The Fun Way to Turn $800 into $8,000

An empty suitcase is more valuable than you may think. Fill it with $800 worth of the right items and you could transform that outlay into $8,000—maybe even more.

Since before Marco Polo’s time traders have crisscrossed the world buying low and selling high. Import-export is a business open to everyone; it doesn’t require special knowledge.

It’s something you can do on vacation—you don’t need lots of cash to get started. If you enjoy shopping and traveling, I can’t think of any job that’s likely to be more fun.

Over the years, I’ve crammed lots of “resell and make a profit” items into suitcases and hand luggage. Things such as alpaca scarves and hand-knits from Ecuador…lacquer work from Vietnam…shimmering Indian throws…amber jewelry from the Baltics…coral jewelry from Sardinia…pearl jewelry from Borneo and too much to mention from Thailand.

Not everything is yet labeled “Made in China.” Throughout the world, artisans still produce handcrafted objects of desire that carry serious mark-ups when resold in North America and Europe. And if you like something, chances are other people will like it too.

It wasn’t difficult to get $25 apiece for soft alpaca scarves purchased for a mere $4 in Ecuador’s Otavalo market. Alpaca wool is a luxury item, once reserved exclusively for Inca royalty. In the States you’d pay at least $60 for a scarf.

I was in Berlin in December and spotted these Ecuadorian alpaca scarves on a stall. The price tag was €30 ($40) which was cheap—they would be far more costly in a German store.

Then there’s National Geographic’s online store. Probably because I can’t resist jewelry, one thing that caught my eye was a set of three Saria Tareen bracelets from northern India. They’re gorgeous—brass bangles decorated with hand-painted flowers in porcelain-like enamel. According to the website, many Sarai Tareen residents are craftspeople making jewelry of horn, shell, beads, wood, and metal.

You might think $39 for three is a good deal. That’s until you track down an Indian wholesaler selling Sarai Tareen bracelets for $2.72 apiece. Wholesalers generally mark up their cost price by at least 50%. It’s almost certain that you could buy them cheaper still from producers.

Another example are Novica—wonderful beaded shoulder bags and purses in flower motifs from the island of Bali in Indonesia. Whether it’s for yourself or a gift for a friend, $40 for an exotic, hand-beaded shoulder bag probably seems reasonable to most people.

Not to me. Even a cursory glance at this website shows that Indonesian export wholesalers—the middlemen—are selling very similar shoulder bags for $20. Go to the source (who wouldn’t want a vacation on Bali?) and you’ll get them at the real price.

I found another Indonesian wholesaler with handmade Batik sarongs for $2.75 apiece. Batik is an ancient textile art that involves a specialized method of applying dye to fabric to create fabulous designs. In the 19th century, Dutch traders were so impressed by this craft that they brought batik artists back to Holland with them.

Like with beaded bags and purses, you can fit quite a few batik sarongs into a suitcase. These too sell for between $40 and $60 apiece. Multiply that by however many you choose to buy. When you know what you’re looking for, making a profit becomes a cinch.

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