Souvenir Strategies by p74yxo


									Top Tips for Smart Shopping in Europe
Shopping in Europe can be fun, but not if you let it overwhelm
your trip. I like to shop smart, spending my time — and money —
efficiently. Based on three decades of travel, here are my top
tips for shopping in Europe.
   Shop in countries where your dollar goes farther. Shop in
Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Eastern Europe
where the dollar is relatively strong. For the price of a doily
in Britain, you can get a lace tablecloth in Spain.
   Shop at flea markets. The most colorful shopping in Europe is
at its open-air secondhand markets. Among the best are
Amsterdam’s Waterlooplein, London’s Portobello Market, Madrid’s
El Rastro, and Paris’ Puces St. Ouen. Flea markets anywhere have
soft prices. Bargain like mad. Pickpockets love flea markets —
wear your money belt and watch your day bag.
   Check out large department stores. These often have a souvenir
section with standard local knickknacks and postcards at prices
way below the cute little tourist shops. While the stores seem
daunting at first, they generally work like ours. Most are
accustomed to wide-eyed foreign shoppers and have English-
speaking staff.
   In Paris, visit Galeries Lafayette or Printemps. Harrods is
London’s most famous and touristy department store, but locals
prefer Liberty on Regents Street. In Italy, an upscale department
chain is La Rinascente, and in Spain, El Corte Inglés is good.
Berlin’s mammoth Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) has a staff of
2,100 to help you sort through its vast selection of 380,000
   Europe-wide chains can offer good value, especially for
designer-inspired clothing. H&M ( and C&A (www.c-and- have stylish, affordable selections. home. Often you can pick up a very
similar item of better quality for a cheaper price at home. Do
some research if you are looking for a high-end item. Before
heading off to buy a Turkish carpet in Istanbul, learn the going
rate, types of material, and signs of quality — if only to avoid
advertising your inexperience.
   Unless you’re a real romantic, the thrill of where you bought
something fades long before the item’s usefulness does. Even
thoughtful shoppers go overboard. I have several large boxes in
my attic labeled “great souvenirs.”
   Try to restrict your shopping to a stipulated time. Most
people have an idea of what they want to buy in each country. Set
aside one day to shop in each country, and stick to it. This way
you avoid drifting through your trip thinking only of souvenirs.
   If you’re a fanatic about packing light, wait until the end of
your trip to shop, then go hog-wild in the last country you visit
and fly home heavy. One summer I had a 16-pound backpack and
nothing more until the last week of my trip, when, in Spain and
Morocco, I managed to accumulate two medieval chairs, two sets of
bongos, swords, a mace, and a camelhair coat...most of which are
now (see previous point) in boxes in my attic.
   Choose good souvenirs. My favorites are books; these are a
great value all over Europe, with many editions impossible to
find in the United States. I look for local crafts, such as hand-
knit sweaters in Portugal or Ireland, glass in Sweden, painted
beehive panels in Slovenia, or lace in Belgium. I also like
strange stuffed animals (at flea markets), CDs of music I heard
live, posters (one sturdy tube stores 8-10 posters safely),
clothing, and photographs I’ve taken.
   Know the rules for US customs. You’re allowed to take home
$800 worth of items per person duty-free. If you’re at least 21,
you can also bring back a liter of alcohol duty-free, but you’ll
need to pack it (carefully) in your checked luggage, due to
restrictions on liquids in carry-ons. If I fall in love with a
variety of wine, I don’t bother lugging back a bottle. I just
write down the name and look for it back home. To check customs
rules and duty rates, visit (click “Travel,” then
“Know Before You Go”).
   Remember that window shopping is free. Shopping is an
important part of most people’s trips. But all too often, slick
marketing and romantic displays can succeed in shifting the
entire focus of your vacation toward things in the tourist shops.
I’ve seen half the members of a guided tour of the British Halls
of Parliament skip out to survey a display of plastic “bobby”
hats. Stay in control.
   Europe is a cultural carnival, and time after time, you’ll
find that its best acts are free and the greatest seats are the
cheap ones. Have fun, shop smart, and remember that your most
prized souvenirs are your memories.

[449a_BelgiumLace_RS.jpg] Look for local crafts like intricate
Belgian lace when shopping for souvenirs in Europe. (credit:
Rick Steves)

[449b_FleaMkt_RS.jpg] If you shop at flea markets, like this one
in Amsterdam, bargaining is part of the fun. (credit: Rick

Rick Steves ( writes European travel
guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public
radio. Email him at, or write to him c/o P.O.
Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

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