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On Trips, Check Out the Remote Areas and Local Markets

For the average traveler, shopping can be treacherous, yet on the road, it’s right up there at the top of popular pursuits.

When you’re in unexplored territory, how do you know if you’re paying top dollar for a memento or getting a good deal? Often you discover that the best buy was in a town about two days back, or that after you’ve purchased that gorgeous “whatever,” you find the same item cheaper in the next village.

When traveling in untested waters, I go on the premise that I’ll probably never return, so if an item fills the requirement of quality at an affordable price, go for it.

My personal preference is to track down something that is only available in that particular territory.

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The next best target is whatever is made in that particular country and exported. You usually will get a good deal on these exports since you’ve skipped the high cost of shipping. Whenever time and territory permit, I check out the remote areas or the local markets. Rarely have I found anything in a tourist haven.

While visiting the hill-tribe villages in northern Thailand recently, I purchased headdresses from each village, feeling secure that they were available nowhere else. Each was $8 to $10, handmade and stunning. All the purchases in Thailand turned out to be good deals. While shopping in Century City shortly after I returned, I spotted a tote bag, handmade in Thailand, marked $47. The same bag in a village outside of Chiang Rai was $8.

Third World or developing countries usually offer great deals in arts and crafts. Also, many European and American companies are manufacturing in some of these countries. Those products (often jeans, T’s, lingerie or beaded dresses) made for export are usually sold at hefty discounts because the high shipping cost hasn’t been added.

Bargains are usually found off the main thoroughfares. In Venice, where every moment you’re fighting not to get ripped off, we recently strayed way off the beaten path far enough to discover a little factory near the university where exquisitely made masks and robes were reasonable. A bargain in Venice? It’s true.

Bargaining is, of course, a must. (It’s even becoming acceptable to negotiate a deal here in Los Angeles. I just returned from a cruise of the Mediterranean on the Royal Crown Odyssey and spent one of the best shopping days of my life in Tangiers, Morocco. Arts and handicrafts almost impossible to find anywhere else in the world fill the shops jammed in the narrow-streeted labyrinth of the medina, the old native quarter.

It’s baubles, bangles and beads--and bargaining for them is exhilarating. The asking price for a Jalapa , a hooded robe worn by men, was $150 American. After following me for at least 15 minutes, the Moroccan hawker and I worked out a deal: $20. I was triumphant.

Bargaining is all part of the game, of course. But in pursuit of a deal, it’s easy to forget that handicrafts often represent the only income of some of the natives. Whereas the standard goal these days when dickering is 20% to 30% off the asking price in cosmopolitan areas, with street vendors, I always feel the sky’s the limit.

I prize that Jalapa all the more because I got it for $20 instead of $150 or $110 or even $50. But I think that Moroccan vendor may still be laughing.

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