Like a lot of folks, I've got a bucket list of things I want to do and see before I head to the big mall in the sky.
Mine's a little different than most. I call it "999 places to shop before I die."
The list includes the world's most iconic, exotic, eccentric and elegant shops, stores, sales and marketplaces. The Kasbah of Marrakech. Gum of Moscow. The flower market in San Remo. Egypt's camel auction. Bangkok's Floating Market. The Ginza in Tokyo. Vienna's Christmas Markets. Paris' historic trio of grand department stores: Le Bon Marche, Le Printemps and Les Galeries Lafayette.
And I've got U.S. destinations as well — Mall of America, one of the country's largest shopping centers, in Bloomington, Minn.; the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala., a store that takes up an entire city block and features the contents of unclaimed and lost airline baggage, belongings left on planes and in airports, and unclaimed air cargo; and World's Longest Yard Sale, a once-a-year tag sale extravaganza that spans six states and 690 miles and runs from Addison, Mich., to Gadsden, Ala..
While my list might be extreme, I'm not the world's only retailer adventurer. According to research done by the U.S. Travel Association, a majority of Americans say they'd rather shop than visit friends, eat in fine restaurants or hit the beach when traveling. And international travelers to the U.S. report that shopping is their number one activity, more popular than city sightseeing, touring historical places or visiting theme parks.
"No question, shopping is a key activity for travelers," says Cathy Keefe, association spokeswoman. "Our surveys show that year after year."
One of the great travel writers, Suzy Gershman, picked up on the retail adventure trend 26 years ago, when she wrote her first "Born to Shop" guide. Before her death in 2012, the series had been translated into a half dozen languages and sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.
Zagat, too, recognizes the lure of retail travel, featuring shopping alongside dining and nightlife in their city guides and publishing an annual stand alone edition on shopping in New York City.
Keefe says travelers want to shop at stores that are unique or different from those they have at home and that they look for items to purchase that represent the destination they are visiting.
"People seek out local goods when they travel," says Keefe. "They want to have reminders of their trip."
She's right, because adventure shopping isn't about spending, it's about experiencing a culture.
I'm lucky enough to have already checked off some of my entries — London's legendary Harrods department store with its opulent Food Hall; and Carrara, Italy, the town where Michelangelo shopped for marble. The Netherlands' famous street fair, the Albert Cuyp Market in the Pijp section of Amsterdam and La Ramblas with its flower stalls and used book shops in Barcelona. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in central Milan, said to be the world's oldest shopping mall, and America's best star tripping shopping destination, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
I didn't spend much at any of these, but I did come home with shopping bags of memories of the sights and sounds of the marketplaces I visited, along with specially chosen souvenirs that represented where I'd been.
Retail anthropologist Paco Underhill, (yes, there really is such a thing), explored the difference between the mindless buying and experiential shopping in his book, "Why We Buy."
"…shopping is more than the simple, dutiful acquisition of whatever is absolutely necessary to one's life. It's more than what we call the 'grab and go' — you need cornflakes, you grab the cornflakes, you pay for the cornflakes and have a nice day," writes Underhill. "The kind of activity I mean involves experiencing that portion of the world that has been deemed for sale, using our senses — sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing — as the basis for choosing this or rejecting that."
Couldn't have said it better myself.
Shopping Around is a new column exploring travel, shopping, retail and consumer issues. Have you had adventures shopping around? Share them at courant.com/savvyshopper.