When I was in high school, I traveled to Spain with my Spanish class for spring break. It was my first time out of the country and also my Sweet Sixteen. In that week, I saw a bullfight, swam in the Mediterranean, watched a flamenco show, partied the night away on a riverboat cruise on the río Guadalquivir in Seville, and toured many sights in Madrid and Andalusia. It was truly a birthday to remember, and I bought A LOT of souvenirs—some for myself but most of them for family and friends.
I bought so much stuff that when I came across a beautiful flamenco dress while browsing in a souvenir shop in Costa Del Sol, I decided not to spend the €80 to purchase it because I didn’t think I had enough money. When I returned home, Mom, who was monitoring my bank account, confirmed that I had in fact overdrawn it but assured me she would have deposited more money, so I could’ve bought the dress.
It was crushing to hear, but from that moment forward, I decided in my heart that whenever I traveled somewhere, if I saw something that I really wanted, particularly if it was something unique to that culture, such as an item of clothing, I was gonna buy it and worry about the money later.
However, there still should be a limit on how much money that is…
I spent entirely too much money in Egypt.
I already knew I was going to spend significantly more than I had saved up for the trip. This was a trip of a lifetime, and I was already pushing the budget to go.
Still, I spent way too much freaking money.
Ever since Spain, I don’t typically buy souvenirs for friends and family anymore. I don’t buy t-shirts, I don’t buy magnets, I don’t buy little trinkets that you will inevitably lose because it really has no meaning other than “Hey! This came from Egypt!”
Souvenirs for me are the pictures I take and the stories (or memories) attached to them. For example, this series of blog posts is a souvenir I’m sharing with you!
Outside of my immediate family, who was traveling with me this time, most people will only get pictures from me. And they shouldn’t expect those pictures right away. I didn’t post the pictures from my birthday Maldives trip until five months after my birthday.
If I do buy something, I try to buy something I know I’ll never get at home: something unique to the country I’ve visited, something like a souvenir but of higher quality, something that won’t break in my suitcase on the flight home, something I’ll actually use rather than something that’ll collect dust on a forgotten bookshelf or that I give to someone just to give them something but not because it holds any real value.
Going into Egypt, I was prepared to buy only four things:
Anyone who knows me knows I love art. My apartment is practically a tiny art gallery. I bought so much art on my last cruise that I was invited to a VIP auction weekend. All expenses were paid so that we could spend more money on buying more art, and that I did! My emotional impulse art-buying had gotten so bad, Hubby threatened to take my credit card.
I’ve been better in recent years, thanks to inflation and literally nothing being affordable these days. But while in Egypt, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist if I saw a painting I really liked. And sure enough, when our tour group stopped at a papyrus factory, where we were shown how papyrus paper is made (the material used to make the ancient scrolls), there was a painting there that immediately caught my eye.
I’m a foodie. I love to cook, and I love to eat, and I’m always trying new international dishes. I’m like that Noom commercial—I’m wired to crave unique foods. Unfortunately, the spices needed to make these “unique” dishes taste good are criminally overpriced in the States. So when I have the opportunity to buy them outside the US for half the price, sometimes even cheaper, I take it! And they tend to be a little fresher than the caked-up stuff on the grocery store shelves.
My spice haul included curry powder, cinnamon powder and sticks, cardamom seeds, vanilla bean pods, white peppercorns, and saffron. I also bought a package of dates that I’m trying really hard not to completely devour.
Shopping for clothes when you know you’re not at your ideal weight is stressful. Shopping for clothes in a country where the women tend to be much smaller than you is even more stressful and occasionally humiliating, especially when you have a scamming shopkeeper demanding $80 for a cheaply made dress that your washing machine will likely tear to shreds and that your dryer will likely shrink plus your $600 Tiffany prescription sunglasses as commission.
Yep, there were a lot of those. They lured you in with…
“My Nubian queen!”
And once they had you trapped, they charged you $100 for a magnet. Yes, a magnet.
