Best places to shop for travel gear and gadgets

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Gadgets. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they're rapidly becoming part of the traveller's arsenal. But that doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune: next time you’re planning a trip overseas, consider taking along your travel tech shopping list. You can save plenty of cash if you know where to shop - and that means more money in your pocket for food, beer and other nice things. Here's a round-up of essential shopping destinations for gadget-lovers.

'Hong Kong electronics market' by maltman23. Creative Commons ShareAlike Licence

Hong Kong

Property aside, things are cheap in Hong Kong. Many tourists come here to pick up cameras and electronics. In fact, most of the iPhones and iPads in mainland China are imported from Hong Kong as it’s cheaper here (though it’s technically part of China so go figure!). There’s also a thriving second-hand camera market in Tsim Sha Tsui. Computers and associated peripherals are also cheaper in Hong Kong. Apliu St in Sham Shui Po is filled with electronic goods. If you don’t want to trawl through tiny computer shops, head to larger chain stores such as Fortress and Broadway. Prices are higher but they tend to throw in lots of freebies such as keyboard protectors, extra RAM, and so on. For more on shopping in Hong Kong, consult our detailed guide.

South Korea

Koreans are known for bringing their design flair to bear on tech and gear. Take, for example, the EGO hybrid iPhone case (egoncompany.com) that comes embedded with a tiny removable USB flash drive. Clever. The same company also makes leather sleeves for the iPad and Macbook. Gariz (www.gariz.com) makes some beautifully designed camera cases and accessories. Bicycle companies such as Anavehi (www.anavehi.com) make great bikes and accessories. Wander around the shopping areas in Seoul and keep your eyes peeled for cool locally designed and made gear.

Related article: Shopping in Hong Kong

'Akihabara' by Guwashi999. Creative Commons Attribution Licence

Japan

Tokyo is the land of offbeat electronics. Head to Akihabara for everything you need and many things you don’t (USB hand warmer, anyone?). For the geeks, Nakano is also worth visiting. Photographers will find their Mecca in the huge Map (www.mapcamera.com) camera store where second-hand cameras are neatly lined-up in glass cabinets. Chains stores such as Yobadoshi (www.yodobashi.com) are worth visiting too. The flagship Yobadoshi store in Shinjuku has 8 floors and an in-house restaurant!

China

While most things these days have a ‘Made in China’ logo, it’s ironic that gear is actually more expensive in the Middle Kingdom. If you don’t mind locally branded versions of technology with bizarre names such as Ainol and Cube, you can find cheap Android tablets and phones in the local computer markets. Be sure to check prices online before you go. A good place to start would be the Taobao (www.taobao.com), the Chinese version of eBay. A quick Google will also turn up companies that sell these devices overseas. Prices in China are roughly 20% cheaper than online exporters.

'Ion Orchard mall, Singapore' by trioptikmal. Creative Commons Attribution Licence

Singapore

Singapore is similar to Hong Kong in terms of what you can buy (though Hong Kong prices are a little cheaper). The fact that English is widely spoken here helps when you are bargaining or asking questions. General electronics, computers, cameras and high-street brands are the things to look out for. You can also get back your 7% GST when you leave the country. You’ll find lots of second-hand camera stores in Peninsula Plaza and Peninsula Shopping Centre on Coleman St. For computer gear, head to Funan the IT Mall (www.funan.com.sg) or Sim Lim Square (for the latter, make sure you know what prices are to avoid getting fleeced).

USA

Say what you want, America is made for the consumer. You’ll find whatever you’re looking for online, in stores or via forums. If you’re hitting the States, look out for outlet malls where brands dump out of season gear at hefty discounts.

Other tips

  • Buy local: prices may be higher, but you’re supporting the local economy and after-sales support will be easier to access. Of course, it’s no real secret that many people try on gear at their local store before jumping online to order to save paying on sales tax or to get cheaper prices.
  • Research: arm yourself with a rough knowledge of prices before you embark on your trip to avoid getting ripped off.
  • Check the warranty: international warranties are pretty standard for most gear. However, some places are cheap because they sell grey-market imports that may not qualify you for international warranty. If you need peace of mind, only buy items that are covered by manufacturer warranties back home.
  • Get a good credit card: if you’re not paying in cash, look out for credit cards that don’t hit you with currency conversion charges or international transaction fees. Some cards offer cash rebates on purchases. Others don’t charge for cash withdrawals. Do your homework before you start spending your hard-earned cash.
  • Tax back: make sure you get your GST/VAT or equivalent back when you leave the country. This varies by country so check before you buy.
  • Toss the packaging: if you live in a country where customs officials are strict with slugging import tax/duties on goods, toss the packaging so it’s not so obvious you’re bringing in a shiny new Mac.
  • Deal websites and forums: if you’re looking for a deal either locally or where you’ll be holidaying, bookmark local deals websites such as Ozbargain (Australia) and Slickdeal or Fat Wallet (America). A good place to pick up cheap gear and gadgets is via the local trade websites such as Craigslist and Gumtree.
  • Check hobby forums: if you’re into specialised gear such as cameras, look for hobby forums with active trade/sale forums. Gear heads in places like Singapore are well-known for ‘upgrading’ equipment…meaning that if you time your holiday right, you could pick up that near-new Leica M9 camera at 40% off retail. Factor in a favourable exchange rate and you save even more.
  • Local address and planning: if you’re ordering online while on holiday, it’s handy to tee up an address to send your parcel to (your hotel or hostel should be able to hold packages for you). And make sure you allow enough time for delivery otherwise you might be leaving poorer and bereft of new goodies!
  • Beware fakes: watch out for pirate versions of goods. Places like China are notorious for copying mountaineering and hiking gear. They may look like the real deal, but once it starts pouring on a hike, those ‘waterproof’ North Face pants might start sopping up the water. If the prices are too good to be true, it’s probably not genuine.