Expert Flyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Our featured Hot Topics series for November comes courtesy of Andrew Schrage, Editor of the Money Crashers personal finance blog, a growing online community of people who strive to educate individuals in making wise choices about credit and debt, investing, education, real estate, insurance, spending, and more. Throughout November, the three-part “Money Crashers Travel” series will explore unique money-saving tips and tricks for business and consumer travelers. We hope you enjoy part one of the series, in which we get advice for holiday shopping abroad.
(Part 1 of 3)
Can you offer any tips for folks who may find themselves abroad right before the holidays with an opportunity to do some international gift shopping for Christmas, Hannukah, etc.? Any do’s or don’ts?
In the past, I have been overseas in the time leading up to the holidays, and rather than waiting until I arrived back home to start my holiday shopping, I started some of it while still abroad. It’s a great way to give out awesome gifts for the holidays, and it decreases the stress of shopping for gifts once back in the States.
Here is my short list of do’s and don’ts for international gift-shopping:
1. Negotiate Price: Especially with regards to street vendors, the price is always negotiable. In some countries, it is even considered rude not to negotiate. Keep in mind that many sellers will also quote much higher prices for Americans due to the assumption of “deep pockets,” so don’t get ripped off! Make sure to utilize some of the best negotiation technique to score a great deal on your favorite items.
2. Shop Around: Along these same lines, I have found that perusing street vendors will get you much better prices than going into physical store locations. Also, you might want to consider looking for gifts at more out-of-the-way shops, ones not located near popular tourist attractions. The prices there are usually better and you will be treated better as well.
3. Pay Cash: There are many reasons to carry cash with you when traveling abroad. Many places simply don’t accept credit cards, and even for the ones that do, paying with cash will give you significantly more negotiating power. Also, many stores abroad will charge a percentage price increase if you use a credit card.
4. Choose the Right Card: Despite the preference for cash, there are always going to be instances where paying credit card is necessary, whether it’s because you’re spending a significant sum of money, or you want to have an electronic record of the transaction for safety reasons. When you do use a credit card, make sure you go with one of the few credit cards without foreign transaction fees; otherwise, you could be charged an extra 5% by your credit card company. Also, make sure to use a card that will provide you with buyer protection in case of any fraudulent charges are made on your card. This is one of the other best strategies to implement when using credit cards overseas.
5. Unique Qualities: The key thing I try to keep in mind when buying abroad is uniqueness. If that piece can be easily bought in the US, then it won’t be appreciated. The best items are the ones that are truly unique and rare. The second thing I keep in mind is price. I want to be able to enjoy a good deal as a direct result of the fact that I am buying a specific item in the location in which it was made. Sure, this is great for authenticity, but it also leads to a much more affordable price!
6. Consider the Recipient: When choosing a gift for someone back home, I think long and hard about the person I am buying for. I usually group these people into two categories. First, I have various friends and family members who either collect or enjoy souvenirs. For these people, I usually shy away from simple snow globes, or other more touristy-type souvenirs. I really look for something unique for their collection. For example, I picked out an authentic Russian “matroyska doll” for my mother a few years back. It is basically a set of dolls made out of wood of decreasing size, placed one inside of the other. This is a souvenir that you can have fun with and is very unique to the Russian culture.
Second, there is the group of people who really don’t like souvenirs so I try to choose a more practical gift. I look for something that will benefit them in their daily lives or might serve as an excellent decoration for their home. In the past, I have chosen the following items:
- Cookware: Lots of times you can find higher quality cookware items overseas like pots and pans, which are sure to last longer and are often cheaper than if you had tried to buy them in the US due to the fact that most of these items are manufactured abroad. If you decide on an electronic piece of cookware equipment, make sure you pick up any necessary plug adapters.
- Clothes: Again, if you look in the right places, you can find higher quality clothing that will stand the test of time much better than clothes you’ll find in the US. In fact, shopping abroad is one of the best strategies when it comes to how to buy quality clothing without spending a fortune. Moreover, even though you might still be able to buy some of these clothes in the US, not only will you have a much smaller selection, but the prices will be significantly higher due to import and shipping fees.
- Art: If you have an art-lover on your list, picking up a painting or print overseas is a great idea. One time I found a print of a classic Renoir painting in Paris, and the person I gave it to absolutely loved it. And artwork is much more widespread in most European countries than it is in the U.S. You can likely find a reasonably-priced piece of artwork that your collector friends will thoroughly enjoy and appreciate. The only thing to keep in mind with art is that you will have to consider the potential shipping fees in your price. The last thing you want is a damaged piece of non-returnable art to arrive at your house.
Stay tuned next week for part two of our series, when the Money Crashers give up some sacred money-saving travel tips and tricks…