I usually scoff whenever I read travel stories featuring quotes from one "travel expert'" after the next who all advise bringing along a foldable duffle or tote to fill with purchases while abroad. As a self-proclaimed, ever-striving light traveler—one who actually hopes to lighten her load as she goes—this is bollocks to me. And yet some of the most memorable pieces I own, from the woven mahogany leather shoes I purchased in Paris that cost more than my plane ticket, to the multicolored embroidered Guatemalan belt I picked up at a market in Palm Springs were acquired on journeys away from home. And each of them are items I'd be hard-pressed to find or at least consider purchasing back in my usual habitat. It used to be a novelty to go to London and load up on the high-street, low-cost pieces at TopShop, or bring back something from my favorite Parisian French labels Maje and Sandro. Now we have those shops in our very own Soho, which does indeed make this world feel smaller—like there's one less reason to shop in city or country when trends and styles start to feel less dictated by local culture, and more the outcome of globalized homogeneity. H&M's clean-lined, higher-end cousin, COS, is readying its first NYC store later this year and recently launched its US e-commerce site, which I can't say I'm not excited about. But my feelings overall are mixed. A nearby outpost certainly saves me a plane ticket to Europe, but then again, I never really traveled to Europe just to take myself shopping in the first place—that was always a traveler's perk, albeit a very welcome one. And what if more COS stores open up across the country, to the same extent as H&M locations? Will it feel as special to shop there? Probably not.
And yet, for all the Zaras and TopShops and J. Crews springing up across the globe, there will always be those special, one of a kind places to stumble upon, or seek out. They may take you off the beaten path, in which case, the challenge and the reward are one in the same—if not worth the cost of a ticket, then at least that extra baggage fee.