It's Memorial Day Weekend, which means two things: it's the beginning of summer travel season, and it's time to get some travel shopping in, too.
Summer vacations usually involve going to warm places with beaches; Miami and L.A. are two of the cities I'm likely headed this summer. Others trips involve going to places with typically cold weather, where you can take full advantage of the city's offerings without the worry of being trapped in the airport. This is part of the reason why I'll be in New York this weekend and Chicago for Lollapalooza later this summer.
But where to shop?
Sure, every major city has the same great department stores and trendy staples -- the Nieman Marcus' and the J. Crew's, but my recommendation is to think about your travel experience. If you're trying to maximize your experience in a new city, you'd be much better served by shopping locally.
Shopping locally is best done when built into your travel plans. Right after you book your flight or hotel, do a search for the "best clothing boutiques" or "best shopping" in that city. That usually helps to figure out where people shop in various cities, like the Haight area of San Francisco or the South Congress area of Austin, Texas.
If the search doesn't give you enough ideas, I'd suggest taking to your social networks like Facebook and Twitter to get some thoughts. No matter where you're headed, it's a good bet you have a friend who's been there or know someone who has.
Just last weekend, in advance of a trip to Kansas City for a wedding, I was advised to check out Standard Style from a follower on Twitter. The second I walked into the boutique, I realized that this suggestion was precisely what I was looking for... a local shop, with some international inspiration but clear regional influences. I even managed to have a chat with co-owner Matt Baldwin, who happens to run an up-and-coming denim brand by his namesake. Lo' and behold, Baldwin Denim is available in my neighborhood menswear shop, Stag, here in Austin, too.
These are the kinds of interactions that only happen by shopping locally when you travel. The best you'll get in a chain store is an introduction to the women who runs the shoe department, whereas in locally-owned boutiques you're getting direct interaction with the men and women behind the business.
This leads me to another benefit of shopping locally, you find ambassadors and learn insights that help make your travel experience even better. Locals like Baldwin who've invested in their cities and interact with other locals on a daily basis know plenty more about the places you'd want to go than your hotel concierge. Sure, the concierge is paid to know where to eat and drink at night and what sights to see, but the real locals -- the people who aren't in the accommodations business -- know what's really worth your time.
Whenever friends visit Austin for the first time, I get giddy because I'll get to show them all the things I know the average tourist doesn't get to see on their $50 bus tour. Shopping locally is just one of the ways to tap into these off-the-beaten path tips and stumble upon the heart of a city known only by locals rather than the outer shell projected to the masses.
In deciding where to travel this summer, and building shopping into your schedule, it's important to think bigger than just "where is the main shopping area of this city?" Instead, I suggest you navigate the Web a bit deeper, tap into your personal social networks, and talk directly with the locals...the ones who aren't paid to feed you into certain establishments.
With that type of approach, you'll not only come away with some different and regionally-inspired pieces that your friends will ask you about, but you'll also have some cool interactions in the process. Who knows, maybe these interactions will lead to friendships that keep you going back every summer.
Follow Joah Spearman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoahSpearman