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Shopping trip


SELDOM does travel writing mention shopping as a worthy activity, except when trolling famous flea markets in Istanbul perhaps. The commercial minutiae of what to buy and where to get it cheap seems not at all part of travel literature, though blogs have surely covered this arcane art.

Are Filipinos, when interviewed for a US visa on the purpose of a trip there, likely to admit that outlet malls are their objects of affection?

Few would confess to a weakness for retail therapy when traveling, even when they do the obligatory visit to museums and famous landmarks if only to have a photograph with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background. Eighty-six percent of Filipino outbound travelers have as their principal purpose for flying to foreign parts the urge to shop, maybe next to trying the native cuisine. (Please do not ask for my sample size.)

In a previously visited place, the city tour is dispensed with as the tourist heads for the shopping area after the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. In terms of “where to go next,” shopping or “taking a look at what they have” (and buying things one doesn’t really need) seems to elicit the quickest agreement among travel mates. (Are our credit cards valid here?)

Why is it embarrassing to equate travel with shopping? Here are some reasons.

You buy things you will not use. At a certain age, shopping just adds to the clutter of hardly used jackets and hiking shoes. Souvenir shirts may look good on the stalls but except for sleeping (and you already have the giveaway shirts for those) you cannot imagine any event where such collarless attire is appropriate. Except for art directors and porters having a drink at the neighborhood store, a T-shirt with a pagoda and the country of origin in big letters is useless even for ballgames. (It’s never the right color.)

Walking around a mall is the modern version of the Odyssey. (Penelope and Telemachus in this case are walking their dog.) This form of exercise does not promote a balanced aerobic routine as it concentrates on heel impact and weight loads hanging from especially thin strands. The shopper’s rule states that, “The level of pain in the heels and ankles is inversely proportional to the amount of available space for the check-in luggage.” Age tends to dissipate the appetite for getting the best bargain if this requires more walking.

There may still be the visits to temples and shrines for reclining deity if only to have some back home conversation with friends who’ve been there. (You mean you didn’t visit Angkor Wat?) Note that these activities feature only one set of clothes as they are all taken in one day. Even here, the shopper heads for the souvenir store rather than follow the guide around. This is the reason stores are at strategic exit points, even in the Vatican Museum.

There are ascetic travelers who promote the idea that travel should be limited to sights and culture. This type of traveler wears a T-shirt that says “I don’t shop.” He never refers to any country in terms of what he bought there. The only tourist lower than the shopper in the mind of this “real” tourist (regular bus on the way to visit Machu Pichu) is the one who stays in the hotel taking siestas after the linen is changed.

What’s wrong with wanting to increase another country’s GDP level? Malls, after all, also feature food courts. This culinary detour allows the shopper to try truly native cuisine at affordable prices, even if the plating is not a work of art. The food court is also the only place one can sit down with heavy bags in tow.

Food spices up the conversation. The adventurous eater is given some respect by the extreme traveler. Green papaya salad in Bangkok is a good experience that allows for vigorous body language involving a burning tongue and an open hand used as a fan — serves you right for not asking what this salad is spiced with.

Coming home from a trip, the shopper realizes her folly when trying to store her souvenir items. “Buyer’s remorse” is all too real for the shopping tourist. Stored suitcases in the big closet are still full… of unopened shopping bags.

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda

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