Let’s Go Shopping!

Buy low in one place, sell high in another. That’s what import-export means. But you don’t need thousands of dollars to get started—you can turn a profit from what we call “suitcase shopping.” That’s how many people make money in the business.

Even if you don’t turn it into a full-time career, it’s a great way to fund your travels. Whether it’s on eBay, at a street market or to work colleagues, you can resell almost anything.

It helps if you have a “feel” for your products. If you’re an arty-crafty character, your enthusiasm for selling artisan handicrafts is likely to be far greater than for selling electronic goods.

Handicrafts and textiles are what most enthuse me. I like to go to the source…to the towns and villages where the treasures you aim to buy are actually made. It often involves going off the beaten track, but that’s what the best travel adventures are all about.

Sure, you can buy alpaca shawls and scarves in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, at prices way below what you’ll pay in the States. But you’ll pay even less by going to Otavalo and its surrounding villages in the country’s Andean Highlands. This is where they’re made. And if you can’t make a profit from an alpaca scarf you’ve bought for $3 or $4 (the more you buy, the greater the discount), there’s something seriously wrong!

Then there’s Oaxaca in Mexico, famed for its folk art. And the city is ringed by a dozen or so villages, each specializing in different crafts. One of the most spectacular crafts is alebrijes—colorful “fantasy animals” carved from copal wood. By the time these reach galleries in the States, prices have risen at least eight-fold. Villages where you can buy them include San Antonio Arrazola and San Martin Tilcajete.

One of my own favorite discoveries was museum-quality pottery from Nicaragua–the Land of Rum, Volcanoes and Rocking Chairs. You’d need a big suitcase to fit in a rocking chair, but I got all my ceramics home safely intact. I discovered fantastic examples in San Juan de Oriente, a village around an hour’s drive from the colonial city of Granada.

I paid a mere $3.20 for one classy eight-inch vase. Pigmented with a mottled background of brown, green, and yellow, it’s decorated with blue and brown fishes with bee-stung scarlet lips that swim through curtains of emerald seaweed. And it’s signed by the master potter himself, a lovely man called Valentin Lopez.

In Senor Lopez’s workshop, most medium-to-large ceramics ranged from $3.20 to $5.40. Small vases started at $1. At the time, unsuspecting shoppers buying from online websites in the States were paying from $26 for five-inch-high pots to $105 for 14-inch-high pots.

I also loved Vietnam, especially Hanoi. Although I didn’t locate the exact “manufacture source” of some items, there were still some incredible bargains. I found mother-of-pearl caviar spoons in a hole-in-the-wall shop for $4…decorative red and green lacquer ware bowls for $3.60…and hand-painted bamboo blinds for $12. But at those tiny prices, I wasn’t going to beat myself up about it.

Editor’s Note: Getting paid to go on overseas shopping trips is a pretty special way to make a living. Find out more about import/export ideas and other ways to pay for your life or travels overseas in Fund Your Life Overseas, a free e-letter from International Living. Sign up here and we’ll send you a free report: Fund Your New Life Overseas With These 5 Portable Careers.

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