There’s No Room For Regret In My Carry-On

Many years ago—right after I graduated from college—I took a drive to Woodbury Commons, the fantastic outlet mall that’s about an hour north of New York. There, I found a pair of piercing cobalt blue Marc Jacobs pumps for $60—a huge designer find for my very paltry paycheck. But then, I let a more conservative friend convince me that they were too crazy: I put them back on the table and walked away. As we were pulling through the toll booth and merging back onto the highway, I felt a pang deep in my gut. I still think about those shoes today, and it still hurts.

Panic and mild paralysis still strikes whenever I’m standing in front of the cash register, wondering whether to buy whatever is in my hands, but I’ve found a few tricks for ensuring that I don’t impulse buy—but also don’t open up the door to regret.

(A handful of things I’ll never regret having carted home:)

Mexican Jeweled Star

Bejeweled Metal BeltMexican Statuettes

West Timor Textile SkirtCentro de Abastos Oaxacan Market Baskets

Baby Rattle Oaxacan MexicoRussian Faberge Egg Pendant Necklacesclockwise, l-r:Bejeweled Metals from the flea market in Mexico City; A stack of textiles from West Timor at Yosim Gallery in Indonesia; Little statuettes from the flea market in Mexico City; Woven baskets from Centro de Abastos in Oaxaca; Fabergé egg-style pendants from various street vendors in Russia; Plastic baby rattle from Oaxaca; Patchworked skirt from West Timor from Yosim Gallery in Indonesia; Bejeweled belt from Elephant Trunk flea market in Connecticut.

When I’m in my hometown…

1. If it’s widely available, or I’m on a site, or at a store that has a huge amount of stock, I sleep on it and see if I wake up wishing it were at hand. This also gives me a chance to double-check my closet to ensure that I’m not buying a duplicate (after all, I’m the sort of person who can unknowingly read the same book twice), and it gives me the opportunity to price-check it online for the best deal.

2. If it’s not widely available or nearly sold-out, I’ll buy and meditate on the purchase overnight, so long as the store in question has a reasonable return policy. This is absolutely the case online—I make good use of the free shipping offered by sites like Shopbop and Revolve to try things on at home.

When I’m traveling…

This is where things easily get out of hand, because I’m plagued by the very real fear of never finding the item again. In fact, when I’m abroad and in a spot where there’s a lot of market-based shopping, I tend to buy in bulk: I.e., I’ll get one for myself, and five more for friends, just because I have this need to “give good things a home.” Those are words I’ve actually uttered. Case in point: On a trip to Bali last month, I found a shop in Ubud called Yosim that sells antique textiles and clothing from the very small island of West Timor. Run by a woman named Regina Okhotan whose parents still live there, the shop was piled with incredible—almost otherworldly—pieces that would have looked right at home on a Carven or Suno runway. Despite the fact that Regina and I are now Facebook friends, and she offered to ship to me in the states, everything there seemed like something I would never find again. I bought three blankets, two skirts, and a shirt. Rob was kind of alarmed when I got back to the hotel. But in general, I’ve developed some rules for keeping it all in check. (I’ve actually almost been denied the right to board in the past because my two carry-ons were overflowing).

1. If I’m going to a market, I bring cash—in small bills—but no more than $200. That way, I’m forced to budget as I move along. Also, I make myself to do a quick lap to get a sense of the shopping scape before I commit. The biggest bummer is when you buy something, only to find a better version of the item down the road.

2. I never ship. That’s always a siren song when you’re in a shopping mode abroad, but it’s unrealistic and a total hassle. Accordingly, I try to limit myself to two carry-ons (with one being checkable should things really get out of hand). That way, I naturally limit the number of textiles I can drag home (I have never once carried out my intention to turn said textiles into “awesome pillows”). When I was in Kenya, I gave away all of my clothing to make room for fabric: It’s still in tidy stacks in my childhood bedroom.

3. I never spend more than $50 on a piece of jewelry unless I’m convinced, by the provenance of the store, that it’s real. When abroad, foreign money seems like fake money, and it’s too easy to get into trouble.

Do you guys have any tips and tricks for deciding when to pull the trigger? And any shopping regrets that have plagued you over the years? I want to see photos of your shopping finds from afield!


  1. AbbyHeart says:

    Once, at a craft show, I found a purse I just had to have. It was bright, nearly neon green leopard print, with a fuzzy beaded trim. I spent more than it was worth to get it, then realized about two weeks later how much I really don’t care for leopard print and how dorky it actually looked. So, Now it holds the embroidery project I will probably never finish. :)
    My biggest tip for shopping resale stores: I ask myself “would I pay xyz (a normal sum for that item) for this?” if not, I shouln’t get it. It may be a good deal, but if I am hardly going to wear it, why buy it?

  2. Elise Elise says:

    Funny, I keep my embroidery projects in Klein Tool Bag pouches: They’re kind of the perfect size. You can always offload unwise purchases on sites like Copious (a social version of Etsy/eBay), though I’m not good at moving things out of my house…I always think I can make it work.

    And yeah, I hear you re: That last point. The one-of-a-kind factor messes me up all the time. I even find myself buying that DON’T FIT. Sigh.

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