Shopping Abroad A Travelers Guide

Some travelers get to know a place through its museums and monuments, others through its scenic landscapes orindexqqqa traditional cuisine. But for globetrotters who love to shop, there’s no truer way to experience a place than by haggling with merchants in a bazaar, browsing the handcrafted wares of local artisans or sampling designer duds at the poshest boutique in town.

Shopping in a foreign country can be exciting and rewarding, but it’s not without its pitfalls. The intricate art of haggling is often a challenge for visitors used to fixed prices at their mall at home, and the sea of cheap knock-offs and tacky souvenirs in just about any major tourist destination makes it difficult to tell when you’ve found a true local gem. Become a savvier shopper with our tips for avoiding fakes, haggling like a pro and getting your goods home at the end of your trip.

Finding Genuine Local Goods

How do you know whether that cute handbag is a genuine designer item or if you’re getting a good deal on that amazing carpet at the Turkish bazaar? Our rule of thumb is simple: research, research, research. Sure, window shopping and spontaneous spending are fun, but if you’re looking to make a major purchase, you’ll want to do your homework to make sure you’re getting a good deal — and the real deal.

If you know you’re in the market for a certain item, such as blown glass in Venice or a traditional kimono in Japan, do some reading ahead of time to learn what to look for when shopping at your destination. Which qualities ensure that the item is genuine? Which scams should you keep an eye out for? A good guidebook can be invaluable here, offering purchasing tips as well as recommendations for reputable shops and markets.

Another good bet is to consult the concierge at your hotel; he or she will be able to point you to trustworthy vendors that specialize in the types of goods you’re looking for. And, of course, the Internet offers a wealth of information on any type of shopping you can imagine. Hop online before your trip to gather the wisdom of other travelers.

Once at your destination, shop around before purchasing to familiarize yourself with the range of merchandise and prices available. (Hint: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.) Tour guides often take travelers to preselected shops for purchasing souvenirs, but use caution — your guide may get a commission on anything you buy, often resulting in inflated prices. You may get a better deal at a shop you find on your own.

For big-ticket items such as jewelry and art, make sure to get a certificate of appraisal or authenticity at the time of purchase — and, if possible, pay for your goods with a credit card. That will help protect you if you get home and discover that an item isn’t actually worth what you paid for it.

Haggling

In North America and many parts of Europe, haggling is a bit of a dying art (unless you’re on a used car lot!). But throughout the rest of the world, bargaining and bartering are a vital part of any transaction — and you’re unlikely to get a good deal unless you can master your own negotiating skills.

It’s important to be familiar with the culture of the place you’re visiting, as your haggling strategy will vary a bit from country to country. For example, in some parts of the world, it pays to be assertive and forceful when negotiating a price; in others, you’ll do better keeping your tone soft and pleasant. Check your guidebook for a rundown on local haggling customs. CultureCrossing.net is another good source of information on cultural norms, listed by country.

No matter where you’re traveling, bring a positive attitude into the transaction. Think of haggling as a game — a competitive but ultimately fun and friendly exercise. Don’t get angry or insult the seller, even if the negotiations aren’t going your way. At the end of the day, both you and the merchant should feel happy with the outcome of the deal.

Never enter a haggling situation unprepared. By the time you approach the seller, you should have already shopped around and determined approximately how much the item you want to buy is worth. We suggest having two numbers in mind: the price you’d ideally like to pay and the maximum amount you’re willing to spend.

Here’s a handy tip: If you’re paying in cash, set aside the money that you’re prepared to spend and keep it in your wallet; move the rest of your bills elsewhere. This serves two purposes. You can give the merchant visual evidence that this amount is the most you can possibly pay (“See? This is all I have!”), and it also helps prevent you from going over your own self-imposed price limit.

On a related note, be sure to carry plenty of small bills so that you can pay the exact price of your item. Occasionally a merchant will claim that he can’t make change for larger bills, hoping to convince you to let him keep the excess amount.

Make the seller begin the negotiations by waiting for him to make the initial offer. If you’re not sure how much to counteroffer, a good rule of thumb is to halve the initial price and negotiate from there. (As noted above, though, this strategy may vary from country to country.)

Traveling with a companion? Discuss who’s going to do the talking and what you’re willing to pay before you enter the shop and start haggling — that way you can present a united front (and your husband won’t ruin the deal right off the bat with an opening offer that’s higher than the maximum you want to spend).

