Why go stare at some big white marble dude named David, when instead you can go shopping for a Fendi sweater?
That’s the attitude of a majority of luxury travelers, according to new statistics. A 2006 study by the Travel Industry Association shows leisure travelers going abroad prefer shopping (53 percent) to sightseeing (48 percent). Among domestic travelers, the only activity more popular than shopping is dining out.
"Travelers have always been interested in shopping," says Douglas Amrine, publisher of DK Eyewitness, a travel guide series. "But these days people have more disposable income and are traveling more frequently and more adventurously. As a result, they are shopping in foreign countries more than they used to."
What's so special about shopping while traveling?
"When you buy something in another country or another city, you always have a story to tell about where you got that particular item," explains Jill Fairchild, founder and publisher of Where to Wear, a series of city shopping guides. "You create lasting memories with your purchases."
And not all Louis Vuitton stores or Chanel boutiques are created equal, assuring that fans will want to check out them all. "Even if there are the same stores around the world, what you see in one won’t always be in another," Fairchild says. "Each store has a different market and a unique selection."
Best of all, traveling shoppers get the chance to discover unique and unfamiliar items.
When in Rome ...
One great spot to explore is , a narrow cobblestone street off Piazza Navona. It's littered with boutiques carrying the creations of lesser-known Italian designers. Patrizia Pieroni sells her boho-chic clothing for men and women at Arsenale. Luciana Lannace owns the boutique Maga Morganna, where she sells her feminine dresses with bows and ruffles. Josephine de Huertas, a favorite shop of Roman socialites, carries names like Joseph and Halison, as well as La Collana di Betta, a line of chunky copper jewelry handmade by an Italian architect.
Every shopper needs time to refuel in between purchases. When in Rome, do so at La Campana, a restaurant established in the 16th century that serves Roman food like tagliolini with anchovies. Sleep at the 56-room Raphael, which is right off Piazza Navona and has a floor of suites designed by famed architect Richard Meier.
I'll take Manhattan
Stateside, experts say remains a favorite destination for upscale shoppers. The savviest skip Fifth Avenue and head instead for the less-frequented Meatpacking District.
If you’re a denim lover, a stop at An Earnest Cut & Sew for customized jeans is a must, as is a stop at Jeffrey — a shrine for all serious fashionistas. At Jeffrey you will find a trendy selection of designer clothing and accessories from labels like Helmut Lang and Pucci, as well as such eclectic buys as Tibetan lamb ponchos. Shop Comme de Garcons for avant-garde designer Rei Kawakubo’s art-like clothes for women (fuschia skirts in torn layers) and for men. For jewelry, check out Auto, a boutique that only sells pieces by New York designers.
Need food? Tuck into dishes like chilled spring pea soup and Vermont lamb shoulder at 5 Ninth, a New American restaurant situated in a 200-year-old townhouse. For lodging, the 187-room boutique Hotel Gansevoort has the most luxurious accommodations in the area, with 400-thread count sheets and a flat-screen television in every room.
Luxury for less
Other cities tempt travelers with irresistible discounts on luxury goods.
If you visit , you can score designer watches from Patek Phillipe, Cartier and Rolex at 20 percent to 30 percent off the retail price, according to Winnie So, editor of the Hong Kong-based Little Cream Book, a series of luxury travel books.
"There are no luxury taxes on watches here, so the prices are already lower," she says. "You can negotiate a discount. If you go with a regular client of the store, you can get as much as 50 percent off."
King Fook, Emperor and other stores selling fine watches are concentrated around Queen’s Road Central. Look there for high-profile retailers including Louis Vuitton and Gucci. For tailored evening cheongsams, head to Zeepha Couture. Stop at Dickson Yewn, the Hong Kong jeweler, for designs inspired by Eastern philosophy. Joyce Boutique, a department store, carries innovative work by Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake.
When hunger strikes, power up with Peking Duck at the China Club, a Sichuan restaurant reminiscent of 1930s Shanghai. And when you need lodging, the biggest rooms in Hong Kong can be had at the 133-room Landmark Mandarin Oriental — they average 540 square feet each.
City by city around the world, there are great options for shoppers to bring home not just special goods, but special memories.