Art is one the best ways to bring the essence of a culture home. Stories will come flooding back from great trips as you look around the living room at the wooden mask from Africa or pull out Italian dinnerware for a party.
A great piece of art can transform any cookie cutter house with the vibrancy of India or Ecuador. The greatest part about buying art abroad is you don't have to be any art expert. Buy a piece just because you love it. Buy it because it has the flavor of that place. No research or investment consultants needed!
Buying art directly can not only get you a great deal, but often tourists can get to known the individual artist right at the booth they're selling from. It also encourages locals to keep traditional arts alive in their community, so feel good about buying local art!
Buying art in most places is all about the negotiations. Whether in a gallery or a marketplace, bring your bargaining skills.
Here are some great centers of art from every continent - or at least those habitable by humans!
Miniature Paintings in Rajasthan, India
It would be impossible to visit Rajasthan without taking home a piece of its unique art culture. The region is most well known for its miniature paintings with their intricate detail. These small paintings are perfect for backpackers or light travelers who aren't able to carry larger works home. Interestingly, painters use brushes made of squirrel hair, which enables them to paint on such a tiny scale.
How to get there: Fly into this region from airports in Jaipur, Jodhpur, or Udaipur. Overnight trains also reach the region from Delhi or Mumbai.
Aboriginal Art of Warlukurlangu Artists in Yuendumu , Australia
This remote Aboriginal community has a prosperous and well-known art community. Over half the community takes part in the arts! The community is known for its use of vibrant colors and contemporary versions of the traditional dot method. Most buy this art through a gallery or online, but the best way is to go directly to the source.
The Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation was created in 1986 and is fully owned by the indigenous community, something to look for when buying art in Australia. Here, buyers are able to talk with artists and gain a deeper insight into the culture.
How to get there: Yuendumu is located 300km from Alice Springs, which has an airport. It is best to either drive of take the Centre Bush Bus, which services the two towns. The town in part of the Aboriginal Lands Trust, so visitors that want to spend the night must obtain a permit in Alice Springs. Those wishing to just spend the day don't need a permit.
Aburi Wood Carving Village, Ghana
Just one hour outside of Accra is the village of Aburi, famed for its wood-carvings. Here, visitors can find traditional Ashanti tribal masks and sculptures rich in color. The trip here alone is worth a few pictures, winding your way up mountainous hills overlooking Accra. Look carefully, you'll be passing Rita Marley's house and studio, a sight for any Bob Marley fan! Artisans can be seen carving these intricate works just behind their stalls lining the road. Collage-stitched backpacks and purses - that will be the envy of friends - can also be found here.
How to Get There: Take tro-tro (small bus) from Accra, the capital of Ghana, to Aburi. Let the driver know you are going to the wood carving village and he'll drop you off on the way to the Aburi town center.
Tapestries and rugs in Otavalo, Ecuador
This small town is famous for its lively Saturday Market, a labyrinth of tapestries, mountain murals, and alpaca sweaters. This market is known as being the most authentic place to buy local crafts in Ecuador. Saturday is the most exciting or overwhelming day here, but textiles can be found any day of the week.
How to get there: Otavalo is located two hours from the capital, Quito, along the Pan-American Highway. Buses leave from Quito's Terminal Carcelen and drop passengers off just ten minutes from the city center.
Pottery and ceramics in Orvieto, Italy
Atop a steep hill made of volcanic ash, you'll fall in love with the small town Italian charm of Orvieto. Delightful shops offer walls of plates, vases, or anything made out of clay. Some can even be shipped home from the shop, so you can do the picking without having to do the carrying. Many of these plates can be used as wall decoration because, let's be honest, these are no ordinary plates...they are works of art!
How to get there: Orvieto can be reached by train from Florence or Rome within two hours. From there, take the 10-minute tram to the top of the hill and it's just a short walk to the main plaza.
Folk art in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Forget the overcrowded Cabo or Cancun. When it comes to art, San Miguel de Allende is the place to be. Artists throughout the country will send their paintings or works to be sold here, or visitors can buy directly from the amazing local artisans. Expats flock to the Instituto Allende, an arts and language school that offers both beginner and advanced classes in all Mexican folk art from weaving to silversmithing. For quality, well-known art, head to Fábrica La Aurora, a textile mill turned trendy art center. More than thirty galleries and coffee shops now take up residence here. For a more local feel, try the artisan stalls at Mercado de Artesanias, where travelers can bargain for any type of home furnishing from tin lanterns to pewter salad tongs. Your neighbors' Pottery Barn home won't be able to compete with these one of a kind pieces.
How to get there: The closest airports are Auropuerto del Bajio, about 70 miles away, or Queretaro, about 45 miles away. Arrange to be picked up or take a taxi to the city. For a cheaper way of getting there, fly into Mexico City, then take a four hour bus from Terminal Norte to San Miguel de Allende.