Don’t show too much interest in the item you’re negotiating for, no matter how desperately you want it. Looking too eager tells a savvy merchant that you’re willing to pay a pretty penny to avoid walking out without that must-have item. In fact, you should be willing to walk; when you do so, you’ll often find the merchant following you into the street with a new, lower counteroffer.

Don’t rush the transaction. Negotiating a deal that works for both parties can take time — so enjoy the process and go with the flow. (This is a tactical advantage too; if you appear to be in a hurry, the seller may think you’ll settle for a higher price just to get out of there.)

That said, if the negotiations have gone on for a while and you’ve reached a stalemate over the last $5 or $10 difference in price, it may be time to let it go. What will you regret more — leaving behind a unique memento of your trip or spending a few extra bucks? Remember, too: Odds are that if you’re traveling in a developing country, the merchant probably needs that additional $5 or $10 more than you do.

Getting Your Purchases Home

Dedicated shopaholics know to leave plenty of room in their suitcases for souvenirs — or even pack an additional bag to fit the extras. Duffel bags are a good bet to serve as your extra bag because they fold easily and don’t take up much space, but their flimsiness makes them appropriate only for dirty clothes and other unbreakable items, not your new porcelain vase. Valuable or delicate items should be wrapped carefully and stowed in your carry-on.

Occasionally you’ll purchase something that’s too large, heavy or fragile to carry home yourself. In these cases, you’ll need to decide between having the store ship the item for you (which isn’t always an option when buying from smaller merchants) and shipping it yourself.

If you’re having the merchant take care of the shipping, be sure to buy insurance for the item, pay with a credit card, and get an itemized receipt specifying exactly what you purchased and how it will be shipped.

If you’ll be doing the shipping yourself, pack the item careful and label the box with the contents of the package, the monetary value of those contents, and either “Personal Use Purchase” or “Unsolicited Gift” (for Customs purposes). Your hotel concierge may be able to mail the package for you; alternatively, you can visit the local post office or seek out the nearest UPS, DHL or FedEx office (visit their websites for a list of locations). Again, purchase insurance for your package and pay with a credit card for the utmost protection.

Paying Duty

Back in your own country, your goods will have to clear customs before you can bring them home. In general, U.S. residents are permitted to bring up to $800 worth of merchandise back from a trip without having to pay duty (numerous exceptions apply). For goods that you ship home, up to $200 is exempt from duty. Customs will inspect your packages when they arrive in the U.S., and if you owe duty you’ll have to pay it when your package is delivered.

Six ski resorts in Greece

You probably think that Greece is all about sun, sea and sand. It is. But it is also the third most mountainous country in Europe after Norway and Albania and this can only mean one thing – skiing.

From December to March this traditional summer getaway turns into a ski destination offering 18 ski centres and 190 km of runs for all abilities. And though these are located in quaint, traditional villages, the après ski scene is vibrant with a nightlife that is surprisingly busy.

1. GREVENA – The double ski experience

Grevena has two ski resorts. One is Vassilitsa National Ski Centre, located 42 km north west of Grevena and the other is at Anilio at Metsovo.

Vassilitsa National Ski Centre

Stunning picturesque routes and fresh powder snow define Vassilitsa National Ski Centre. Experienced skiers and snowboarders love it but it’s also ideal for families and beginners as it has 18 slopes offering 22km of skiing area that caters for all levels.

Two slopes, Zeus at 1000m high and Timfaia at 1814m, have been approved by the International Ski Federation (IFS) for alpine ski competitions but its to the Elimia slope that most skiers head to every Saturday.

Adult Daily pass: 13€ for weekends and holidays, 1 € student pass and 8€ for children. Weekdays: 3€ less.

Anilio Ski Resort in Metsovo

Anilio Ski Resort in Metsovo is located at the foot of the Pindos mountains. Skiers and snowboarders love it for the downhill runs into mostly unknown areas and the wonderful views over beautiful stone build villages. It has a two-seater lift, two sliding lifts as well as two baby-lifts.

Daily Pass: 5€- 12€

Where to stay

Breati Boutique Guesthouse – for great forest views this guest house is a winner. It is situated right next to the national park of Valia Calda offering 10 beautiful rooms each uniquely decorated with handmade furniture, a fireplace (wood supplies are free of charge) and a balcony. Breakfast includes a range of local products and homemade specialties.

