If you’ve traveled to Asia at all, the center of all things techy and kitschy, you’ve no doubt witnessed some of the odd stuff sold in vending machines there. (Japan, in fact, has the highest concentration of vending machines in the world, with one per every 23 people.) Drop your coins in the slot and you can retrieve everything from fresh eggs to pet rhinoceros beetles.
There’s even a new machine in Singapore that dispenses free bottles of Coke in exchange for a hug (yes, you have to actually wrap your arms around the machine).
But unusually stocked vending machines are showing up more and more frequently in the United States these days, particularly in airports and other areas heavily trafficked by travelers. So stock up your change purse and check out these nine vending machines that deliver both quirkiness and convenience.
Cupcakes, Sprinkles bakery: Have a ferocious sweet tooth? Famed Los Angeles-based cupcake maker Sprinkles made it easy to satisfy your craving no matter the time of day or night when it unveiled the first of its 24-hour cupcake ATMs, which was installed outside its original Beverly Hills location. The individually boxed confections go for $4 apiece, come in a variety of flavors, and are said to never be more than a few hours old.
Original artworks, Smithsonian American Art Museum: After a visit to this D.C. art museum showcasing the works of everyone from Georgia O’Keeffe to John Singer Sargent, you may be inspired to start a collection of your own. Thanks to the on-site Art-o-mat, one of dozens located at galleries and similar locales throughout the country, $5 is all you’ll need to get started. Simply put your money in the slot, pull the handle, and out pops a pocket-size masterpiece created by one of 400 artists from around the world. The Art-o-mats, which are all reconfigured from vintage cigarette machines, are somewhat of a work of art in themselves.
Women’s flats, Vegas hotels: In Vegas, just outside the TAO nightclub in the The Venetian hotel and the Vanity club at the Hard Rock Hotel, there are handy little dispensaries aimed at ladies suffering the aches and pains of having danced the night away in sky-high stilettos. For $19.95, they can purchase a pair of stylish Rollasole ballet flats that unfold to provide their feet instant relief from teetering around in high heels all evening.
Fresh flowers, Nashville International Airport: Picking up a loved one at the airport and want to welcome them with a handful of colorful blooms? You’re in luck, as Nashville International in Tennessee is just one of 29 airports in cities across the U.S. that features a refrigerated 24-Hour Flower vending machine selling bouquets of flowers that start at as little as $10. The company’s newest flower dispensary is at the brand new Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
Gold bars, Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino: The Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, New Jersey, seems an appropriate location for a vending machine that sells a selection of gold bars and coins. The 300-plus items inside the GOLD to go ATM are sold by the ounce or gram and their prices are updated every 60 seconds according to market fluctuations. The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas also offers this shopping convenience.
Beach gear, Miramar Beach: It happens all the time: You drive to the coast, scope out the perfect spot on the sand, lay out your towel, and are about to dive into the surf when you realize you’ve forgotten the sunscreen. At Gulf-front Miramar Beach in Destin, Florida, there’s no need to pack everything back up for a trip to go get some SPF 30. Simply head to the Sandbox vending machine adjacent to the beach bar at Pompano Joe’s Seafood House, and you’ll find a selection of sunscreen, sunglasses, goggles, floats and other fun-in-the-sun necessities.
Luxury goods, Hudson Hotel: Designed as an alternative to the traditional hotel gift shop, the unique vending machine at this trendy New York City lodging, nicknamed Semi-Automatic, contains a curated collection of designer items like Comme des Garçons wallets, Nixon watches, and Ray-Ban sunglasses. Got an extra $90,000? Splurge on its most expensive selection: the keys to a brand new Bentley Arnage T.
Clothes to go, Boston South Station: Forgot to pack clean underwear for your big trip to Bean Town? Visitors arriving through the South Station bus and train terminal in Boston can stock up on undies, T-shirts, socks, scarves and the like from Automatic Apparel’s automated clothing “store.” Everything is under $15 and can be returned if deemed unsatisfactory.
Consumer electronics, San Antonio International Airport: There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a long flight with a crying baby or a snoring seatmate. Block out the noise with a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre headphones available from one of the Best Buy Express vending machines at San Antonio International in Texas, one of the more than 50 airports across the country to feature the retail giant’s automated selection of digital cameras, portable media players, gaming consoles, phone chargers, and other gadgets that help make travel — and life — a little easier.