First, do shop when traveling. Second, learn to say no.
If you spend any time in South West Asia, at some point, you are going to end up in a rug shop. Plan to be there for several hours while you try to determine what rugs you prefer. (I prefer Qom and Nain, just so you know 😉 My first real rug shopping experience was in Damascus, Syria in 2002. They brought us tea and eventually, they sent out for lunch, then more tea. Do not feel pressured to buy something! Most rug merchants are generally helpful and want you to go home happy. Don’t feel you need to pretend to know something or anything about rugs. They are happy to teach you. There are whole books written about it and if you’re inclined Oriental Rugs: A Buyer’s Guide is my recommendation. I can sum it up for you. Look at the bottom (floor side) of the rug. The more clearly defined the design, the better quality rug. The more individual knots you can see the lower quality rug which will not last as long.
If you don’t love it, don’t buy it!
My best advice, which goes far beyond rugs, again, if you don’t love it, don’t buy it. If someone is trying to get a great deal and promises it’s robbing their grandchildren don’t believe them! Even if it is a fabulous deal, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. And they aren’t going to sell it at a loss. I wouldn’t have, and didn’t, buy a matched set of rugs that day, my friend did. She loved one and we talked her into buying the match because it’s very unusual to have a pair of 6’X8′ Kashans. If she loved one, why not double the love? [NOTE: She still loves them.]
I talked a merchant in Morocco down from $1000 for a silk and wool blanket and picked up the colors in my remaining Nain) to €100 plus $20. At the time, the exchange rate was about €1 to $1.33. He laughingly asked if I was Berber because of my bargaining skills. He also did keep trying to push additional items on me but all I was interested in was the blanket.
Sometimes a machine-made rug is not only good enough but preferred. I’ve lost count how many rugs I’ve purchased over the years, for myself and for gifts. In Daliyat al-Karmel, Israel a Druze village there is a factory that makes silk on cotton area rugs and runners. At the time, I’d just taken a pretty big pay cut to move to Israel for a job and wasn’t swimming in cash. In South West Asia most of the floors are high gloss tile or marble, cool and slippery. I now know I what I really like, see above, but at the time I wanted something to cover the floor. Walking on a silk rug is lovely and decadent. Try it! I bought a 5’x7′ and matching runner for about $150. Eventually, I went back and bought another for myself and four as gifts. That set was nowhere near the best or most expensive rugs I’ve owned, but I liked them. I was sad to leave them behind, but as I wander, I need to have less stuff. Before leaving the US this time I sold or donated all the others, including a signed Kashan that was €3500, because they were just stuff.
My second-best advice, buy less. Kuwait was the first self-financed move abroad and boy is it different when you don’t have someone else paying for 18,000 pounds of stuff and a car! It all becomes stuff. I certainly didn’t need the three-bedroom house’s furniture. I didn’t even need a two bedroom, two-bathroom apartment for just me and if I want to pick up and go wandering it’s easier with less stuff. Heirlooms got passed down to my niece and nephew, artwork that I’d collected on my travels went into storage. Everything else was either donated or sold because it didn’t have enough meaning to me to ship or store. I downsized again when I left Kuwait. Buying less equals wandering more. I really don’t need more “stuff”.
Spend a bit more for quality
My third best advice, spend a bit more for quality. It really does last longer. The rug I sent my grandmother isn’t wearing well, but she likes it and it was just when they were redoing the den.
I expect my Nain will long outlast the Afghan rug in her den.
It may seem silly to spend $70 on a t-shirt but hear me out. I truly love Minus33 Merino wool shirts. They are great base layers, they can be worn to the office, because they don’t have a logo on the chest, they can be worn with jeans or a skirt or on a hike. I remember wool as a kid, as horribly scratchy and hated it. Turns out that’s just bad wool or bad design. The shirts pack small and don’t get smelly, even when wearing them a second or third or fourth day, making Merino Wool a wonder for wanderers. Technical tip, the finer the wool thread the better, aim for 19 microns for a soft scratch-free day.
See also our article: How and where to get the bespoke custom-made suit, dress, or jewelry of your dreams?