Holiday Shopping – What to Buy When You’re Abroad

Posted in Beauty, Fashion, Travel.

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I’m rounding off a bit of a travel-focused week of posts with some thoughts on holiday shopping. Judging by my aptitude for it back home, it’s maybe quite surprising that I don’t really shop much when I’m away. I love wandering round markets and nipping into antique stores, and you can’t keep me away from a good foreign supermarket (Lays instead of Walkers crisps. What’s that about?!), but proper, all-day-long, browsing-for-bargains shopping? Nah.

Maybe it’s because there’s so much else to see and do when you’re in a different country. Why spend all day in H&M when the Empire State Building is a few blocks away? Plus, carrying a load of shopping bags whilst heading up the Eiffel Tower is tourism in its purest form. So rather than bulldozing round a Spanish Zara in the same way you’d tackle Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon, here are my tips for sensible shopping in more exotic climes.

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Buy things that are unique to your location

One of life’s greatest joys is uttering the sentence “oh, this? I haggled for it with a toothless man at a street market in northern Bolivia.” MUCH more satisfying than admitting your necklace is from Primark’s bargain bin.

Look out for traditional goods that represent the culture of your location. Street markets are great for local crafts and produce, and you know no one will have something similar. This hand painted traditional shawl is from Indonesia.

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Buy things you love, cheaper

Despite our contracting economy, the Pound is still a strong currency which means exchange rates are often favourable and you get more ‘holiday money’. Obviously, many destinations are crazy expensive (particularly in Europe) which can negate any saving, but if you shop carefully there are bargains to be had.

French pharmacies are having a bit of a moment, and Brits are flocking to City-Pharma to stock up on Bioderma, CaudaliΓ© and all those lovely products you raise your eyebrows at the price of in Space NK. Pharmacy culture is huge across Europe and many popular cities have shops on every corner, locally priced and without the added cost for importing to the UK.

Duty Free is another place to pick up high-end products at cheaper prices. Perfume is always a good Duty Free purchase – use up your leftover notes and stock up on bigger bottles.

Buy things you can’t get at home (yet)

I really do think Sephora does more for European tourism than any other brand. By keeping us here in the UK Sephora-less, they force us to travel across the continent and hunt down precious Make Up For Ever in their many European stores. But a visit to a foreign city is a great chance to pick up brands and products we don’t have at home, and Sephora is pretty much the mecca.

If you’re heading to America, make sure you leave space in your suitcase for all the products we see on TV but can’t buy in the UK. Cover Girl, Lucky Charms, the weirder M&Ms flavours… even products we do get in the UK, like the iPhone, are released in the USA first and it can take months for them to filter over the Pond, which makes them worthwhile investments if you’d probably them buy at home, anyway.

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Buy things that remind you of a fantastic holiday

It may be cheesy, tourist-tastic and totally uncool, but buying souvenirs is a fun way to remember a great time. A ridiculously expensive ‘professional’ photo from the top of the Sears Tower, a keyring that says ‘Barcelona rocks!’, an I <3 NY t-shirt – all little reminders of places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. Well worth the inflated prices.

What do you buy when you’re abroad?


Cassandra Perrin

I’m going on holiday in a few days and this post is right up my street. Love the little tips and yes I will be buying that oh so cheesy I <3 NY top πŸ˜€ (Most probably will buy two so I can Mary-Kate and Ashley style one :P) Love this post. xx


Just got back from working in Vienna and bought a beautiful jewellery tray for my bedside table – you’re so right about what to buy! I work abroad a lot and I always bring back chocolate for the boy and he loves trying out all the different types! This year I’ve been to a few countries already and got the following: Poland – vodka, Dublin – temple bar tee, Germany – sausages, Vienna – jewellery tray. I’m off to the States in 2 weeks and a NY tee is the top of my list alongside the list of sweets everyone has given me! X


I agree with you here Jen, there are many more things I’d rather be doing on holiday than shopping especially if it’s a city you’ve never gone to before. Normally when I go away to more shopping friendly detinations I plan my shopping in advance. Last time I went to Paris I knew I wanted to checkout city pharma and sephora. When I go to NYC next month I want to pick up a Rocco and some MJ mouse flare as they’re a lot cheaper, I’ll also pop into a few a few other stores but shopping will not be the focus of the trip. Nothing worse than carrying bags around museums etc


Barcelona is famous for its beaches, natural climate, villas and great architectural buildings .. I never go from there without seeing the Sagrada Familia of Antoni Gaudi. Thank you so much for adding your valuable time to post and give valuable information on Barcelona.
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