After being pulled this way and that, I eventually found one honest salesman amid the plethora of dishonest ones, and I bought my dress…
Well, five. But who’s counting?
So I had no idea that our favorite high-priced perfumes are made with essence oil from Egypt. Unfortunately, with the amount of essence actually in the perfume, you’re really only paying for the name brand (I’ll go into detail about this in a later post).
I’m not much of a perfume wearer, but they also had oils for aromatherapy—oils for stress, weight loss, joint pain, headaches. As people seeking more natural remedies for common ailments, Mom and I cleared the shelves.
One thing I did not plan on buying was jewelry.
I don’t wear jewelry. I’m the type that’s satisfied with the cheap costume stuff—as long as it doesn’t turn me green—and I love anything handcrafted. I also don’t care for gold and silver.
Yes, I know I’m weird.
Now, I don’t mean to say that I don’t “like” gold and silver. I just mean I’m not dying if I don’t have either. And if it’s fake, again, I’m cool with it as long as it doesn’t change colors or change me colors. My brother and my mom are the jewelry connoisseurs. They know how to pick high-quality pieces, they understand what’s valuable, and they come ready to pay.
Part of our trip was a 4-day cruise up the Nile (tomorrow’s post). Aboard the boat was a jewelry shop conveniently located right outside our stateroom, and the shop owner swooped in on our family like a vulture attacking a carcass. He probably saw the pound of gold around my brother’s neck and assumed all of us were ready to drop bands like that. I, unfortunately, got caught in the crosshairs, being the shy, timid person who can’t say “no” to people. He sweet-talked me, called me “sister” like all those other hagglers, told me how beautiful I looked in the gold chain he put around my neck, promised me a good price for it, and then completely looted me.
I’m not sure how much money he made off my family alone, but I’m sure it was enough to feed his family for the rest of the year.
He still wanted more! The last day of the cruise, he actually called my brother’s room trying to get him to come to the shop to buy something else.
WE’VE BOUGHT ENOUGH!
To be clear, I’m not unhappy with what I bought. I lost my favorite pair of gold hoop earrings while dolphin watching in the Maldives last year, and while that’s an acceptable reason to lose some earrings, I really wanted to replace them. When I went to Alaska a few years ago, I bought a gold pendant with a chain that turned out to be gold-plated and quickly faded after a few days of wearing the necklace. So I decided to buy a real gold chain to match my real gold pendant.
In hindsight, that’s all I should have bought: one chain and one pendant. That wouldn’t have put me over budget. But I bought more. Possibly, subconsciously trying to keep up with my more materialistic brother, which is an impossible task, let me tell you!
Toward the end of the trip, when I was finally able to get a reliable WIFI connection, I made the mistake of checking my credit card statement to assess the damage. I nearly fainted when I saw the number. Needless to say, I was in a sour mood those last few days.
Now I’m left with a bunch of what if’s and I should’ves.
I should’ve been more aggressive in saying “no.” I should’ve pretended I didn’t see jewelry guy when he tried to wave me into his shop (we had to walk past his shop to go anywhere on the boat, and I got anxiety every time). I should’ve left my credit card at home. I should’ve followed my instincts and converted all of my cash into Egyptian pounds at the airport and only spent that (the travel agency said we could pay in US dollars, but going to a foreign country without its currency just isn’t smart, especially when not every store/restaurant will accept US dollars/credit cards).
There’s nothing I can really do about it now other than count it as a lesson learned. At least I charged everything to a new card with a 0% introductory interest rate. I just have to pay it off by next year.
And I still have my art and spices and perfume and dresses, and I’ll definitely be accessorizing my outfits with the jewelry.
Gotta get my money’s worth!
This April for the A to Z Challenge, I’m sharing my experience of traveling to Egypt last month. These posts likely won’t be in chronological order, depending on what memory each letter strikes up, but if you’d like to follow me on this journey, subscribe below.
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