Emily Holland is the author of Red Scare, a hilarious catalogue of outrageous Russian fashion.


Hilarious Russian fashion commentator & bon vivant Emily Holland dishes insider tips on shopping abroad like a pro.  We’ve got news: packing light does not apply for the way home.  Rule #1 — just buy it.  There, don’t you feel better now?

For many of us, the thrill of being handed a full shopping bag of NEW stuff over the counter is akin to what I imagine gamblers feel after watching the roulette ball roll into place. Euphoria.

While I am clearly loath to enable shopping addictions, one of life’s great joys is indeed picking up souvenirs (or, lets face it, a little well deserved something for oneself) while on a trip abroad.

However, shopping abroad can be fraught with dangers. Who hasn’t experienced the stinging remorse of falling in love with an object; deciding to “think about it” and then never making it back to that store again? Oh gorgeous hand-made Italian leather shoes from that tiny shop in Siena, I’m still dreaming of you! And not only that — have you ever been shopping in some exotic market, been convinced to buy some trinket and then seen the same exact thing for half the price a few stalls away? Sucker!

But fret not, dear readers. There are ways to be a smart shopper abroad so that you avoid missing out and being taken for a ride.

First, while obvious, the most important thing is to know your currency conversions cold. Being able to fast and easily convert the currency du jour into dollars, pounds and euros will help you know just how much you might be willing to spend. Further, if you are in any haggling type situation, be clear about the conversion to make yourself look like a more formidable opponent and walk away with a better deal.

Second, do reconnaissance. Shopping, like spying, is an art. And what secret agent would go out into the field without having done a little research? Find out what the best artisanal and local products are before you head out and ask locals where they would buy them. Next, if you are shopping in a market, do the rounds first before you buy. This way you can get an idea of exactly what is on offer before you commit. Ask and compare prices.

Third, carry cash. While it certainly isn’t advisable to carry loads of currency on your person at all times, it is also true that you often get a better deal when you pay in cash. In many countries credit cards are not universally accepted, and sometimes you are asked to pay an additional fee by the vendor.

Finally, just do it. If you fall in love with an item you see while abroad, my general advice is to buy it. Now obviously this comes with caveats. It is probably not a great idea to buy that totally adorable elephant you rode on in Cambodia, but I bet you will regret not buying that gorgeous silk scarf. If you are exploring a city it is an altogether too common occurrence to “misplace” a store or run out of time to revisit, so do yourself a favor and go for it.