It may not be such a good idea when holidaying abroad
The first question my friends ask me whenever I return after a trip abroad is: "So, what did you buy?" Over the last few years, though, my answer has never varied: "Nothing."
And no, that's not because I have given up on the material world, and decided to eschew shopping altogether. It is because there really is nothing you can buy abroad that is not also available in India. And when that's the case, shopping abroad makes no sense at all. You don't have to worry about going over your luggage allowance on the trip home. You can pay in rupees. And you don't have to run the gauntlet of customs when you fly back into the country.
But there was a time when things were very different. That was when before any kind of foreign travel, for work or pleasure, all of us would meticulously draw up a list of must-buys. In the bad old days, the list included such items as Levi's jeans and perfume. In my own case, it ran to skin care creams, lingerie, and of course, shoes (and shoes, and many more shoes).
These days, however, you don't need to travel any further than your friendly neighbourhood luxury mall to make the same kind of purchases. There is a Sephora for all your make-up and cosmetic needs (though the one in Delhi has had serious service issues every time I visited). Every skin care range from Clinique to Estée Lauder has its own outlet here. Chanel stocks make-up that actually works for Indian skin tones here, which you never find in their stores abroad. And M.A.C. Cosmetics stores are a dime a dozen (though the brand has an annoying habit of discontinuing every lipstick shade you take a shine to).
If designer brands are your thing, then nearly every one of them is present in the metros. And often it is cheaper to buy a Bottega Veneta bag or a Canali suit in India, because the mark-ups are much lower than they are at some stores abroad. Best of all, you can hit the sales on the first day and get the most amazing bargains (here's a little tip: visit the store the evening before and mark out the things you fancy; saves time and effort when the shop is heaving with the sales-crowd).
It wasn't too long ago that you had to stock up on your artisanal extra virgin olive oil, your Japanese soya, or your Sriracha and Chipotle sauces on your trips abroad. Now the longest distance you have to travel is to the nearest Nature's Basket (though, here again, service can be an issue at times) and you can buy every variety of pasta, gluten-free food items, cheese, cold meat, and choose from a range of a gazillion condiments and sauces.
So, what does one buy abroad? Well, the only thing that still survives on my list is (you guessed it!): shoes. Yes, you have your Christian Louboutins and Jimmy Choos at the high end here, while Next and Charles and Keith occupy the mid-market space. Even Furla is now open for business in India, as is Steve Madden (great for winter boots, by the way, if you are looking). But alas, my own personal favourite, L.K. Bennet, is still fighting shy of establishing an Indian presence. On the bright side, though, this allows me to go shoe shopping on holiday, which is always a pleasure.
Apart from this one indulgence, however, I have quite given up on shopping while abroad. It makes no sense to waste time and money on going into the same brand stores abroad to buy the same merchandise that I could so easily purchase in India. Which is why these days, when I venture abroad, instead of focusing on things, I make a conscious decision to invest in experiences that I could never get in India.
So, a visit to Thailand turns into a culinary adventure as I eat on the streets, in food courts, the occasional fancy restaurant, and then sign up for cooking classes to replicate some of the dishes I have enjoyed so much at home. The hot and humid afternoons are given over to Thai massages (stop sniggering, these are not the kind that have a 'happy ending') and foot reflexology. If you are into this kind of thing, do visit the traditional massage training centre at the Bangkok temple called Wat Pho. It is an experience you will never forget.
In Europe, I spend my time and money on booking guided tours to much-in-demand museums as the Uffizi and the Louvre. Not only does this save me from the horrendous queues, it also means that I get the benefit of being shown around by an expert in art history, who knows all the high spots and hidden gems of the collections, and can separate the Great Masters from the Also Rans for me.
And in great cities like London, New York, Paris, Florence or Rome, I simply spend my time roaming the streets, marvelling at the architectural wonders around every corner and in each city square, stopping occasionally for a coffee or a glass of wine depending on the time of day (or night). There really is no better way to get to know a city, to plump its depths, to touch its soul, than to trawl its streets.
So, the next time you travel abroad, don’t bother with the shops. Just focus on the country/city instead. You can always thank me later!