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Travel stories, inspiration, news and musing

We are the dreamers, the seekers, the travellers, the adventurers, the optimists. It's nice to meet you! There are lots of us with the same DNA - we look forward to sharing the journey with you.

How to find the best travel bargains - ethically of course!

Aimee Pearce

It's that crazy time of year I know. When your Christmas gift buying is more of an anxious-flurry than a calm, well-thought out process. When maybe your best intentions of forward planning just didn't quite happen. And now you're faced with the process of having to brave the crowds at your local shopping centre. Yuck! I feel a cold sweat coming on.

If you've firmly found yourself in this category, now is the time to learn from your mistakes! If you've taken any trips this year, I hate to tell you but you've probably missed some great opportunities to have done your Christmas shopping MONTHS ago. Sorry! But next time you're travelling to some exotic destination - why don't you do your Christmas shopping while you're there? Lee Tulloch wrote this great article recently in Traveller about how to shop for authentic Christmas presents in Asia. Ethically of course! So I hope it inspires you for next time. And of course if that kind of organisation seems outrageous - then we are here to help. You can check out all our ethically-sourced gifts any time you like! And with us there is still plenty of time to order before Christmas.

Where to shop to find travel bargains: Why I've stopped buying fake handbags overseas

by Lee Tulloch via TRAVELLER

Dec 4 2015 at 10:30 AM

The worst thing about the Christmas season for me (and many others I'm sure) is the enforced shopping. I love finding gifts for people but I hate the fact that this is dictated by the marketing of a festival that should really have nothing to do with commerciality.    

Hating the crowds, the inflated prices of goods and the stress on everyone's faces at shopping centres, I do my shopping early. This year, I started in March, buying a few gifts, such as wonderful multi-coloured fans, at the Central Market in Phnom Penh. It's not that early – some people, I believe, start their Christmas shopping on Boxing Day the year before, to take advantage of the sales.     

I'm really not that organised, it's just that travelling provides a brilliant opportunity to visit exotic markets, fairs and curious little shops to nab items that can't be found at home. Well, that's obvious. But, more importantly, when I'm on the road I have the luxury of time and the advantage of being somewhere new, which means I can shop with fresh eyes and I can do it in a leisurely way. 

Colourful silks in the Central Market in Phnom Penh. Photo: Getty Images

Sometimes that means the "what was she thinking?" kind of purchase, but usually even the simplest thing, such as a hand-woven pair of slippers from Ireland, make the most appreciated gifts. Or I hope so.     

On the road, I never feel obliged to buy souvenirs for family and friends – I think the chore spoils the pleasure for everyone, but when I spot something I know someone will love, I nab it.      

There was a time, years ago, when everyone was happy with the novelty of a fake handbag from the markets of Beijing. I recall one year returning with a suitcase full of them. But I have seen the error of my ways. I don't buy this sort of stuff any more. For every $20 rip-off bag there's probably a young woman working in appalling conditions somewhere, for inadequate pay.      

I'm as much a fan of the bargain as anyone. In fact, I'm devoted to bargains. But I like my bargains to be authentic and of the place – cotton Hammam towels from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; boxes of frankincense from Oman, for instance. It's not always the obvious purchases. One time I found a stash of old workers' club stick pins in a small town in the Czech Republic, gifts that were real talking points.    

Better to buy the product directly from the artisan or charitable foundations that support the makers. In a city such as Siem Reap, for instance, there is the renowned Artisans d'Angko centre, where artisans are supported in a series of on-site workshops and their exquisite work is for sale in a beautiful emporium. The fine handcrafts are superior to those goods found in the markets and, although pricey, the sales create job opportunities for young rural people.    

Also in Cambodia, I came across a fantastic little boutique on dusty 13 Street in Phnom Penh, Friends 'n' Stuff (there are also stores in Thailand and Lao), which supports at-risk children with several social enterprise programs. I came away with jewellery, place mats and a cute little jar all made, very humbly, from rolled and lacquered recycled paper.    

It's also worth making an effort to discover genuine family businesses such as silversmiths, because the goods are usually high quality, made by skills honed over generations. If you're on a tour, you'll generally be taken to some of these shops, but I try to also find the makers who don't do deals with the tours, simply because I feel they will need the business.    

We're blessed living in Asia because so many of our neighbouring countries are hubs of great craftsmanship – the silks of Thailand, the tailors of Vietnam, the fabric printers of Bali and so on. I know people who plan October and November trips to the big Asian cities such as Bangkok and Hong Kong to shop the markets and malls for Christmas presents.    

But do stay clear of the malls. Even in a big commercial city like Hong Kong, seek out the small shops and support local designers. There's a fantastic complex in the old Police Married Quarters where you can find a cluster of young designers and artists.     

As always, thoughtfulness is the key to giving. That includes thoughtfulness towards the seller too.    
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