World’s Strangest Vending Machines

From Florida to Dubai, some of the oddest things come out of machines.

By: Katrina Brown Hunt

For travelers, a vending machine can be a welcome sight. Perhaps it’s just for a quick snack when the rest of the airport is closed. Or, overseas, an easy transaction without any language hurdles. But these days, the vending machine is diversifying. Now travelers can find all sorts of things inside these contraptions—items that range from the practical to the absurd.

“We love vending machines because their very nature will always remain consistent,” says Christopher Salyers, author of Vending Machines: Coined Consumerism. “Some of us would prefer having access to goods 24 hours a day, devoid of human interaction or adult supervision.”

Fresh Pizza, Italy

If you came all the way to Italy to see a guy toss pizza dough in the air—well, a vending machine is still pretty cool, right? The “Let’s Pizza” machines, found in a few shopping malls and airports—such as Malpensa in Milan, and Palermo and Trapani in Sicily—will make an individual pizza from scratch in just under three minutes. Push a button for your desired toppings (tomato, bacon, ham, or fresh vegetables), then watch through the little window as the machine mixes and kneads dough, adds toppings, and bakes.

Price: Between $5 and $8.

Gold Bars: Abu Dhabi, Frankfurt, Bergamo, and Moscow airports

In case the dollar or euro fails during your flight home, you can always shore up your assets by picking up a few gold bars at a Gold to Go vending machine, debuting in the above airports in May 2010 after a successful 2009 test run at Frankfurt. You can also buy South African Krugerrands, Canadian maple-leaf coins, or even a $100, one-ounce Australian Kangaroo coin.

Price: They fluctuate, supposedly pegged to real-time prices. We were quoted $50 for a one-gram gold bar, complete with fancy gift box. Turns out you could do a little better, price-wise, on eBay, but as airport gifts go, a gold bar still beats another dumb T-shirt.

Gold Handcuffs: Miami’s Mondrian South Beach Hotel

Hotel gift shops—so passé. At this chic South Beach hotel, one full wall of the lobby is taken up by the Semi-Automatic, an enticingly mod, purple vending machine. Some go-to items: a feather vest ($400), a $28 T-shirt emblazoned with the word recession, or, our favorite, the 24-karat-gold handcuffs ($350). You can even buy a nearby condo, or rent a 1953 Cadillac DeVille convertible.

Price: Ranges from $10 to $1.2 million. For the super-high-end items—say, buying a car or condo—you pay a deposit, which you lose if you later opt out.

Shoes, England

One downside of a pedestrian-friendly city: being out and about in the wrong shoes. Asics has a roving vending machine—previously in London’s Carnaby Square but now in Liverpool—that sells its popular Onitsuka Tiger “trainers” (as the Brits call sneakers) for about $75 a pair. Seeing as it’s in a store with clerks nearby—who are, for the record, also selling shoes—this one seems more novelty than function. If it’s after 5 p.m., though, look for a Rollasole. Found mostly in nightclubs (such as Oceana), these machines offer comfy-but-flashy flats for ladies who have had it with dancing in stilettos. For just a few quid ($10 for Yanks), you can choose among small, medium, and large, in the colors Back to Black or Hi Ho Silver. The machines are headed to U.K. train stations and airports this summer, as well as nightclubs in New York, L.A., and Vegas.

Price: $10–$75