Today I explore the peaks and perils of homeware shopping on your travels. What should stay as a holiday romance, and what should come home and live with you? Let me be your (tour) guide…
We’ve all been there – you return from holiday; relaxed, sun-kissed and inspired by a new region discovered. Once the 3rd load of washing is on, you excitedly unwrap your holiday purchases for your home (the ones you carefully wrapped in towels and wedged between your sundresses in your suitcase).
And there, in the cold (British) light of day, suddenly the magic is lost...
In our house, we have a running joke about it. If I’m ever getting carried away shopping on my travels, my husband will simply say “step away from the lanterns” - a reference to a misjudged splurge on Moroccan lanterns that, once home, proved less ‘souk chic’ and more ‘Moroccan themed restaurant’.
Not ideal. But then, much like the holiday romance you had with a French boy when you were 18, some things are best left ‘en vacances’.
Having lived in Asia and the Middle East and been lucky enough to travel to lots of lovely places, I like to think I’ve (now) got my foreign homewares shopping approach down pat…
1 do your homework
Pre-trip research is essential in helping to identify the best places to shop in your holiday destination, and to swot up on what local, authentic items are produced in the region that you may want to bring home.
Instagram has helped this endeavor hugely; searching hashtags or following people who have trodden the path before, has thrown up some wonderful artisans, shops and markets for me, and armed me with places to visit in advance of boarding the plane.
It minimises the risk of realising on the Saturday night of your holiday that you missed a brilliant weekly brocante in the town square earlier that morning. And you’re leaving on Friday. Beyond frustrating.
2 tap into local knowledge
I always recommend hiring a tour guide if you’re visiting the souks of Marrakech (and would advise the same for any city where there are markets/bazaars/souks etc). Your accommodation will be able to make a recommendation.
The souk environment is notoriously overwhelming; with alleyways and secret corners - a myriad of stalls, products, scents and sights.
Not only will a tour guide save you both time and money (and advise on haggling protocol), they have plenty of local knowledge to impart, so the shopping trip becomes so much more.
I try to book the tour guide in advance of the trip and send a brief of the type of items I’m interested in seeing/buying. This way the guide has the chance to prepare your shopping itinerary and your time together can be maximised.
3 interesting imports
As we become increasingly well-travelled and our interest in global items has grown, UK retail has evolved to reflect this, now stocking a growing number of niche brands from overseas and more artisan based items, (much like we do at edit58).
Whereas once you may have holidayed in Portugal and filled your suitcase with Bordallo Pinheiro cabbage plates, you no longer need to, safe in the knowledge you can pick them up at Liberty or Arket. The same applies for beautiful homewares from Moroccan based artisan brand, Lrnce, which are now available at The Conran Shop.
So, with all that in mind, and with space in your suitcase freed up - what should you indulge in?
Beautiful tablecloths and napkins are always my go-to buys on my travels. Light and easy to pack, generally fairly reasonable and a wonderful way to bring a touch of ‘holiday’ to your own tablescape.
An embroidered floral tablecloth I bought on our honeymoon in Buenos Aires will always be a favourite. Every time I bring it out it takes me back to the cobbled streets I purchased it on, and makes me smile.
Yes, the obvious downside is they’re breakable. But it’s often worth the risk. As someone who has travelled home on EasyJet with a beautiful Portuguese cake stand in my hand luggage; where there’s a will, there’s a way.
For some reason, I always seem to find great art on my travels, particularly in France (I can’t resist a good oil painting). About 4 years ago, at a Bordeaux street market I picked up a lovely floral painting for 5 Euro.
At the time, with two young children demanding ice cream, I wasn’t able to properly focus on whether I really wanted it. But for the price I wasn’t going to risk shopper's regret.
The lesson? If it piques your interest and is really affordable, just buy it. Better to have a 5 Euro painting you can take to the charity shop, than 5 years of wistful longing.
It doesn’t matter where you are - France, Italy, Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico, Indonesia, Africa - you can bet your bottom (holiday) dollar there will be locally made baskets to be had. Snap them up. Use them on your trip, carry them as your hand luggage on the return flight, and then display beautifully at home/use for storage.
I’m often asked if it’s a good idea to buy a rug when you’re on your travels in Morocco/Turkey/India etc. It’s a tough one. Absolutely take a look. Go armed with inspo images of ones you like so you can refer to them and show to vendors (a visual negates any language barrier).
Know the size you need and be strict about the budget you’re working to. Be aware that there will be authentic vintage rugs and newly made ones, so be clear about what you’re after.
Don’t feel a pressure to buy if you’re not 100% sure. ‘Go with your gut’ is always sage advice, but never more so than in this kind of situation.
If you do buy, don’t forget most vendors can ship your rug home for you using a reputable courier company - often for much less than you’d imagine, so you can avoid excess luggage charges.
My final tip would be to immerse yourself in the area to which you travel – be inspired by the people, places and scenery you encounter.
Pop into that tiny shop that intrigues you, follow the ‘brocante’ sign, ask locals for tips and advice (especially shop owners with a style that reflects your own).But just remember…’step away from the lanterns’.
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