luggageWe just returned from a two week trip to France and Ireland. If you’re familiar with this blog, you know that I love to shop while traveling. I’m all about finding unique, locally made items to bring home that will make the memories of the trip a concrete part of my home and my life.

There are some places where I just know I’m going to hit the mother lode. Hawaii was one of those places. Ireland was definitely another. I knew before I went that I would like find many treasures that would appeal to me and I was right. Finding the treasures is the fun part. Getting them home safely takes some thought and planning.

Ship Your Shopping

One of the first rules of travel shopping is to have the store ship your items when possible. This is especially true when buying breakables – they wrap it properly and it’s insured. You don’t have to worry about how it will fare in your luggage. In Ireland, shipping ended up being free at a few places and at others it was the same amount as our VAT (sales tax) refund. In fact, one clerk told us shipping to the US was cheaper than to the EU. If I’m not buying something fragile or not buying a lot at one store, we bring the items home ourselves.

Shipping Revelation

As my purchases began to pile up, we realized we just weren’t going to have enough space in our luggage. We stopped at a Mailboxes, Etc. in Ireland, intending to ship some items home. The cheapest rate was 380 Euros, which is about $500. Yikes. Definitely more than the value of what I’d bought. We came to the realization that it made far more sense to buy an additional suitcase (50 Euros=$66) and pay the $100 airline fee for an extra bag. In the future I will likely do this again. It made the most sense.

Tips from the Packing Master

There is a clear division of labor in this family. I do the shopping and my husband does the packing. The man is a genius. I brought home many breakable items. Not a single thing was damaged this trip because he is so careful. Here are his secrets:

Bring bubble wrap with you. It’s light and adds no weight to your luggage on the way there. It is essential for bringing home delicate items. Layer sheets of it in your luggage.

Never throw anything out. This was a lesson well-learned when somehow in Puerto Rico a necklace my son bought for his girlfriend disappeared. We think it got thrown out in the bag it came in since it was light. So the rule following that debacle was that my husband brings home every single bag. He uses them as additional wrapping materials or layers them along the bottom and top of the suitcase (when the suitcase is lying down since this is the way they are stacked by the airline) to provide additional cushioning.

Make a bubble. My husband uses clothing to completely surround the items he is packing. Fragile items are wrapped in bubble wrap then cushioned in the center of this clothing bubble. Nothing fragile is near an outside edge of a suitcase.

Use double zipper bags. After last year’s Italy trip when one of my daughter’s bottles of limoncello burst in the suitcase, the rule is that anything liquid must be double bagged in a zipper bag. This year she brought olive oil and jelly home from her study abroad session in Croatia. The olive oil leaked, but it was double bagged so we were fine. My husband also recommends tightening screw caps to make sure they are sealed and wrapping tape around the cap if possible.

Use boxes. If the item you buy comes in a box, use it. It is tempting to think it is just taking up space in your luggage, but it provides stability and prevents crushing. He uses socks and underwear for extra padding inside the box if needed.

– Get cardboard for art. I always buy inexpensive prints or a small piece of original artwork that depicts the place we visited, but getting unframed art home is a challenge. My husband asks for cardboard at the store and layers the art between the layers of cardboard, which he then tapes together.

Toss to make space. If your suitcase is too full or over the airline’s weight restrictions, throw out things like shampoo, contact lens solution, shaving cream, etc which you can easily replace when you get home. At the end of your trip, these bottles are likely nearly empty anyhow, so it’s not that much of a loss. I also leave my travel guide books behind in the hotel room since they are quite heavy. A shirt I brought on this trip snagged on a fence and tore – that got left in the hotel room as well since it was not repairable, so why bring it home?

– Bring a tote bag. I have a big fabric Vera Bradley style overnight bag that weighs almost nothing and completely flattens. We always bring this in a suitcase as an emergency carry on. Sometimes you may think you are fine with space and weight only to weigh your bag the night before your flight and discover you have a problem. This tote is perfect for this emergency. I stuff my purse or wallet in my regular carry on and bring this bag for my two pieces of on board luggage. We also often use this tote to manually carry items we are very concerned about. I’ve carried framed art work, pottery, and glass home in this bag. Pad it well with bubble wrap and clothes and place it in under your seat if possible. If it has to go above you, carefully wedge it between the wall and another carry on of your own, so no one else can shove something up there and damage your items.

We just returned from a two week trip to France and Ireland. If you’re familiar with this blog, you know that I love to shop while traveling. I’m all about finding unique, locally made items to bring home that will make the memories of the trip a concrete part of my home and my life. … Read more

Ornaments and egg cups from Rome

I’m halfway through my posts about all of our stops in Italy, so let’s take a rest stop and talk about shopping (don’t worry, there will be lengthy foodie posts to come as well!)


Before I leave on a trip, I try to find out what the specialty items of the area are. For Italy, I determined that I should look for handmade glass and lace (and locally made lace is hard to find and expensive since most of it is just made in factories in Asia now) in Venice, handcrafted paper and leather in Florence, and lemon products and custom-made sandals in Sorrento. Cameos are another specialty in Italy. I also read about glass or stone mosaics throughout the country.

I have several specific collections I am always looking to add to: bookmarks and magnets are the cheapest, although bookmarks can be hard to find. I always am looking for Christmas ornaments, Easter eggs and cups, handmade baskets, locally made soap, fun food items to bring home, and watercolor paintings depicting the area. It helps to have specific things to look for.


