Buying Beyond Borders

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Shopping can mean different things to different people. For some, it is only to be done when absolutely needed, while others see it as a sport which forces one to go from one spot to another in search of the perfect finds.

Different views aside, shopping, when done in another country, can be the best of its kind, as it makes travel extra-meaningful in various unexpected ways, like when we pick up little trinkets that remind us of the thrill of visiting a new place.

Long before the days of online shopping and easy access to travel, among the most exciting part of traveling abroad was shopping for brands that were not yet locally available. There was a certain excitement about finally getting hold of the most sought-after items unavailable in our native land. However, as cheaper fares, technology and generally more tolerant world views begin to shrink the globe more and more, the thrill no longer comes from just finding them. It now comes from doing so at a relatively lower cost and in the most interesting of settings. These days, people don’t just shop for a product, they shop for an experience.

For many youngsters today, in particular, shopping in another country has become an adventure, as the experience ceases to be about simply scurrying to the nearest malls and starts to be all about the discovery of exotic venues where the most unique and the cheapest finds make the act of shopping truly memorable. Naturally, these young travelers wear their conquests like a badge of honor, often followed with a smirk and a story of its acquisition once complimented.

Here are places that have not only brought about the best finds in my shopping experience, but also the best stories. Truly, it’s the stories that turn shopping into an art form

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain has long been known for its history and rich ancient culture. Most people, however, would be surprised to know that most fashionable youngsters would choose to shop in Barcelona as compared to other European cities simply because it provides the best prices for the brands that today’s youth aspire for. Brands like H&M, Mango, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, and Zara are priced relatively lower and can be found in Plaça de Catalunya. Barcelona also brims with high-end luxury brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, and Dolce & Gabbana, which are found in Passeig de Gràcia and also hipster pieces from stores like 24 Kilates, Coquette, Custo, and Placa. My cousin Ingrid recently went on a European tour and couldn’t help but rave about the great shopping discoveries in Barcelona, specifically Las Ramblas, a quirky part of Barcelona that not only has a lot of luxury brands but also restaurants, hotels, and even street art.

San Francisco, California

Shopping in San Francisco has always been associated with the ever-popular Union Square. But what makes San Francisco a fun place for young travelers to visit is the abundance of street fairs that mix that right amount of shopping, good music, and an overall good time. For people my age, shopping in San Francisco is more than an act of purchasing goods; it is an entire experience. Street fairs like Off the Grid and Haight Ashbury Street Fair aren’t just about shopping for trinkets, but also for a celebration of different cultures and history. Ashbury does not only offer a lot of fun and rare items; it also features a wide array of bands, food, and memorable scenes on the sidelines. Food trucks featured in Off The Grid showcase different cuisines of cultures from all over the world. Shopping in Haight Street also brings about the funkiest finds from anarchist bookstores, piercing salons, and vintage clothing stores.

Santa Barbara, California

One of the most underestimated shopping places in California is found in Santa Barbara, California. About an hour’s drive away from Los Angeles, Sta. Barbara brings shopping to an entirely different level with its outdoorsy, relaxed vibe. My trips to Santa Barbara always made me feel like Cher Horowitz due to its picturesque setting. Blooming flowers, fresh-smelling pastries and fountains certainly heightened this shopper’s experience, along with sections brimming with art, culture, and even a hint of bohemian vibe. Places to explore in Santa Barbara include La Arcada, Arlington Plaza, La Cumbre Paza, Funk Zone (a personal favorite), Paseo Nuevo, Presidio District, and SoCo (South of Cota Street), to name a few. My finds from Santa Barbara have gotten a “Where did you get that?” reaction over the years. But what truly made my trips to Santa Barbara significant are the exhilarating memories of spending the day in what is touted to be the American Riviera.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

People who travel to Cambodia may not have shopping as top of their priority list, but young travelers, especially students high on wanderlust, rave about the beauty of shopping in the highly unassuming Siem Reap. Lacking any of the trappings of commercialized and bustling cities, Siem Reap prioritizes local merchants over multinationals, therefore giving the place authenticity that is reflected on the goods on sale. Shopping opportunities are quite an experience in local markets such as the Angkor Night Market and Phsar Chas. But what makes it all the more unique are pieces such as gems, jewelries, and Khmer handicraft items that cannot be found anywhere else.

Dea, a good friend and one of those people I know who are always traveling, described her experience in Siem Reap as rewarding, as it helped redefine what shopping meant to her. Her trip, which solidified her being a vegetarian due to the wide array of scrumptious vegetarian meals readily available, also awakened her to the new generation of travelers today.

Indeed, travelers these days, especially young ones, don’t simply shell out money for the sake of having the latest handbag or the latest in fashion. Travelers are more attuned to experience rather than the price. It’s more about pictures and stories, and shopping discoveries are simply characters in the overall tale of rediscovery.

Travel Tips & Tricks for New Travelers Read, Research, Question – Different cultures also have different practices. This is why it’s important to ask, read, and research on places you are planning to visit. Asking before a trip would also help in knowing which places to prioritize and may help you know about quirky shops beforehand. Dress Comfortably – While you may be tempted to dress to kill when shopping, it’s important to be in your most comfortable clothes when doing so. This way, it’s easy to walk around, try on different clothes, and be up for anything at any time. Be Adventurous – Don’t be afraid to visit shops you’ve never been to. That’s the whole point of shopping abroad. So the next time you check in on a new location, be bold and find yourself rewarded.
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