Every shopper is a bargain hunter but the hunt differs and ranges from inexpensive souvenir and gift items to big ticket art and jewelry. The latter-type shopper should price compare before the trip. It's not unusual to find the item selling for less at the local mall than it does in Italy, for example. Here are some of the best buys in cities around the world this veteran traveler has found. And, a few words of warning based on experience.
Pearls in Australia -- Although Japan is known for cultured pearls, nine-millimeter and larger South Sea pearls are harvested south of Australia. Excellent quality strands of 13 and 14 mm pearls are selling for half the price of Hong Kong or Japan. A recent purchase was appraised by my local jeweler at four times what I paid.
Tip: Be sure your receipt reads “temporarily strung pearls without clasp” so you won't pay duty when you return to the U.S.
Gold and diamond jewelry in Istanbul -- The Grand Bazaar is dazzling, overwhelming and intimidating but after your eyes have grown accustomed to awesome shop windows, go back and haggle until the shop keeper doesn't follow you out of the souk. Jewelry is beautifully crafted and prices are fair (after bargaining). Jewelers are reliable and written appraisals are recognized by insurance companies.
Carpets in Istanbul -- Carpet merchants are best compared with used car salesmen. If you survive the coffee and the dozens of carpets thrown out for your inspection, there are excellent values in silk hand made carpets. Wool rugs are cheaper, but the elegant silks are better buys. Carpet merchants in the Bazaar (and elsewhere) are usually reliable and merchandise is shipped promptly although they will try to convince customers to hand carry items.
Made-to-order tailored clothing -- Hong Kong and Bangkok. Prices are lower in Bangkok but workmanship and fabrics are of better quality in Hong Kong. Men do well in both places. A good example is a package deal offered by tailors in both places. Three suits, five shirts and three ties for U.S. $199! With one-day delivery guaranteed. Five made-to-order Egyptian cotton shirts, priced at U.S. $100 in the Ocean Terminal, which is where most ships dock is an outstanding value.
Bargain shopping for everything -- The Orient. The best shopping in Hong Kong is across the border in Szenchen, China. A 40-minue train ride takes shoppers to a seven-story two-city block building filled with everything produced in China and other Asian countries. No credit cards and no U.S. dollars are officially accepted, but there were some pretty good deals possible for payment with US $100 bills. Roll-a-boards ($10 to $100 for LV copies), shoes ($10 -$15), top designer handbag copies and sportswear, real and costume jewelry, fine silks and “antiques” are plentiful, but the HK $3 manicures and pedicures, and massages for HK $5 are not to be missed.
Tip: Thailand and Vietnam do not have diamond mines, so the white stones used in mountings are usually crystal or artificial diamonds. The rubies, emeralds and sapphires are probably real.
Leather and designer clothing in Italy -- Follow the strength of the dollar for best buys throughout Europe. This year, it's Italy for clothing and leather. Inexpensive giant size, hand finished silk scarves are selling for about $10. Soft leather jackets for as little as $35! Reject shops in Naples are worth a visit.
Perfume and cosmetics in the Caribbean -- St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Martinique - Most items carry the same price tag on every island in the Caribbean, except for those that fly the French flag. Differences lie in the inventory. In St. Thomas the largest perfumery is “Tropicana” and chances are if you can't find your favorite brand, it's not going to be available on the island. Prices are about 10 to 20 percent less than in the U.S.
If Martinique is a port of call, head for “Roger Albert” the place to buy perfumes and cosmetics that have been produced, bottled, and packaged in France, not in the U.S. or Caracas. Prices tend to run a little less than in the Virgin Islands.
Liquor in duty-free St. Thomas. Prices may be the same on most islands, but U.S. Customs makes shopping in the Virgin Islands cheaper. Five-fifths of alcoholic products purchased in the Virgin Islands are allowed into the U.S. duty free. Only one bottle from other ports is not subject to Customs tax. Even teetotalers find it hard to pass up Absolute Vodka for $5.99 or Belvedere for $11 when it sells for $28 back home.
After all of that shoreside shopping, there are still the shops on board waiting for you. It's disappointing to find that perfume you found after two hours going from shop-to-shop selling for about $1.00 less on board than what you paid on shore! Not to worry. The fun of the hunt was worth it!