Products I Splurge On When Abroad

As much as I’ve evolved as a traveler—like packing a lighter luggage and avoiding tourist scams—I’m unabashedly the stereotypical Filipino traveler. I buy a lot of pasalubong for my loved ones, pack a balikbayan box when the pasalubong no longer fits in my check-in luggage, and go crazy in US outlet stores.

When traveling with fellow Filipinos outside the country, I notice how each person tends to hoard specific items. My mother enjoys purchasing designer bags for herself and trinkets like key chains or magnets by the bulk for her friends. My pastry chef sister spends hours in kitchen supply stores to buy things she can’t find in Manila. As for me, here’s a list of what I spend my bucks on:

1. Grass root products
When visiting shopping districts and street markets, you’ll see me drawn towards handmade bags by independent local designers, organic products by small startup companies, and other products that support environmental conservation or community development.

2. My favorite beauty brands on sale
My favorite skincare brand, L’Occitane, rarely goes on sale in Manila, so I go wild whenever I enter their US stores, because there’s always a seasonal discount, bundle deals, and lots of free samples. Whenever there’s a Victoria’s Secret or Bath and Body Works sale, I’m positive that my fellow Pinoys and I will end up stuffing our balikbayan boxes with dozens of lotions and body sprays.

My favorite collection from L’Occitane—Immortelle. Photo from

Here’s a secret from my fellow beauty editors and makeup artists: We bring empty or used containers of MAC makeup to the US, Singapore, or other first-world countries. If you return 6 used MAC products to the store, you get 1 free lipstick. This “Back to MAC” promo doesn’t apply in the Philippines, so MAC addicts like myself go the extra mile to get our free lippies.

3. Brands no longer in Manila
I remember when Rustan’s pulled out Origins from their shelves years ago. I had to buy my favorite Origins skincare products when traveling. Thank goodness it made a comeback in the Philippine market in July, this time under SM Makati.

Great to have Origins back in Manila! Photo from

4. Drugstore finds
From Myeong-dong in Seoul to Sephora in the US, beauty hubs are like candy stores to me. I loved exploring shelves of unfamiliar beauty brands and observing what trends the locals are into. Some of the best makeup products I’ve tried came from low-priced drugstore brands.

Shopping in Seoul, South Korea, January 2014

5. Retail therapy
I remember when Cotton On, Forever 21, and H&M weren’t in the Philippines yet. It made shopping abroad more fun because I came home with so many unique and stylish clothes that I got for a steal. Now that the likes of Uniqlo are just a neighborhood away, it gives me an excuse to explore other brands when traveling.

What products do you hoard or splurge on when traveling, dear readers?

November 19, 2015