An image of a narrow street in Samos island in greece, where small shops are selling homeware items

How to shop for homewares on holiday

Posted by for Homeware

Shopping for homewares on holiday can be a great way to pick up characterful pieces that remind you of your trip. We asked interior design experts for their tips on how to find the best pottery, textiles and tableware on your travels and get it home intact. 

After two years of disrupted or entirely suspended travel, trips abroad are firmly back on the agenda in 2022. And, with a Mediterranean trend popping up in lots of summer interiors collections and ceramics from Italy, Portugal and Japan continuing to be popular on Instagram, you may also be looking forward to doing a little homeware shopping on your travels. 

Many of us will have picked up a knick-knack or souvenir abroad, but successfully shopping for homewares on holiday is a skill. Ensuring your purchase will go with your interiors scheme when you’re several thousands of miles away from home, avoiding expensive shipping fees and making certain your purchase doesn’t bend, shatter or snap in your suitcase are all important considerations. 

That’s why we’ve asked interior design experts with a history of picking up homewares on their travels for their top tips. After all, holidays are for having fun, not stressing out about shopping. Here’s what they had to say.

Finding the best places to shop

An image of a French street market from above with canopy sun shades over each stall
Markets can be a great place to find good-value home accessories

You may have an image of yourself stumbling upon a treasure trove of Portuguese tiles or Puglian splatterware pottery while wandering down sunlit cobbled street. But if you’re serious about finding some homeware gems, you’ll probably need to put in a little more effort. 

Interior designer Emma Stevenson, who runs an online store stocked with items she finds on her travels, suggests doing some digging and going straight to the source where possible: “I’d try to avoid the front-line markets and instead get info from local [people] about what the local speciality is and where they are made.”

She adds: “Sometimes going direct to the factories gives you much more choice in styles and colours and gives you the opportunity to make things bespoke. Going straight to the manufacturer is also a nice way to support local businesses and cuts out the middleman.”

Depending on how dedicated you are to your interior design, Sally Wilkie, co-founder of vintage and antique homewares store Home Barn, suggests doing some planning in advance to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time. “I like to look up the local flea market dates when I arrive to make sure we don’t miss out on one that may be taking place while we’re in town,” she says.

The best homeware items to buy on holiday

Holiday homewares: An image of a street market in Essaouira, Morocco where textiles are hanging from rails
Textiles aren't fragile and can be easily packed in suitcases

Once you’ve found the date and location of that adorable antiques market, what are the best things to buy when you get there? Sally says textiles are always a good bet: “I love to have a look around for traditional textile techniques, whether that be print, pattern or embroidery. These are easy to pack away at the end of the holiday and can add a little touch of newness to your interior without redecorating completely.

While interior designer Benji Lewis, who divides his time between the UK and France, says: “Small non-breakable things are the wise way to go.” He adds: “I trawl through shelves in every brocante [French flea market] I come across, looking for old silver napkin rings and antique textiles.”

Artworks are often some of the most meaningful items in our homes, but according to Lucy St George, co-founder of eclectic online interiors store Rockett St George, they make practical holiday purchases, too. “Art can often be lightweight or rolled up so it’s a great way of bringing something really different home – maximum impact with little effort,” she says.  

Making sure your purchases match your space at home

An image of a homeware shop which has a tiled decoration on one wall
Keeping your home scheme in mind is crucial when shopping for interiors items on holiday

Holidays are a great time to try new things, whether it’s a local speciality dish, stand-up paddleboarding or a new brand of suncream. But this can apply to homeware shopping too, as Siobhan McMillan, head of buying at home living retailer Made, tells us. “An open mind is key – the holiday mentality often naturally brings this about and we perhaps tend to be drawn towards bolder and braver items than we might ordinarily buy back at home. Lean into this and don’t shy away from being brave,” she advises.

However, a more relaxed holiday mindset can also have its drawbacks. With the sun shining, the drinks flowing and the feel-good vibes dialled up to the max, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the moment and splurge on items you later regret. As you won’t be able to return anything once you’ve flown home, how do you ensure your souvenir homeware buys will still hold the same appeal when you’re back in the grey UK?

Siobhan recommends keeping your scheme at home in mind: “Don’t forget to remember the context of where the piece will ultimately sit. A flamboyant frill might look fabulous in the sunshine of Seville, but in a sitting room in Sevenoaks, it might look completely different.” And if you’re really worried about the design decisions of your future sangria-soaked self, Emma says: “Take some samples with you to have a reminder of what you have back home.” 

Getting your buys home in one piece

A shop on the Greek island of Samos with brightly-coloured pottery displayed outside
Transporting items in your hand luggage can be safer than packing them in your suitcase

Picture it: you’ve purchased a beautiful piece of pottery for a great price and – you thought – carefully wrapped it up inside your suitcase, only to unpack and find a mess of smashed-up shards. So how can you avoid homewares heartbreak and ensure your purchases literally go the distance? Siobhan says durability should be at the forefront of your mind when shopping. “Impulse holiday purchases don’t often take into account the quality of the piece, so remember to take a moment to assess whether you think the piece will survive the flight back home.”

While Lucy recommends packing pottery and ceramics items in your hand luggage, not your suitcase. “As fragile pieces, wrap these up in all your clothes and be careful when carrying your luggage around,” she says.

Avoiding expensive shipping charges

Holiday homewares: An image of a pottery shop where jars, pots and podiums are displayed outside
Think about how you'll get heavier items home before you buy

If you’ve fallen in love with an item that’s simply too large to fit in your suitcase, you may be considering having it shipped back. This can be tricky – several of the interiors experts we spoke to said it can be costly and unreliable. So aside from the obvious – only buying smaller items – how else can you avoid shelling out for shipping? If you’re going to be bringing back multiple items, Benji suggests packing with purchases in mind. “Travel lightly in preparation for filling up while you’re on your hols.”

Sarah, Home Barn’s other co-founder, suggests trying out other postal methods. “If I really like it, [I might buy] something that we can send back home from the local post office – often this can be cheaper than excess baggage costs.”

Meanwhile, Lucy advises that buying an extra suitcase for your purchases could be the way to go. “When arranging shipping with the shopkeepers, it can double the price of the item, so watch out for this. For pieces that fit in a suitcase, paying for extra luggage is almost always cheaper than organising separate shipping costs.

If shipping is your only option, however, Sarah has some tips. “I think if something is unique, it’s often worth going the extra mile to get it home. Just avoid the very heavy and large items, stone carvings and giant urns, unless you’re able to get a shipping quote before purchasing.”

And the most important thing?

Ultimately shopping for homewares during a getaway should be fun. Lucy advises: “Don’t stress – take your time, talk to people you are buying from and enjoy the experience. Often the item you buy will remind you of that person, holiday and trip, so it’s important to enjoy it – you are on holiday after all! You may even end up enjoying that memory more than the actual item you buy,” she says.  

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Images: Shutterstock/Yonca Evren; Getty Images/NurPhoto/Contributor; Getty Images / Tatsiana Volskaya; Getty Images/EyesWideOpen/Contributor; Shutterstock/Yonca Evren; Shutterstock/andras_csontos

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