You've just paid for plane tickets to Pago Pago, so now it's time to make sure you have what I call the stuff of vacations — clothes, luggage, shoes. More often than not, you need at least a few new items. The hunt for new stuff must begin, but where to start?
We can't promise we can get stuff for you wholesale, but we can offer tips from experts on where to look for real bargains on vacation-related items. Here are some ideas:
— If EBay is your go-to for secondhand stuff, also consider NoBetterDeal.com. This site handles returns from major retailers, and its items are 30% to 70% off retail prices, says Tom McElroy, vice president of e-commerce. A quick glance reveals luggage (under "everything else"), games and toys, and electronics. You get a 30-day return (60 on refurbished material). Items change frequently, so if you see something, snag it; likewise, if you don't see it, check back often.
— For large items such as kayaks or family tents, Tim Leffel, editor of PracticalTravelGear.com, turns to Craigslist because he can buy locally and save shipping costs. Always exercise caution, however; if a deal is too good to be true, be suspicious and don't be afraid to walk away.
— For kids' clothes, Leffel gives the nod to Target andWal-Mart, "and you can pick up great things at thrift stores and the like." He adds, "Academy Sports often run good sales." He also says he packs half of what his kids need and lets them buy on the road. "We wouldn't let my daughter pack any T-shirts because we knew she'd see ones she wanted in Thailand," he said in an email. "She bought two for $3 each. And a dress for $5."
— Leffel says the one thing you shouldn't skimp on is shoes. "If you're going to spend good money somewhere, do it on the shoes. You'll probably do loads of walking no matter where you go." I often turn to EBay for Finn Comfort shoes, my first choice for travel, which I choose for the feel, not the look. The handmade German shoes often retail for more than $300 but can go for half or less (sometimes much less) on the auction site.
— If it's not an instant purchase, Kevin Connolly of PracticalHacks.com ("Gadgets, gear and greatness for people on the go") urges you to use Decide.com. "The site was developed by the same fellow who was the brain behind Farecast (now Bing Travel), and indicates whether prices are likely to remain steady or drop ... very handy."
— Connolly also watches the Travel Products Forum at FlyerTalk. "FTers often post about outstanding deals: [www.lat.ms/PSpfAH]. "You can subscribe to the Forum, making it easy to keep an eye open for deals and special offers," he says.
— At your destination, seek out Big Lots, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, ABC stores and the like for beach toys, inexpensive towels and flip-flops. Don't be afraid to leave the stuff behind when it's time to go home.
— Check out the outlet, bricks or clicks, of your favorite stores. Leffel likes Backcountry Outlet, Sierra Trading Post and Campmor. I am a fan of REI, Lands End, Overstock and Amazon's warehouse (www.lat.ms/NrhNJG), where I just found a 32GB memory flash card for $18.19 that I need for my vacation pictures. Gotta run.