13 tips for shopping abroad!

August 6 2015

Some people love lazy beach vacations, some people like sight-seeing and some people like action and adventure. Me? I love to shop. #UnderstatementOfTheYear

You may not be surprised to learn it felt like all my Christmas’s had come at once when I set off in May destined for Paris, London and New York on what I was mentally referring to as a shopping tour of the world! It wasn’t my first shopping vacay (regular readers may recall our wedding was timed to shop the epic Black Friday sales in the States on our honeymoon!) but it was certainly an amped-up version of anything I’d done before.

Now a shopping vacation may sound like the easiest thing in the world (I certainly think it’s one of the most enjoyable) but maximising your time, money and shopportunities in a city you’re visiting for the first time can be tricky without a little preparation.

So today I’m sharing my lessons learnt with 13 tips for shopping abroad! I’m also delighted to share this post as my entry in the Virgin Australia travel competition in the lead up to the Problogger conference next week! I cannot wait for the event! But onto the tips!

1. Invest in a cross body handbag

I’m a firm believer that serious shopping requires two hands. While it may amp up your tourist vibes, a cross body handbag is absolutely the most practical solution for shopping. For our trip I chose the Marc by Marc Jacobs Natasha Mini Q in black. Lots of zip-able (read: secure) compartments and super comfy to wear, without skimping on style.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 10.43.24 pm

Marc by Marc Jacobs Natasha Mini Q – the perfect shopping campion. Available at David Jones for $399.  Image Source.

2. Master the art of department store shopping

Department stores are fantastic for time-poor travellers; they give you a practical way to reach a raft of local brands in a short amount of time. To ensure you’re not missing anything amazing, make your first in-store find a copy of the directory.

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Harrods releases a new Store Guide every month! Handbag size, of course. Image source.

Once you’ve got the lay of the land, take the lift to the top and work your way down. Note: department stores are also the best spot for a clean, free restroom stop.

3. Explore in-store tax refunds

Many big department stores (Macy’s, Harrods, Galeries Lafayette to name a few) also offer in-store tax refunds or discounts for overseas shoppers! This is a supremely convenient way avoid sales tax (GST equivalent, often 8-12%) without faffing around at the airport. Check the store guide or the information counter for more info, before you start shopping.

Tax Refund

Be sure to ask if you’re eligible for a tax or VAT refund before your transaction is complete. Image Source

Other stores may offer special receipts that enable you to claim a refund on sales tax for purchases over a certain dollar amount at the airport. These can add up! Remember to ask before your transaction is complete.

4. Ask if your store delivers

As Carrie Bradshaw knows, shopping can be excellent cardio, particularly when you’re weighed down with parcels! While the workout is great, it can wear you out – something you can’t afford when holidaying with limited time and endless shopportunities! Another great reason to hit the department stores; many offer complimentary parcel storing or delivery services. Galeries Lafayette will deliver parcels to your hotel or ship them to your home(!), Harrods offers a complimentary parcel collection service so you don’t have to carry your purchases through the store and several of the American department stores will deliver your parcels to your local hotel.

5. Take your passport

I was amazed how many times I was asked for ID to verify my credit card belonged to me while shopping abroad. The first time (Zara, Champs Elysees… seriously is that where the cc fraud is at?) I was totally caught off guard and the staff were luckily willing to take ID from my better-prepared shopping companion!

6. Take 2 x credit cards

Proving my identity was not my only credit card related woe on our recent trip. In all of the places, in all of the world, I had one store where my credit card just Did. Not. Work. Plenty of credit available, just wouldn’t process. What store you ask? None other than kate spade new york.

Kate Spade Madison Avenue

I shopped the shizzle out of kate spade only to get to the counter and have my credit card decline!

I nearly died. I’ve travelled half way around the world to shop my all time favourite brand in the mothershipthe spectacular flagship store on Madison Ave! My ample bounty is wrapped and packed, I’m feeling alllll the shopping buzz, then *declined*. Thank goodness my husbot was on hand to flash his plastic and save me from a first world tantrum of epic proportions.

Lesson: two credit cards, from different banks, at all times.

7. Let your bank know you’re travelling 

Be sure to call your credit card company(s) before you travel to let them know you’ll be overseas so they don’t freeze your card!

8. Check for local sample sales

If you’re visiting a big city, you may be lucky enough to arrive during a designer sample sale; the holy grail of designer discounts! The Time Out websites have a running list of sample sales at all times: here’s the list for New York and the list for London! I caught the Tory Burch sample sale in New York – amazing deals!!

9. Explore the outlets

Tips for Shopping Abroad - Woodbury Common

Designer outlet dreamfest! Woodbury Common Premium outlets: home to Chloe, YSL, Prada, Dior, DVF, kate spade + a squillion more!

If you’ve got enough time to devote half a day or more to an outlet visit, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Outlets are often on the outskirts of town (Woodbury Common pictured above is approx. an hour out of Manhattan) and regularly stocked to the brim with native designer brands at a fraction of the RRP.

Be sure to swing by the information desk as many outlets also have additional voucher booklets available! Particularly in the USA!

10. Use your concierge

If you’re craving a shopping experience at the city’s quirkier independent stores, use your concierge for advice. Doing the Air B’n’B thing? Check with your host before you go! Many are more than willing to point you in the right direction. Failing that, there’s no better excuse for a glass of wine and a chat to the locals at your nearest bar.

11. Plan for shopping FOMO

I find one of the biggest challenges shopping abroad is conquering the shopping FOMO (fear of missing out). The fear of not buying something and never being able to come back for it is very real. On our first trip to the States I had no plan in place for dealing with the shopping FOMO and things escalated. Quickly.

Vegas Unleashed

Unprepared to manage the shopping FOMO: Vegas edition. Also the trip I realised that your online credit card balance can be up to three days behind the reality…

But how do you know whether it’s a worthy purchase? Nowdays I have a three-outfit rule. If I can’t think of three outfits I could tangibly wear a piece of clothing/shoes/accessory with, I leave it behind.

12. Know your airline’s baggage allowance

After sharing the above pic on facebook, the overwhelming question from my friends was ‘how are you going to get it home!?’ with the presumtion I’d need to ship the shopping. Packaging and shipping shopping home can be expensive – easily upwards of $100 for a modest sized box – not to mention a pain in the a*se.

As luck would have it we were flying with Virgin Australia and had included baggage allowance of 2 x 23kg bags each with our standard economy fares = 92kg between us. Purchasing a couple of cheap duffle bags enabled us make it home with our loot for no extra baggage charge. #Winning!

13. Double check your duty free

Duty free shopping is not all created equal; tax regimes and duty refund schemes differ from country to country. If you’re passing through more than one international airport, use a website like Duty Free Addict to compare prices of popular items and determine what’s cheapest where.

That’s it, travellers! May your next holiday be packed with the very best shopportunities and a credit card that never declines!

What are you best tips for shopping abroad? Where are your favourite shopping destinations? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 


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