Travel Secrets

Know Before You Go!



How ‘free’ is Duty-Free?

“A bottle of Chanel Allure eau de toilette spray sells for the equivalent of US$102 in Lisbon versus US$147 in Melbourne. That same item goes for US$93 in Heathrow — impressive compared to what you would pay in Australia, but not so much when you consider that Sephora sells it for only $90 in U.S. stores and online.” Source

Chhavi Doonga figures out the real deal.

As if to reward you for the long queues at Immigration and Security, there’s Duty-Free. Gleaming chocolate boxes beckon. Perfumes lead you by the nose. Wine bottles seduce you with come-hither price tags.

Should you go?

Well, you’d have to be a Baba-something to be able to resist the lure of of a delightful offer soaked in tax free alcohol. But before you fall into temptation, there are things you need to know about duty free shopping. You are put under the illusion that you are getting something for nothing, but remember you’re only avoiding taxes.




In fact, most of the times the products are not tax ‘free.’ The shops only reduce the imposed import tax. So, it’s important to find out how much tax is on what kind of product and in which country. reveals that the international airports of New Zealand offer the world’s best duty-free bargains on wine, thanks to relatively cheap dollar and abundant local produce. Everyone’s duty-free favourite Dubai really does offer amazing prices on gold. At Singapore’s Changi airport, you can buy electronics, watches and cameras at upto 30% less than their retail prices.


Team Travel Secrets has discovered that in most South Asian countries, chocolates, tobacco and alcohol are often cheaper in city outlets than at the airport.

In an interview to CNN, Yngve Bia, president of the duty-free research company Generation Research,says that price depend on two things: geography and currency exchange rates.

Here’s a comparison of different product prices in duty free shops of Europe to give you an idea:


Namit Vashishta, 24, works with a multinational company and travels abroad 10 months a year. He says, “I have a huge collection of good-quality perfumes, thanks to duty free shopping. If you know your currency rates, then duty free shopping can be really profitable for you.”

Yash sood, 26, a former employee of the Delhi Airport Duty free department says “People often worry that duty-free products are inferior quality, but that is not true. The tax in these shops is not removed, it’s only reduced.”

The 3 Commandments of Duty-Free Shopping

1. Know your limits:

Warning: Your duty-free might not remain so once you get home! There are limits your home country imposes on purchases abroad. For example for United States, it’s usually $400-$800. Buying beyond that sum would result in a duty charge.


In Europe, there’s a bonus perk: Duty-free shops in airports and ports are ‘tax-free shops,’ too, which means you are spared the value added tax (or V.A.T., a type of sales tax) that would otherwise be included in the price of goods sold elsewhere in the European Union.  Again, you need to know if the VAT free price is cheaper than what you get back home.

2. Don’t Impulse-Buy:

While this tip applies to any kind of shopping, it is especially important in duty-free because the price changes with each place. You don’t want to buy something and later realise you get it cheaper at home! For example, Hong Kong International’s DFS Galleria, a duty-free shopping area, sells the Armani Obo Bag for $450 (HK$3,500). But it’s on sale at Armani’s website for just$285.


Wait till your trip ends to shop for duty-free. This will keep your baggage light, help you calculate how much you can spare, and allow you time to compare prices across a few cities.

3. Identify Your Buy Before You Fly

Want electronics? Don’t buy them in Australia—they are much cheaper in Asia and the US. Craving a cosmetics fix? The Caribbean has tax havens that can save you between 30 to 50% on topline company products. Consider taking a cruise there. Looking for luxury pewter? Kuala Lumpur Airport—eyes closed! Valuable information like this is sprinkled all over the Internet. Just click ‘Best duty-free deals on cosmetics/electronics/whatever else’ and Go!


Everyone likes to come back home with a bag full of goodies, but remember, your bag of memories needs to be chunkier!

So, grab the cheese and avoid the trap.

Happy shopping!




I am in Segovia, Spain. Where can I go shopping?

