For me, half the fun of travelling is bringing all sorts of awesome things back home. I was brought up the idea that you should always bring pasalubong (souvenirs) back for people who weren’t fortunate enough to be able to go with you. In fact, this idea of bringing pasalubong whenever you visit someone is so ingrained, I’m usually madly rushing right when we’re supposed to be on our way somewhere, and I’ve still got something in the oven…
But that’s another story!
The Doctor and I have been very lucky over the last few years, managing to visit 3 other countries and quite a few domestic destinations. I think I’ve managed to refine my shopping strategy so that we come home with not just great memories, but things that will let us re-live those experiences just a little while longer. These tips aren’t just limited to big overseas trips, you can also apply them to visiting new markets or shops to get the most out of your first visit.
Tip 1: Have a budget
Sefie’s Papa is a baller
Your total travel budget should always include how much you’re planning to spend on “stuff”. It can be daunting, especially for longer or overseas trips, to add on any extra amounts, but it’s not like the money will magically appear out of nowhere! Going on holidays can also suspend your normal sense of time and “good sensibility”. On the other hand, foodies can and will spend an awful lot of time and money chasing whatever it is they’ve fixated on. This won’t totally get rid of that feeling, but it might mitigate the surprise when you see your next credit card bill…
Having a budget also allows you to avoid pushy salespeople bargain for a better price. If you only have “this much” to spend, you’re less likely to just fling your money about because – Hey! We’re on holidays.
Corollary: Don’t be scared to exceed your budget if you’ve found something truly special. But if you’re making exceptions at every single shop you visit, you might want to adjust your idea about what you’re defining as “special”.
Tip 2: Have a plan
Disappointment (or buyer’s remorse) kicks in when:
- You forget to, or miss out on buying something that was really awesome
- You keep buying the same thing – either in the same trip, or the sorts of things that you have at home
- You spend way more than you should have
You can avoid all of these things by planning what you actually want to get before you get there. Again, I tend to start building this list as part of my overall travel plan.
Part A: Research
Don’t deny it – you choose your travel destinations based on the food that you can get there, right? Kind of like a bucket list, but for food. So why not indulge in that? Figure out what flavours are waiting for you, and then figure out what you’re able to bring back to re-create the experience at home.
These are a few of my favourite things
Gourmet Traveller and Saveur are my go-to sources for researching regional specialities and cuisines. Tripadvisor and Urbanspoon are excellent for suggesting places to go hauling.
But to tell the truth, this is the tip I find hardest to follow. I don’t like buying ready-made meals or sauces because “hey, I can google this and make it at home”. When you break food down into its basic components (eg: ingredients), you can generally get them from anywhere. Which means there was no point to coming all this way out and I don’t have to get anything here because I can just get it back home and ARHGJDFKJDFGF.
Part B: Inventory
I figure that most of my usual readers are more into cooking than going out to eat, so I also figure you guys suffer from “cooking ruts”. You know what you can cook, and you know what you need to cook it. And when you do splurge on an unfamiliar ingredient, you either have no idea what to do with it, or you want to “save it for a special occasion”, and it eventually migrates to the back of the pantry and gets covered in cobwebs. Or… someone else opens the pantry and asks why you have three types of extra virgin olive oil, five kinds of flour and six kinds of sugar.
Unless you have specific reasons (ie: you really are an olive oil merchant), try not to buy too many of the same thing. Even if it’s a regional speciality (eg: pinot from Yarra Valley), you are just setting yourself up for pantry paralysis when you get home. A tip I picked up from What Not to Wear is “will this work with three other items you already have at home?” can apply here – can you think of at least two ways you’ll use this ingredient right now?
If not – it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get it. It just means that you should re-think whether you need multiple types or brands of it.
Yes, I do need multiple bottles of my favourite wine. And yes, I have multiple favourites!
Part C: Back to Budget
I spent $13 on a 350ml jar of honey from one place and found the exact same thing for $4.50 at the very next stop. In fact, the second stop was the supplier for the place I actually bought the honey from. Sigh.
Your budget can simply be a set amount of money that you get to spend. But if you have an idea of how much you’re “supposed” to spend on a particular item, this can help you decide whether that last $20 should go to one single bottle of wine, or a box of 12 hand-made chocolates. Seen in isolation, $6.50 for a 100g block of fudge can seem a bit of a rip-off. On the other hand, when you take “artisan rates” into account, you can be blinded into thinking any amount of money wouldn’t be worth the care, dedication, blood, sweat and tears that have gone into making that precious little morsel on your plate.
So do a little research first, check out whether suppliers have an online shop, and if possible, schedule a reconnaissance run before actually committing to bringing your wallet out. And if you don’t get something this time, you can always get it next time.
Everything I know about wine, I learnt from the cellar master at Seville Hill. I seriously love this place.
Corollary: What you can’t prepare for is the expertise of the shop owners themselves. Sometimes the best things you can find are listed not online.
Tip 3: Have limits
Anything that goes off before you get home does not make good pasalubong. If you’re driving, keep a freezer bag or esky in your car. Check if your accommodation has a fridge, and use it. Ask vendors how you should best store your haul to keep it as fresh and edible as long as possible.
Before you fly, check your baggage allowances. I was extremely embarrassed (and kind of upset!) to have to discard two whole jars of kaya jam at Singapore Airport because they were in my carry-on, and counted as “liquid or gel”. Never mind that I had bought those jars within the airport itself.
If you’re flying in, Australia has very strict import and quarantine laws, so also check those out before you bring home giant packages of preserved cuttlefish. I couldn’t take home a set of flavoured Yakult because they’re a dairy product. And yes, I drank seven bottles before getting on an 8 hour flight. Whoo!
Pro-tip: Magnums never get through Customs. Both the wine type and the gun type.
Tip 4: Have a backup plan
For all that I keep saying “make plans first!”, stock can run out, or what you’re looking for might be completely seasonal. Can you believe I didn’t actually bring back any kitkats from Japan!?
Check with vendors about similar products, or other shops that might have what you’re looking for.
Honey, you *what* the kids?
Also, think about whether you’re actually buying something because you want it, or just because of the packaging. You wouldn’t want to run out of luggage space because you’ve filled it with candy with amusing Engrish packaging, would you? Just take a photo and leave it on the shelf.
Corollary: Shops in Asia tend to ban photography. Be polite, put the camera away and apologise if necessary.
Tip 5: Have other people in mind
Finally – remember that the point of pasalubong is to enjoy them with others. So remember your friends’ allergies and food preferences, and unless they’re as adventurous as you, don’t buy things that you’re not sure they’ll like or not. Don’t feel bad about buying “multiples” of things, even if you’re handing them all out in the same social circle, it’s because you don’t want to play favourites!
All of this gets trumped, of course, if your friends ask for something specific. Try your best to get it, and find out whether they will accept substitutes if you can’t get what they wanted.
Hauls from: Sydney 2010, Yarra Valley 2011, Philippines 2011-12, Daylesford 2012
I hope you enjoyed this post – it’s not my usual type of thing, but I thought I’d share anyway.
What are your shopping tips? Do you suffer from pantry paralysis or buyer’s remorse after travelling? Let me know in the comments!