avoid Jet Lag

Perhaps the best part about local shopping is it’s something you can do right off the plane (depending on your arrival time). So, the best way to take advantage of that first day is to prepare for jet lag. But how can you negate its effects?

“Drink lots of water on the plane. Lots. And don’t dehydrate yourself with too much red wine,” says Roman & Erica’s Erica Jackowitz. “As soon as you get on the plane, set your watch to the time zone for that destination.”

KW Travel‘s Katherine Wabler takes it one step further, telling us, “I always recommend starting to adjust your body clock before departure, if a client’s schedule allows. That is to say, begin preparing for jet lag by going to bed earlier or staying up later the nights prior to travel, so your body can begin acclimating to the time change. Once you arrive, exercise helps a lot to expel some of the toxins from travel. Drink lots of water and stay away from alcohol until your body adjusts. I recommend reading ‘Living Well on the Road’ for some more amazing jet lag recovery and prevention tips, written by my good friend Linden Schaffer of Pravassa.”

“Once at your destination, Take a cat nap,” says VIP Vacations Inc.’s Jennifer Doncsecz, “This means about one hour to 90 minutes max. Even though your body might want more sleep, set your alarm and get up and shower. Then get outside and in the sun.”

Booking a hotel with a transit room or spa is also a good idea, says Meredith Rothouse of Edgewood Travel. “If you can’t get into the room right away… taking a shower and changing is a huge help to fight off jet lag.” She also suggests planning a walking or overview tour for the afternoon. “Get some fresh air … maybe stop for tea or decaf coffee and get a lay of the land. Then an early dinner and early bed time to start fresh the next day.”

Likewise, Stephanie Turner of  Brentwood Travel says, “When you get where you’re going don’t go to bed, then your clock will never be adjusted. I like to get to my room, wash my face and then go for a walk.” She also recommends that travelers try to buy the best airline seat they can afford and also “Buy the most direct route you can afford. To save 20 or 50 dollars on an international flight, it’s not worth it. You want to be able to get on the plane and make as few changes as possible.” Dress comfortably (but not sloppy) for the flight, she adds, and of course, keep yourself well hydrated and avoid alcohol and caffeine.

USTOA’s Terry Dale picked up this sculpture in Tanzania; it’s made from recycled flip-flops.

Suppliers Share Shopping Stories

Travel Agent also reached out to top supplier executives and industry experts for some of their favorite shopping stories.

Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

“I always look for a local market that includes artisans and native crafts. One of my favorite pieces I unearthed was a market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The artist picks up flip-flops that have washed up on their beaches and then presses the soles into a solid block. She then carves sculptures from the flip-flops! I love anything that recycles and has a local story attached to it.”

Ellen Bettridge, President and CEO Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

“We are so fortunate to travel and finding treasures along the way is part of the experience. I appreciate local items that give back to the communities, tell a story and remind me of the destination.

“I enjoy entertaining at home and love finding beautiful handmade bowls or platters along my travels. On our Amman and Petra pre cruise/tour in Egypt through our partnership with the TreadRight foundation we visit the Iraq al-Amir women’s cooperative which has some of the most unique, hand-made serving dishes each with its own story — this is a way to truly make travel matter.”

“I also seek out local delicacies such as the special vinegars found at the Weinessiggut Doktorenhof estate on our Castles along the Rhine itinerary or wines from small, family owned vineyards along the Gardonne river in Bordeaux that you could never find at home.”

When we asked the executive team at Preferred Hotels & Resorts for their best shopping tips, we received a trio of answers with insider info.

Michelle Woodley, President

“I love to look at/and or buy unique and locally inspired jewelry when I am traveling. This past summer, we took a family trip back to my roots in Greece. In Athens, we visited a jeweler that my husband and I had been to on our honeymoon (21 years earlier!). Old Orient Jewelers at 73 Pondrossou st. did not disappoint — I picked up a beautiful double ring with the Greek key design; and the best part of it is that it is a reversible ring with hinges that can be more casual during the day with flat gold and has beautiful diamonds on the reverse for a dressier night time feel.”

Rick Stiffler, Vice President, Leisure Sales

“I love wearing espadrilles around the house, especially in the summer. On a recent trip to Cartagena I found a great pair at SOLOIO Cartagena, a nice Spanish brand that offers high quality accessories for men. The store also has fantastic linen shirts and swimsuits, which altogether make the perfect outfit for any beach vacation.” (Location: a 34-102,, Cra. 5 #348, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia)

Kristie Goshow, Chief Marketing Officer

“I love to collect snow globes on every trip for the kids. There’s something nostalgic about them and they create a story of travel for my children. It’s a visible representation of where I am spending my time when I am not with them and they can learn about the world. You can find snow globes in every airport around the world by different gift outlets.

“I’m also addicted to inflight duty free goods — I always get something from the gadgets section. Recently, on a flight with Singapore Airlines, I finally caved and purchased a Philip Stein Sleep bracelet that claims to help balance your circadian rhythm. Given all the time zones I had travelled through on a 7-day trip, I felt compelled to make the purchase. I didn’t regret it. It was a healthy way to “find my balance” again.”

(Tip: We also hear that Kristie’s most recent snow globe purchase was at Hudson News McCarran International Airport…in Las Vegas).

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