Start at the large and leafy Plaza Mayor, surrounded by boutiques and pubs.

segovia span shopping


Any which way you go, up or down the cobbled lanes, you’ll find interesting things to catch your attention. Be it top brands or local lace, there’s a lot to tempt your wallet. Shops in this and other small Spanish towns shut down between 1 pm and 4 pm for lunch, but the really cool thing is that they stay open until 8 pm or slightly later, unlike in some other European nations.

The best shopping street in Edinburgh, Scotland?

That Edinburgh is one of the world’s most elegant and beautiful cities is no secret.  That it has enough museums and castles to tick off your list is also common knowledge.

What a lot of tourists tend to miss is this: feel-good country-style shopping in the city! And that’s where we come in.

Stockbridge. Call it a street or a self-contained little village inside Edinburgh, this is a secret you need to discover, shopping or not.

After you are done with your morning coffee and scones, head for Stockbridge, a vibrant street with lots of pubs, cafes and yes, shops!

Everyone will point you toward Edinburgh’s ‘Royal Mile,’ which of course is lovely and lively. But if you’re looking for little treasures for your window-sill or your bookshelf, you need to go to Stockbridge.

A string of stores with vintage and charity goods to pick from.Beautifully packaged Scottish soaps and creams, cute curios, rare books—you never know what you might find, for just a few euros!

Set aside a whole morning for browsing Stockbridge. Read more here.

How can I shop smarter when travelling abroad?

Even savvy travellers often goof up on shopping in a foreign land. Too many make expensive mistakes. Quite a few fall into tourist traps. Some fret so much that they forget to have fun. Follow these tips from Shubhra Krishan and shop smart.


Shop the flea markets, especially in the pricier countries. These open-air markets are very colourful, boast lots of local flavour, and most importantly, allow you to scout for rare treasures without burning a hole in your pocket.

Before you leave home, do some research on what souvenirs and local goods you should be buying. One of our team-mates lugged back a big bag of gleaming round whole red chillies from the Middle East, thinking they were exotic; only to be told that they’re available by the sackful—and much cheaper—in Chandni Chowk!

Resist going overboard. Every now and then, think back to the suitcases in your room, and how much space you have left. Are they straining at the seams? If yes, do you have another bag? If you buy another one, will you be within your baggage limits at the airport? Sigh. Practical nuisances, but important, too.

Shop where the locals do. Too many of us still walk into tourist traps and end up paying way more than fair. If you can chat up a local and ask them to point you to the right store/market for what you need, nothing like it. If not, just keep your eyes open for where you see a lot of them, and follow their lead!

If you’re fond of spices, herbs and other exotic kitchen goodies, avoid the big supermarkets and explore the grocery stores. They often have the same things for much lower prices.

Retain your receipts, and once you get back to your hotel, take stock of your day’s shopping. If something doesn’t fit or feel as appealing, you can go back to the store next morning, rather than staring helplessly at your folly back home!

Almost every big city in the world has factory outlets located on the outskirts. In New York, it’s Woodbury Commons. In Edinburgh it’s the Stirling Mills complex. Bonus: you can enjoy these as day trips, sampling local food and walking the pleasant, spacious courtyards.

Do get into the discount sections of big stores such as H&M. You’re sure to get good quality stuff for attractive prices.

Read the full story in the January-February 2013 issue of Travel secrets magazine.
Digital copies available online at

How do I strike a smart bargain when shopping around the world?

One of the most exciting aspects of travelling is bringing home unique souvenirs from around the world. Local markets are the ideal places to find something authentic and interesting, However, bargaining is an essential skill for a tourists. We asked Alexandra Jimenez, editor of the blog Travel Fashion Girlhow to get the best bargains. Here are her tips and tricks:


How exactly does one bargain?

Haggling is considered by many to be an art form or at least a skill that can be acquired through experience. While it may overwhelm and even intimidate you, a bit of patience will help you succeed in attaining that one-of-a kind keepsake with a bargain basement price tag. In fact, in some countries, bargaining is a part of the culture with price haggling to be expected. Do a little research before your trip to determine general bargaining tips for your particular destination.

