my case, a small portion of every trip abroad is devoted
to browsing the shops and markets. I'm always on the
lookout for creative and inexpensive finds to share
with my friends and family back home. Over the years,
I seem to have honed my investigative techniques and
learned to prepare properly so that now inventive
gift shopping takes no effort at all. In fact, I actually
find it relaxing. It's a great solo activity, the
people-watching is wonderful and it always helps me
to understand the local culture.
following are my tried and tested "don't shop till
you drop" Journeywoman hints. Perhaps some of them
will be of help to you, too...
It is hardly ever the tourist souvenir shops
I find terribly exciting. Rather, it's the
supermarkets, farmer's markets, museum boutiques,
drug stores and specialty shops that offer
up the creative treasure-trove of goodies.
the hot spots...
When I find a shopping spot I really like,
the address, telephone and fax number is noted
in my journal. This way, I can return on my
next trip, re-order specialties by mail if
necessary and I can share my best finds with
girlfriends when they go off travelling.
Always prepare for shopping. Even though I
might only travel with a backpack or a small
suitcase on wheels, I take along another foldable
bag to be used as a carry-on for the trip
home. Ditto for an extra small combination
lock to keep your purchases safe in case they
need to be stored along the way. Carrying
some clear adhesive tape and scissors in one's
backpack generally comes in hand,too.
while the iron is hot...
Many times I buy two or three of an object
that really appeals to me. When I return,
these are stored in my gift drawer ready for
special occasions and holiday gift-giving.
At the market in Hong Kong, for example, fabulous
cloisonné style teaspoons were being
offered at a ridiculously low price. I bought
a dozen, paired them with interesting jars
of jam at home and, presto, they became wonderful
gift wrap is boring...
To make presents even more interesting, wrap
them before you come home. Instead of ordinary
gift wrap, use the cartoon pages from foreign
newspapers. Buy foreign gift cards as well.
I sometimes ask an English-speaking clerk
to help me make my selection. They love it
and it makes the transaction so much more
fun! Old postcards picked up for a song at
flea markets work well as gift enclosures
as do brand new ones from museum shops.
Be an eco-friendly
Remember your eco-friendly string shopping
bag or buy one at your destination. Some outdoor
markets (Munich's Viktualienmarkt is a perfect
example) expect the buyer to be prepared and
most supermarkets in Europe generally charge
for each plastic bag the customer needs.
put it in the car and take it home...
Shopping abroad is not like shopping at home.
To be suitable, a good purchase must also
be fairly light, portable and easily packable.
It should fit effortlessly in your small suitcase
or you should be able to mail it home without
breaking the bank on postage. Small picture
frames (everybody can use at least one more)
are high on my list of suitable gifts. When
in London, I always head for Habitat, a home
furnishings shop where the prices are low
but the styling is very, very high.(196 Tottenham
aren't used to is a novelty...
Soaps, shower gels and powders sold in your
hometown drugstores are utilitarian and everybody
you know has tried them. However, a stop at
a chemist in the U.K. or a pharmacie in France,
will yield moderately priced body-care products
that become a novelty when you bring them
home. Au Printemps, the renown Paris Department
store has a fantastic assortment of soaps,
lotions and creams -- probably the best in
Paris. At Boots, in London, ask to see their
offerings of inexpensive aromatherapy products.
In Israel, a familiar type of toothpaste (i.e.
Crest) with the brand name written in Hebrew
can be matched with a new toothbrush and voila...
a culturally-correct present for the young
person on your "hard-to-buy-for" list.
The same applies to teas, biscuits and candies
on sale in groceries. While I don't usually
look for presents in my hometown supermarket,
I'm never disappointed with a browse through
foreign food shops. One trip, the corner store
in Edinburgh yielded delicious shortbread
cookies plus I discovered Stroopwafels (Dutch
Tea cookies) and mouth watering Droste chocolate
pastilles in Amsterdam. In Instanbul, I was
directed to Koska Helvacisi,the shop that
sells the best Turkish Delight and Halvah
in the city. And, not one of these presents
cost me more than $3.00.
Foreign markets are always a delight. This
is where one finds the perfect something for
pals who love to cook. Walking through the
Vegetable Market Clock Tower in Jodpur, India
I came upon Shop 209-B. Here, the merchant
who actually supplies Harrod's Department
Store with their upscale curry powder and
masala spices also plies his wares to the
locals (at a fraction of the cost). While
in Provence I discovered a herb mix for fish
that I still dream about. Both amazing finds!
Pop into the post office any place you visit.
For practically pennies, you can always bring
back interesting, colorful stamps for the
youngsters on your list.
a bit of the culture...
Music shops around the world are a pleasure
to explore and compact disks or cassettes
are so easy to pack. In Dublin, I happily
found the CD that all the Irish women were
quick to recommend. "A Woman's Heart," is
a compilation of their top female vocalists
singing incredibly poignant love ballads.
I definitely should have bought more of those!
T's for little ones...
any toddlers to shop for? I usually head for
the local university and seek out their mini
t-shirts. Now the little ones in my extended
family sport Harvard, Cambridge, Sorbonne
and Oxford T's. The children are seldom impressed
but their parents just love my choices.