World Markets: My 10 Best Buys

Who doesn't love  kitties?!

Who doesn’t love kitties!

Like any good American, I like to spend money — before and during my trips. Following are a few gift giving ideas, as well as my favorite purchases from around the world.

Gift Tips

Going: It’s great to travel with little trinkets to give to the kids you meet along the way. But what to bring that’s easy to carry and won’t rot their teeth? (Note: Dentists are in short supply in developing countries). Stickers!

The kids love ‘em and you can easily carry a bunch. I tend to get Disney characters or Hello Kitty or animals — anything colorful will work. I do not give out American flag stickers, sparkly or otherwise.


I always bring home a newspaper or two from foreign countries. It’s so fun to wrap the gifts I buy for people in them with some bright ribbon! (Just call me “mini Martha.”)

The most outlandish newspaper I bought was in Kampala, Uganda. It was a local tabloid, called the Red Pepper, that listed the names, employers and pictures of gay men living in the city. (Homosexuality is against the law and heavily frowned upon in Uganda). The masthead read: “500 Homos Exposed.”  The whole thing was disturbing to say the least. I was sincerely afraid for these men and their public outing.

Found Treasure

I love to shop (I’m a girl, OK?!) and generally resist buying t-shirts from my travels. Instead, I buy art. Or what I consider art, since I use the term fairly loosely.

Here are some of my favorite buys (I’ve tried to limit myself to the Top 10):

1.Clay Masks, Nicaragua: I hand-carried these for 2 weeks in my day pack, wrapped in newspaper. I can’t believe I actually got them home without breaking.
Clay masks from Nicaragua—sooo cool

Clay masks from Nicaragua—sooo cool!

2. Wooden People, Cape Town: Found this beautiful couple at an open-air market and hand-carried them on the airplane. Really something I treasure and they’ve already survived 6 moves.
African wooden figures, Cape Town

African wooden figures, Cape Town

strong>3.Surrealist Mermaid, Copenhagen: Found at a flea market and was transported in a burlap coffee bean bag – ‘cause only the finest art is carried in burlap. Talked my way through 10 security airport check points to bring her home.

My own Little Mermaid (with funky feet)

4. Silver Incense Burner, Mongolia: Hand carried throughout the entire stretch of Russia. Truly a special piece tho. Decided to buy it instead of two pairs of leather Mongolian dancing boots, which in retrospect, was a good call. I think.
Mongolian incense burner

Mongolian incense burner

5. Black Shoes, Stockholm: Seriously spankin’ – watch out world!
Stockholm style

Mixed media wall hanging, Estonia

6. Mixed Media, Estonia: Cool trip-tic found at a gallery just as it was closing for National Estonian Liberation Day. Cool nab. The wording says “I love you” in Estonian. That’s what they told me, but can’t be sure since I don’t speak Estonian.

Mixed media wall hanging, Estonia

7. Wall Hanging, Ecuador: Bold, graphic, modern design on a hand-made wool wall hanging. Wasn’t sure it would stand the test of time, but it has.
Mixed media wall hanging, Estonia

Local color from Ecuador… a good thing

Local color from Ecuador... a good thing

8. Carving: Costa Rica: I love the individual shape of this piece and that it’s hand carved.
I love her!

I love her!

9. Puzzle Ring, Hong Kong: One of my favorite pieces for about 15 years. Sadly, mine hasn’t survived, but bought one for my mom too (good thinking!). She actually got hers soldered together so that it wouldn’t come apart. Evidently these rings were worn by men fighting during World War II (the Chinese vs. Japanese engagement), and they used them to entertain themselves while sitting in the trenches. Not sure if this story is true, but I like it (the story and the ring).
Reindeer bone necklaces

Intricate and amusing Chinese silver puzzle ring

10. Reindeer-Bone Necklaces, Helsinki: Liked ‘em so much I bought two!  Seriously fabu pieces.
Watching play through the flowers

Reindeer bone necklaces

Comment to this post or email a picture! I’m always looking for new ideas. Note: I’m running out of wall space, mini rules.

Now… what about haggling?

Here’s a few things I’ve found out: Check out My Unofficial Guide to Haggling. I consider Haggling to be at best an art and at least to be a highly desirable acquired skill. I haven’t written the official guide yet, but you can try these tips out on your next trip.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 7th, 2009 and is filed under Shopping & Fashion.

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