1. Make sure you can actually bring back what you’re buying. For example, travellers from the U.S. should contact the Fish and Wildlife Service before buying tortoiseshell jewellery, whalebone, ivory, skins or fur. In general, avoid anything made from endangered species. You should probably know by now you can’t bring any weapons on a plane, though people certainly try, judging by the swords, knives, artillery shells, bullets, axes, grenades, Batarangs (yes, more than one) and throwing stars the Transport Security Administration in the U.S. has confiscated and put on Instagram (#TSAGoodCatch).
2. Research. Figure out whether it’s okay to bargain, which vendors are trustworthy, how much you’ll be charged in taxes, how to tell fake jewellery from the real stuff, whether or not you should save a receipt to get those taxes back, and whether or not there are well-known scams you should be wary of.
3. Dress appropriately, and comfortably. You’ll probably be walking quite a bit, and if you’re going to crowded markets, make sure you keep an eye on your bags and wallets. Some people recommend putting your backpacks in front so you can actually see them at all times.
4. If you know you’re in a place where you should bargain, brush up your negotiation skills and be prepared to walk away when the deal fails to go your way. You’ll either be offered a lower price or you can find the same merchandise at another stall. It always helps to smile and be polite.
5. Don’t get carried away by buying too much. The excess luggage fees you’ll have to pay your airline will soon eat up any savings you might have made. Also, remember you have to carry what you bought. Consider bringing a tote bag you can fold up.
6. Avoid airports and tourist areas. It’s safe to assume that you get charged for the convenience of shopping at an airport. Explore local neighbourhoods if you can. You’ll see more of your destination, and probably find better prices.
7. Make a budget for how much you can spend that day, and put the rest of your cash elsewhere. You can avoid losing all your money at once, and you can show a merchant that you really don’t have any more money so it’s no use pestering you.
8. Think twice before touching something you want to buy. This is a behavioural economic phenomenon called the endowment effect: once you touch something, you’ll feel like you own it and you’re more likely to pay more for it. Think about how Apple Stores encourage people to play with their electronics.
9. Don’t think that because a country’s national dress looks good locally, that it will necessarily translate to everyday work garb at home. And be culturally sensitive: you can probably trust a local friend or hotel employee on what you can buy and wear without being insensitive. For example, wearing a sacred Native American headdress without ever talking to a Native American is not okay.