It is situated between Grevena and Metsovo; 42 minute drive from the Vassilitsa Ski Center and 25 minutes from Anilio Ski Center and open year round. Facilities include Wi Fi.

Prices: 50€-70€

Where to eat

Avlais Fungi Restaurant in Grevena town centre is housed in a renovated old house made of stone and wood. This traditional tavern is the ideal place to try a big variety of mushrooms, which is the gourmet highlight of the region. Don’t miss the fresh local meat and cheese and wash down with their homemade wine and “tsipouro”. Open daily except Tuesdays.

Don’t miss

The Museum of Natural History. Uniquely in Europe, it houses Paleontological treasures of mammoths, the bridge Spanos, an architectural masterpiece built in 1846 and Samarina, the highest village in Balkans at 1450m of Smolikas Mountain.

2. KARPENISI – Fun and adventure in a tranquil nature

Karpenisi is a popular winter destination situated in central Greece within the Karpenisiotis river valley. It has a vibrant nightlife, a newly renovated ski resort and a clutch of beautiful traditional villages.

The Ski Resort Velouchi has 18 runs comprising all levels from green to black and four off-piste runs. Facilities include equipment rental, a ski and snowboard school and a restaurant. This is where the Greek and Balkan ski competitions will be taking place this year.

After sunset the slopes of Theseus and Takis Flegas are illuminated so skiing can carry on under the night sky. There is a snow bar and an ice bar at the foot of these slopes where you meet the dance floor and enjoy the dancing beat.

Ski Pass: Adults 5€ -20€. Children up to five years old and people with special needs go free.

Where to stay

Selestina Boutique Hotel – this newly built luxury boutique hotel has been fashioned out of marble and wood giving off a warm elegant glow. Though spacious, it only has 10 rooms and each has a spa bathroom (with Jacuzzi), a pillow menu, huge beds, tea and coffee facilities and a balcony with a fabulous alpine view. The hotel is open all year round and offers free Wi-Fi. Prices: 70€-120€ with breakfast

Don’t miss

The historic 18th century monastery of Prousso. It has a museum that has wood carvings and silver utensils on display. Also consider hiring a 4×4 and drive to Chelidona to admire the unique view surrounded by lakes.

3. ARACHOVA – The cosmopolitan getaway

This picturesqe village has been dubbed by Greek jet setters as the “Mykonos of the winter” as it is the hot spot where celebrities, ski enthusiasts and party lovers go skiing. It is just a 90 minute drive from Athens and located next to one of the most organized ski resorts in Greece next to the Parnassos Mountains.

Parnassos Ski Centre features 19 ski runs, seven ski routes, 12 black country runs with deep snow, 10 trails and three nursery slopes with baby lifts. There is a detachable aerial lift that gets skiers from the plateau at 1750m to the natural ledge of 1950m.

Snowboarders and expert skiers use it but it also attracts people who just want enjoy their hot coffee at the chalet or the vibrant nightlife of the village until early morning. It is particularly busy at Christmas, Halloween and Easter holidays. It is open from December until early May.

Where to stay

Arahova Inn – a modern hotel with private parking in a central location just a minutes walk from the main square. Rooms are pleasant and comfortable and a hearty Greek style breakfast is served. You can arrange a massage in your room, particularly useful if you have overdone it on the slopes. The hotel is open all year round and prices start from 50€ during the week, 70€ at weekends and 90€ during holidays including free Wi-Fi.

Don’t miss

Eight kilometres away is Delphi, “the centre of the world” according to the ancient Greeks. Check out its Unesco World Heritage monument then take time out at the Paramount hot spot on the way up to the ski centre.

4. ELATOCHORI – A modern fairy tale

Located in Pieria County this traditional, stone built village could have been plucked out of a modern fairy tale.

The ski centre is just eight kilometres away from the main square of the village in the northeast side of the spectacular Pieria Mountains with its superb view of the Olympus Mountain.

Elatochori ski resort is ideal for families with kids and beginners. Experienced skiers should head to the top of Karekla from where a stunning view over the mountains folds out beyond. There are 10 slopes one snowboard run of 500m length and beautiful natural ski routes that meander through the forest. There are ski schools and coffee bar at the chalet.

