Shop Your Way Around the World As You Earn

The earrings are from Hong Kong’s jade market. I bought the fedora hat at a Christmas market in Berlin, the boots from Malaga in Spain, and the shimmering scarf at Otavalo market in Ecuador—one of the largest indigenous markets in South America. The black velvet tunic with batwing sleeves comes from a hippie retro shop in Glastonbury, England.

You might call it eclectic fashion indulgence. I call it research. You don’t have to purchase a thing to write shopping stories, but for me it’s one of the joys of the travel writer’s life. Getting paid to write about the pleasure of tracking down unusual buys makes shopping all the sweeter.

Antique fairs…flea markets…vintage clothing stores…bazaars and souks…food markets…artisans…one-of-a-kind shops. They’re all a rich source of reward for travel writers.

On one trip to Belgium, I visited Antwerp, a city at the center of the European diamond trade for centuries. I bought a diamond here for €10 ($13) once. Admittedly, it’s so small it’s barely visible to the naked eye but it let me put my own personal spin on the story.

Then there’s Brussels, renowned for its chocolatiers and pralines filled with delectable creams such as Champagne truffle, almond, and rose. Neuhaus is a top gourmet brand and an official supplier to the Belgian court. My take on a chocolate story was finding the Neuhaus factory and the discounted outlet shop in its grounds. It’s not exactly good news for the waistline, but they let you gorge on as many free samples as you can manage.

I’m not quite sure how I got everything home from eastern Turkey. Spending three hours (and drinking copious amounts of apple tea) while haggling for a silk-and-wool rug in the bazaar in Sanliurfa produced one story. Finding the shoemaker in Gaziantep, who had made Brad Pitt’s boots for his part as Achilles in the movie Troy, resulted in another.

Gaziantep is famous throughout Turkey for hand-made leather slippers. Wandering the city’s bazaar, I also came across craftsmen making wooden boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl—you would have wanted one too. And after Bursa, once a major trading center on the Silk Road, I couldn’t fit anything else in the cases. Even if silk scarves, ties, and hand-embroidered towels don’t appeal to you personally, they make wonderful gifts.

Bought at the cellar door, the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from last year’s trip to New Zealand is now only a distant memory. But there’s still a jar of manuka honey in the kitchen cupboard, and manuka honey beauty products in the bathroom. Produced by bees that pollinate New Zealand’s native manuka bush, the honey is renowned for its anti-bacterial qualities.

One favorite “research” story from last year was about the town of Grasse in the South of France. The world’s self-styled perfume capital, its treasures include the Fragonard parfumerie. After the guided tour, I hit the outlet store and treated myself to a bottle of perfume heaven: the rose, violet, and gardenia fragrance of Belle de Nuit. In the States, it costs around $113 for a 1-fluid-ounce bottle. I paid an equivalent $48.

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