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Shopping Is the Worst — Unless I’m on Vacation

It’s all about discovery.

A store interior

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

I’ve got a secret: I actually hate shopping. (Shhh, don’t tell my coworkers.) Okay, I don’t actually hate shopping, but I just don’t really do it — let alone enjoy it — with one exception. When I travel, I’m all about shopping.

It doesn’t matter if I’m halfway across the world exploring a city for the first time or just at my parents’ house for the holidays, as soon as I step outside of my zip code, shopping suddenly becomes so much more fun. It’s no longer a chore about finding what I need; now it’s a game, about exploring things I didn’t know I needed.

The reasons are multifold. For one, shopping is a great way to get to know a new place. The high-end concept stores (that I rarely set foot in at home because I know I’m not about to drop $300) are like barometers for what a particular city finds fit to enshrine as “cool.” Independent boutiques are hunting grounds for local designers and under-the-radar labels. And if I walk by a Goodwill, Salvation Army, or curated vintage shop, I’m definitely going inside.

In fact, vintage and thrift shopping is my absolute favorite, mostly because you get so much more bang for your buck. But it’s also because you can tell a lot about a place by its discards. I love combing through old knick-knacks and imagining the life an object led before ending up in a dusty old thrift store.

I’ve also realized that if something is available in bulk — whether it’s furry shoes, oversize denim jackets, or short, flared leather skirts — at a cheaper-priced vintage store located in a hip neighborhood, you know it’s about to blow up (or maybe already has). Artists and young people in the area will inevitably be shopping there, and trickle-up fashion is a real thing.

Shoppers and shopkeepers are a big part of the equation for me, too. What are they wearing, and how are they wearing it? What are they trying on or buying? While I’m not super likely to stop someone on the street and ask about their outfit, in the closed community of a boutique these conversations are totally natural and fair game.

Ultimately, the pleasure of shopping for me is the discovery. Discovering local labels I’ve never heard of that I can’t buy at home. Discovering trends that aren’t yet in New York, or a different way of styling something I already have. Discovering the treasure buried deep in some pay-by-the-pound vintage bin. Discovering the artisans and small business owners I never would have known about if I hadn’t wandered into that shop. And being able to bring a piece of that discovery home with me, where I can wear it again and again, or display it my house? It’s worth carrying the extra weight in my suitcase on the way home.