The shopping in Venice was fantastic. There were so many stores, it was hard to focus. This was also our first city, so we were jet lagged and trying to adjust to the terrible heat! We took a vaporetto to the island of Murano which was

Murano glass

an amazing place to visit, but they had so much glass that is made there on the island that it was hard to choose! Some of the glass is very expensive. One shop had a few glass mosaic pieces, but none were right.

I found two great bookmarks in Venice, one with a tassel (which they sell many of in Venice) and one with Murano glass.

We bought our Venice painting from an artist in the campo right in front of our hotel, next to a canal. It was one of those perfect settings.


Tray from Florence

There was a lovely shopping section in Florence on the far side of the Arno, just past the Ponte


Vecchio, but I wish it had been bigger. This area had some terrific artisan shops where we bought leather items and a beautiful painted tray. My husband bought a wallet and we got the leather trays I photographed. I found bookmarks here and little books of paintings from each city which will hang on my book tree in my office.

I bought my painting in Florence (the long narrow on in the front of the photo below) in a small courtyard outside the Uffizi where artists were selling their work. Artists were also selling things in the Plaza Repubblica at night. I find that areas where


tourists gather in the evenings are good places to find local paintings that are inexpensive. I rarely pay more than $20 for paintings like these.

I looked at gorgeous stone mosaics in Florence, but could not bring myself to spend a minimum of 250 Euros for one. So those have now taken up residence in the museum in my mind (all the things I wished I had bought and didn’t on all of my trips!).


Rome was a challenge for shopping, but we did find a nice little grouping of shops near the Pantheon. Everything else was junky souvenir shops or expensive designer shopping. There were several shops with nice pottery in Rome.

I bought a painting in Rome, but it’s a print that I saw lots of street vendors selling. I could not find any artists selling original paintings.

I saw a gorgeous handpainted leather purse I came very close to buying, but the back of it had some scratches. They didn’t have any others. Another item added to the museum of my mind.


We took a tour of Pompeii and I did not expect to buy anything there other than my fun little cheap magnet (I buy one every place we go and they decorate the file cabinet in my office). However, our guide took us into a cameo store, where an elderly man sits hand-making cameos.  They were beautiful and my daughter and I each bought one (ok, I bought two). The artist signed them on the back and also wrote our

Murano glass jewelry and handmade cameoes

initials on the back. I really wanted a blue cameo, but they told us those are always made in factories. The ones we bought are handmade from shells.


Sorrento had a wonderful shopping section, very quaint with narrow

Daughter’s custom-made sandals, hubby’s leather bag and belt from Sorrento; leather dresser catch-alls from Florence

alleys and cobblestone streets, just off the Tasso piazza. It was a shopper’s paradise. There were so many shops selling leather purses that I was dizzy!

My daughter had sandals handmade for her here (you go in and pick out the elements you want on them and they have it ready the next day: they do not actually hand-make the sole however – they just put together the pieces you select). Limoncello is a big product here, but I bought lemon soap and honey since we don’t care for alcohol.  My husband bought a beautiful leather bag and a belt here.

We had dinner one night down in Marina Grande, a tiny little beach area. There was an old woman selling lace just behind the beach. She was sitting and doing lacework, so there is a chance the lace I bought did not come from Asia, so I bought one lace doily.

We also stumbled upon a truly fantastic HUGE store called Gargiulio and Januzzi. They sold inlaid wood boxes and plaques, some glass jewelry and a big room of amazing Italian pottery and linens. Downstairs was a big room with marquetry inlay furniture which was gorgeous. I had to get out of that room or I would have had the entire thing shipped home. I bought some pottery and a table runner, as well as an inlay wood box (all still being shipped home, so no photos). Very high quality items and very good customer service. The shipping was free which was a nice bonus.


We visited the island of Capri on a tour, but only went to the town of Anacapri where the shopping was rather limited. I had high hopes for Capri, but didn’t buy much, other than the beautiful hydrangea glass plate I’ve photographed with my Murano glass. My daughter and I bought the lace bracelets I photographed with the lace doily here.

I could not find a painting on Capri (there was one shop in Anacapri with paintings and the owner was so aggressive, I could not even really look at his work. We ended up buying one in Sorrento of Capri the next day, so that worked out ok.

Pasta, regional soaps and lemon honey from Sorrento

Not pictured are t-shirts and sweatshirts other members of the family brought home, as well as a couple pairs of earrings my daughter bought and promptly put into use!

We also had to make an emergency suitcase purchase at a train station! My daughter’s suitcase zipper broke. The train station in Rome had a big suitcase shop and we got a nice one for about 50 Euro, which was a nice bargain. We tried to throw out the broken suitcase, but everyone we asked told us to just set it outside the main doors of the station and someone would take it!

Overall, it was a successful trip in terms of shopping and now I am trying to figure out where to put it all! I have to get the paintings framed, which is always a challenge. I can often find frames and mattes at Michael’s but sometimes they are not standard sizes and I have to have them framed.

I always feel as though I am buying a ton, then I get it all home and it really isn’t a lot. It’s always so nice to have lovely little items to remind me of our trips!




Lace bracelets from Capri; lace doily bought on the beach in Sorrento





Tie, Murano egg, mosaic plate and frame from Rome; tiny books that fold out with pics of the cities from Florence, to go on my book Xmas tree


My cheapest buys: magnets





I’m halfway through my posts about all of our stops in Italy, so let’s take a rest stop and talk about shopping (don’t worry, there will be lengthy foodie posts to come as well!) Pre-Shopping Before I leave on a trip, I try to find out what the specialty items of the area are. For … Read more