Follow these 10 tips to help you in your quest to master the art of skillful bargaining:

  1. Never attempt to bargain for an item you’re not prepare to buy. Don’t waste the vendor’s time or yours.
  2. Window shop discreetly without asking for prices. You don’t want them to know you’re interested.
  3. Once you’ve found the special item you want to purchase, decide on a number in your head. Determine how much you’re willing to pay and what it is worth to you. This will help give you confidence indicating to the vendor that you are an experienced haggler.
  4. Think in terms of local currency, not your own. Take the price standards in the local economy into consideration when deciding on a price.
  5. Generally speaking, offer half of the original asking price expecting to meet the vendor in the middle. For example, if he asks for 10, you offer 5, and expect to pay 7.5.
  6. Expect an over exaggerated reaction from the salesperson at your counteroffer. While a bit of this is to be expected, if you follow the above guideline you should end up be in a reasonable price range for both of you.
  7. Stand firm and act confident. If you don’t get the price you want, be prepared to walk away or reconsider if your offer was too low. Some vendors will chase after you with a lower price. This varies between destinations.
  8. If you really want to buy something the vendor may not always come chasing after you, so decide whether you will pass on the item or pay more.
  9. It is very important to pay what the item is worth to you, not what others have paid for it.
  10. Don’t fight over pennies. Remember, the difference in you paying or saving 10 cents can make a world of difference to that vendor feeding themselves or their family.
  11. What if you overpaid? If you are happy with your purchase and the price tag, then that’s all that matters. Maybe you paid a bit more than another person but you also gained an incredible souvenir that will bring you memories that will last a lifetime. Enjoy it!

The article was published in Travel Secrets magazine's March-April 2014 issue. 
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What should I shop for in Cyprus?

Travel Secrets editor Shubhra Krishan recently spent a few sunny days in Cyprus. Here are her suggestions on souvenir shopping on the island.

Typically, souvenirs and touristy tidbits will be sold to you as ‘Cyprus this’ and ‘Cyprus that.’ Steer clear of those traps, and take time to observe where the locals are going and what they are buying.

Commandaria Wine

Commandaria Wine: said to be the world’s oldest. I cannot verify the claim, but can vouch for the wine: it is sweet divinity!

Cyprus honey

Honey: the blossoming farms on the island yield some wonderful varieties. Also, figs and fresh fruit from the local markets. Better still, pluck them straight off the trees. As my guide Georgia Constantin said, “You can never go hungry in Cyprus; there’s always fruit hanging low on the trees!”

cyprus olive oil

Olive oil: after all, the locals have grown up with olive trees since times Neolithic! But beware: we bought a big can of olive oil at a farmer’s market, and paid 18 Euros for five litres. But when we weighed the can later, it was only four litres. Also, check with the airline if you are allowed to carry oil. Some don’t allow it, even as part of your checked baggage.

lefkara lace cyprus

Lace and embroidered fabric: from Lefkara village if possible, where fine lacemaking has been a tradition for generations. In the streets of Omodos village, we saw old women working away at lace kerchiefs and tablecloths.

Cyprus traditional crafts

Local handicraft & ceramics: Browse and buy traditional craft items — weaving, basket making, wood carving, pottery, and the production of leather and traditional copper items are Cyprus specials. Mesogi village near Paphos specialises in colourful baskets made of bamboo and wicker.

Cyprus gourmet bath salts

Bath salts: did you know, Cyprus is one of the only regions in the world to produce gourmet bath salts!

The Happy Traveller: Being versus Buying

A recent study by the San Francisco University says people who spend money on experiences are happier than those who splurge on ‘things.’

A survey of 10,000 people revealed that those who did something ‘fresh’ such as watching movies, discovering a new eatery, taking a detour—were generally more content, less stressed and more popular than those who blew their cash on shoes or fancy gadgets.

Still want to buy those stilettos, or would you like to stroll the city in your loafers? (Source CN Traveller)

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