Daily Pass: From 2€ – 13€. There is a discount for athletes, kids and students.

Where to stay

Vaela Pallas Cultural Resort & Spa – an unusual hotel with 17 rooms whose décor was inspired by the owner’s travel around the world. There is spa area that overlooks the magnificent mountains and the sea. Every morning there traditional breakfast with homemade and deli-style goodies are served.

Check out the “50+ Groovy time” project upcoming March with long term stays from 2 week until 3 months. Free Wi-Fi. Prices: 70€ – 175€ with breakfast

Don’t miss

The monastery of Saint George built back in 1494, which is an excellent spot for to see Olympus Mountain and Pieria Mountains. The Kremasto waterfalls at 1000m high and a spectacular view should also be on your bucket list.

5. NYMFAIO – The aristocratic ski resort

This traditional village, located an altitude of 1350m, is “one of the ten most beautiful villages in Europe” according to Unesco. It belongs to Florina county and it is close to Voras ski resort (Kaimaktsalan), the highest ski centre in Greece reaching an altitude of 2680m. A lot of the skiing is through unspoiled forest beauty.

There are 14 slopes suitable for beginner and expert skiers that are skiable from November right up to early May.

It also has a snowmobile run, snowcat routes, airboard trails and a fun snowboard park. The three-floor chalet is a great place to enjoy the stunning view and do a little food shopping. Florina has a vibrant nightlife waiting just a short drive away.

Day pass: 1€ (for kids) -15 €

Where to stay

La Moara Guesthouse – a member of the Historic Hotels of Europe this mansion noted for its beautiful architecture offers eight elegant rooms four of which can accommodate up to four people, two living rooms, one restaurant with an extensive wine list, a playroom with billiards, library and wine cellar. Free Wi-Fi.

Prices: 95 euros for a double room per night, including breakfast.

Where to eat

Naoumidis Restaurant – everything on the menus is absolutely fresh as it comes straight from Naoumidis brother’s farms. Smoked carp with caviar, prawns with red pumpkin, caramelized pork with quince are some of the specialties. Their peppers are cooked in unexpected ways will surprise you. An experience not to be missed.

Price: 15€ -18€ person

Don’t miss

The museum of Gold and Silver located in the heart of Nymfaio in a beautiful traditional mansion. Inside are examples of old handmade furniture, authentic costumes, photographs and artisan jewelry. Also, a stop-over at the village of Agios Athanasios is a must.

6. KALAVRITA – Skiing with a sea view

Located in north Peloponnese Kalavrita is a picturesque mountainous village easy to get to from Athens and Patra. The ski resort is located by the impressively high Chelmos Mountain whose highest peak is at an altitude of 2355m. There are 12 runs all with a beautiful sea view, seven lifts and 12km of skiing runs of all levels. Snowboarders love this resort for its uncrowded, comfortable runs and its consistantly deep snow. The Snowboard Park and the night skiing are the highlights when the resort turns into a fun zone and the chalet into a dance club.

Families and children can enjoy the playground. Psychologists are on hand to help them gain self-confidence to improve their skiing. There is a snowboard park dedicated to children.

Daily Pass: adults 5 €-25€, 0-5 & over 70 & Disabled Free entrance

Where to stay

Kalavrita Canyon Hotel & Spa – this luxury getaway has 38 rooms with all modern facilities, great view of the mountains, a spa services, bar and a restaurant that specialises in local cuisine. A hearty breakfast is included. Feel free to ask the friendly stuff for customized tours of the area. Free Wi-Fi.

Price: From 60€

Don’t miss

Catch the Odontotos train which is one of the six most famous in the world. It was built in 1896 and cuts through the Vouraikos Canyon, considered one of the ten, most beautiful in Europe.

How to Pack for an Active Outdoor Vacation

Hitting the great outdoors, regardless of the season, can be an exhilarating vacation. But the sheer complexity of gear can leave you stumped — and your suitcase overflowing. Your main concern will be staying dry and warm while keeping the amount of stuff to a minimum, especially if you’re the one hauling it.

Overall Plan: If you’re spending a significant amount of time outdoors, layers that fold up easily are key. Camping enthusiasts will want a backpack, preferably one that’s ultra-light with an internal frame. But even if you just buy a daypack, make sure that you load it and road test before you go. What seems light at home will seem five times as heavy after you’ve been carrying it for eight hours.

