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Vacation Shopping Tips & Strategies.London Shopping Wellies at Camden Market Whether it’s an annual back to school trip, a mother/daughter weekend in the city or an energizing shopping spree with your sister or niece, success is the desired result. And for success, a few things need to be set in place.

Here’s the scoop.  The first 20 years of my business career I spent in retailing. I spent time not just shopping the competition, and scouring the trendy neighborhood streets for new ideas but traveling to fashion hot spots and out of the way places looking for the good stuff negotiating prices and buying samples. It was work but it was fun and along the way I learned useful strategies from veteran shoppers.  They were pros at finding unique products, spotting trends, assessing value, and identifying bargains. Our marathon days were successful because we had a plan. Always looking for uniqueness and quality I was often surprised, inspired, and energized by the creativity of others. The result - I am a shopping snob. I avoid malls and outlet shopping preferring to hit the streets in what I call free-range shopping in search of the good stuff. Shopping Discoveries in Heidlberg, Germany

Because shopping can be a big part of a vacation or weekend getaway I am sharing my thoughts on the essentials of a successful shopping trip.
Pack less. If shopping will be part of your vacation then leave extra space in your suitcase. While the expandable space feature may do the trick, I often take a soft-sided collapsible, waterproof bag as a spare. Any veteran shopper will tell you it is essential to pack comfortable, sturdy shoes because when your feet hurt and your lower back is fatigued, shopping is no fun. I even think it is essential to lighten the weight in your handbag opting for a fashionable backpack to lessen lower back stress. Pack less, pack less, be strong- pack less.
Do your research. Shopping is more fun when you have insider information and suggestions about shopping at your destination. Shopping interests and budgets are so varied that there really is no “best places” list geared to fit all.  Nevertheless I still love to read the suggestions of others who love to shop because it gives me a starting place. Many destinations offer descriptions of shopping areas and list the most popular department stores, markets, galleries, studios, and boutiques. However, many of destinations only highlight members who pay a fee and thus the list may not reflect all of the shopping possibilities. So it is simply a starting point. For example: Kissimmee in the Orlando area has a page dedicated to shopping and it divides the information into useful categories - Boutiques & Antiques, Farmer & Flea Markets, Outlets, Shopping Malls, and Specialty Shops.  The Discover Los Angeles shopping blog provides a similar list with divisions by area as well as lifestyle.Betty Boop Dolls in the Old Town of Kissimmee, Fl.

Establish a budget.  Unless money is no object, it is always useful to estimate the amount you can afford to spend on shopping during the trip. Knowing ahead of time what your shopping budget is will make it easier to have fun shopping after all shopping is not always about buying. And establishing your own spending amount ahead of time makes it easier to decide the personal value of a purchase and avoid end-of-day shopping anxiety or regrets. Consider the advantages of tax-free days, VAT schemes and duty free shops. Decide if you qualify and plan to take advantage of the program. For example: Spain as well as France both offer tax-free schemes worth using if your purchases exceed $300. Shopping in London? Take advantage of the UK VAT refund program but as many times as I have shopped there I have never been organized enough to use it. 

Get a plan. No two shopping excursions will ever be the same. It always helps to have a plan for the day. From collecting art or jewelry to finding a new frock or handmade sweater, the perfect shoes or leather goods, the possibilities can be endless. Maybe the plan is thrift stores or crafters markets. Don’t overlook museum stores for great gifts. And if it’s to get back-to-school clothes find the best location and make it happen. When I am pressed for time I rely on the advice and recommendations of my hotel’s concierge. For example: I prefer free-range shopping at one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques, artisan’s markets, galleries and I love high-end resale shops. When I am shopping abroad I always look for goods sourced locally or from the region and make certain to avoid not knock-offs made in China. 

Carry your own bags. Sometimes the fun of shopping is also leaving the boutique with an ever so clever shopping bag. And sometimes I am tempted to secure one of them but only if I know it will be going home with me and not be discarded on the hotel room floor. As a failsafe when I travel I carry my own collapsible bags which are light weight and compress to pocket size. The tiny bags can usually be found in drug stores in major cities. 

Pace the day. Do not skip breakfast because low blood sugar will ruin a good thing. And plan your day so the fun meter does not peg out at 1:30. It is essential to any positive shopping experience to make time for refreshments along the way. While I usually have a café or restaurant in mind, when I meet an interesting, spunky shopkeeper I always ask for recommendations. Because I am often shopping with others and time passes quickly when the shopping is exceptional, I always carry drinking water and an energy bar or two in my expandable satchel. If our trip spans more than three days I always plan a spa break.

Be flexible. Expect to make discoveries which will require a change your plans. I find often the shopping streets that get most of the press become too expensive for new shop and boutiques. And often the next wave of trendy places won’t be far away.  

Send it home.
If luggage limitations might dampen your spirits just ask the shopkeeper if they ship.  Depending on the item and the cost, it is often a way to avoid sales tax as well as extra luggage fees. Even better, if you love the shop and products but cannot make a purchase during your visit ask the sales staff if they have website or Facebook page. 

Enjoy your time.
When it stops being fun stop shopping and find the nearest funky café or step inside a day spa and arrange for a foot massage with hot rocks and perhaps champagne.
Content and images by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Fravel Files. Copyright updated copyright 2017. 

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