All too often we may hear from well-meaning folks that shopping on tour is a waste of time – that the men don’t like standing around waiting while the women dilly dally in the shops, that shopping is superficial, that folks can shop at home – no need to come on tour to shop, and so forth. I beg to differ. Most folks love to shop while on tour, within reason, of course.

Why do travelers enjoy shopping?

First of all, they enjoy bringing things home for themselves – things that remind them of the trip or the specific place where they bought it. Second, they like to shop for others – for friends and family for future birthdays, holidays, wedding presents, showers and the like. Third, they know that bringing something home to others shows thoughtfulness, friendship and affection. Fourth, the things you bring home from other places are often something you could never get at home, whether at the mall, your favorite big box store or your hometown elegant gift shop.

So what are some of the things that folks may wish to buy? It all depends on where you’re going on tour, of course. I like to advise my tour members before leaving home in one of my pre-trip information bulletins as to what the “good buys” are in the place where we’re going. I always suggest they bring along a list of sizes, measurements, favorite colors etc. of family and friends for whom they may be buying. Hint: suggest they consider local arts and crafts, handmade things, one-of-a-kind things – things that are soft, unbreakable and will pack well. Remind folks that if your trip is international, each person is allowed to bring back up to $800 worth of purchases without having to pay U.S. Customs duty. In addition to that, you can mail gifts up to $100 per recipient per day! Direct them to the U.S. Customs website, specifically the “Know Before You Go” section.

Here are some of the favorite things I’ve brought back while traveling

From Guatemala: tablecloths, placemats and napkins. I saw three beautiful “yarn paintings” hanging on a clothesline in a private yard, went in and bought them from the housewife for $5 each (and then brought them home and paid $60 each to have them framed).

My river cruise in Russia stopped in a small town and I hurriedly picked up a brilliant multi-colored table centerpiece applique from a young woman who had made it herself from scraps of fabric.

In the Italian hill town of Orvieto, while everyone else was gorging themselves on pasta, I snuck out and found a ceramics shop that hadn’t yet closed down for the long lunch hour and was able to buy several salt/pepper sets that made for great gifts. And in Peru I went especially to the Sunday market in the Andean city of Pisac to buy fluffy alpaca rugs (not for the faint-hearted – watch out for the altitude).

Advise your tour members to consider handcrafted, one-of-a-kind things

For tours of the U.S. Southwest, consider all things with Indian heritage, fringed leather jackets, tooled “cowboy” boots, snap-button shirts, suede squaw boots, and authentic turquoise and silver jewelry (not the tin-and-dyed-stone knock-offs).  If you’re headed to New Orleans to enjoy one of its many food festivals, gift boxes of praline patty candies (made of creamy brown sugar and pecans) make wonderful gifts. And no one visiting San Francisco should return home without one sourdough baguette (must eat within 24 hours; they don’t keep).  Visits to Florida offer anything and everything made of sea shells – also candies of orange peel or coconut. And while you’re in the tropics, you must try some of the exotic fruit ice creams with names you’ve probably never heard of. Unfortunately, ice cream does not travel well!

For more ideas on what to buy where, be sure to contact the visitors bureau of the city concerned. They’re usually up-to-date on what the local specialties are. Happy shopping!