What’s Essential? While blue jeans may seem like the ultimate outdoor outfit, they can get wet and heavy. It’s better to get pants that are water- or wind-proof, or can be converted into shorts. A pair of tights or long underwear add an extra layer. Look for T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts and hoodies in breathable, synthetic fabric that will absorb sweat better than cotton. You’ll want to pack an emergency poncho or some other form of rain gear to protect from sudden storms. Your footwear will depend on what kind of activities you are doing. Lightweight hiking shoes or boots can handle many conditions, but you might need something sturdier for rockier trails. Kayaking or rafting trips could demand durable water shoes. Scarves, gloves and hats can make a big difference in comfort at higher altitudes, even in the summer. Insect repellent to prevent bites — and anti-itch cream to soothe them — are must-haves.

Secret Weapon: Pack multiple pairs of non-cotton hiking socks to keep your feet dry. Band-aids and moleskin can go a long way toward keeping blisters from ruining your hike (make sure you expose them to the open air during the night). Bring some Neosporin to prevent infection.

Safety First: When you’re heading into the back country, bring a whistle for bears or other unsavory creatures, especially if you’re a woman traveling alone. Dehydration can be a problem on the trail; bring a reusable water bottle and refill it often. (You may need a water purification method to make sure your water is fit to drink; see Drinking Water Safety for specifics.) Bring a flashlight or headlamp for night hikes, along with plenty of batteries. And be sure to check in with rangers if you’re going to a remote area.

Leave at Home: It goes without saying that this is one trip where you won’t need heels or dress shoes. No one on the trail cares what you look like. And while I’m a big fan of using an e-reader to save space in your luggage, I wouldn’t bring a Kindle, iPad or laptop into the wilderness. You should be unplugging anyway, right?

How to Pack for a Beach Vacation

Sun and sand top the list of favorite summer vacations. But it’s hard to feel fully free when you’re dragging too much stuff around. Let other people sweat the small stuff, and streamline your list of hot weather must-haves so you look cool, even when the temperature isn’t.

Overall Plan: Light and breezy items should dominate your wardrobe choices. While you want to be comfortable, skip the faded and raggedy T-shirts and instead aim for a summery look that’s polished, not dumpy. And while you may want to concentrate on getting there, make sure you spend some time thinking about how you’ll transport wet and sandy items back home. There’s nothing worse than a suitcase full of sand.

What’s Essential? You might hate shopping for them, but no beach vacation is complete without a swimsuit. Buy more than one so there’s always something dry to wear, and bring them along in your carry-on. Women should pack cute cover-ups, both to wear on the beach when it gets too hot and to walk along the boardwalk without too much exposure. In the evenings, costume jewelry can add just enough glamour to a sundress. Men should bring a lightweight button-down shirt for nicer restaurants; Tommy Bahama is always an upscale choice. For your feet, bring flip-flops, sandals or canvas tennis shoes, depending on the type of beach you’re on. Choose a mesh or nylon beach bag with a distinctive pattern so it’s easy to spot among the crowds, and make sure it has inside pockets, preferably waterproof, to store valuables and small electronics such as your cell phone. Speaking of gadgets, make sure that they’re waterproof or have protective covers. A soft-sided insulated tote for drinks and snacks is easier to carry than a bulky cooler. Pack some disposable wipes for quick clean-up. Plastic bags can be your best friend: Use them to bring food to the beach, and then carry wet swimsuits and towels on the way home.

Secret Weapon: If you wear corrective lenses and your beach sessions involve exploring reefs for colorful fish, you’ll want to invest in a prescription snorkel mask. Having your own mask can also prevent communicable diseases (I once got a wicked case of pinkeye from a tainted snorkel mask in Costa Rica).

Safety First: No matter how good it feels, the sun is not your friend. Load up on sun protection with a strong sunscreen that you can reapply often. If you’re traveling to your destination by plane, look into sunscreen towelettes that won’t explode or leak. When you’re lathering up, don’t forget your face. Add lip balm, and wear sunglasses and a hat.

Leave at Home: Being on the beach is an excuse to cut loose; avoid bringing clothing that’s too stuffy or structured. If you’re staying at a hotel, find out ahead of time if towels and other beach amenities are included. Many vacation rentals also have “house” items such as camp chairs and barbecue grills so there’s no need to bring your own.