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Nine ways to shop more responsibly, promote local artisans and support local communities while you travel


Say goodbye to trashy trinkets and hello to sustainable souvenirs

Finding ways to shop more responsibly while travelling can feel daunting, which is why we have shopped around to bring you the nine best tips to help you become a more conscious traveller during your next adventure. 

Taking the time to speak with local traders and spending money in their stores helps to nurture connections between traveller and resident. It also shows a respect for the area you are visiting, demonstrating that you care about the culture and are interested in what local traders have to share with you.

Supporting local stores and merchants when travelling provides you with the perfect opportunity to practice your language skills, communicate with the community and build a genuine connection to the place you are visiting. When you walk into that tiny shop hidden down a narrow laneway filled with one-of-a-kind hand carved treasures or beautifully embroidered clothing the owners have been making for generations, you are not only buying a memento of your trip, you are actually investing in local culture.

Owners will often enthusiastically educate you about how an item has been made, who has made it and the cultural or spiritual significance behind each creation. Conversing with locals and listening to their stories not only helps them to keep their own culture alive, it also provides us with tales we can share with our loved ones long after our holidays are over.  

Orsola De Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution, once proclaimed, “It isn’t enough just looking for the quality in the products we buy, we must ensure that there is quality in the lives of the people who make them.” When we spend our money in duty-free shops or large chain stores, we are often unknowingly investing in corporations that treat staff poorly, pay them minimally and where money is not put back into the local economy. When you make the decision to shop local at home-grown businesses, you help support the local community which puts money back into essential facilities such as schools, libraries and other public services.

Buying from street vendors and local artisans increases demand for locally made produce, helps create job opportunities in the area and can help inspire entrepreneurs to embark on their own enterprise.

A local Indian artisan weaves silk by hand using traditional methods that may one day be completely replaced by machine-spun alternatives. Purchasing traditionally made products made by locals helps to support and promote ancient artisan trades.

9 Ways to shop more consciously whilst travelling

1. Avoid impulse purchases. Do you really need that beaded bracelet that looks great while you have a tan but will never be worn again once you get home? Take some time to really consider if you need to buy a souvenir and if you do, consider a locally made item that will hold true sentimental value for years to come.

2. Consider the material of the products you buy, avoiding non-earth-friendly resources such as plastic where possible and definitely do not purchase unethical animal products such as fur and ivory.

3. Buy local wherever possible; check labels to identify where the product was made, shop at markets for local food as this helps to keep costs down as the product has had less distance to travel. As a result, this also ensures that CO2 emissions are kept to a minimum.

4. Beware of shops that buy direct from the makers but on-sell the item to you for several times more than they paid; ask questions and be curious. Where possible, buy from the maker themselves.

5. Remember to give your labels a check before you buy; When buying clothing, ask questions about where the items are made and the materials used; some garments may even be accredited by the Fair Trade Act which ensures no sweat shops have been involved in the manufacturing process, they adhere to human rights and safe working practices. Where possible, consider buying pre-loved clothing, it is often a great money-saving tip and reduces waste.

6. Know the culture – haggling/bartering can be a culture shock but it can be fun once you get the hang of it, just remember to be respectful. The shop owner you are bartering with makes their livelihood from your purchase, so be realistic about your offer and barter in moderation.

7. Ask independent businesses for their recommendations on where to shop, eat and drink locally. Most owners want to support their colleagues and will tell you the best places to eat, drink and shop that you probably won’t find in any tourist magazine. Local knowledge is always the best knowledge.

8. Consider purchasing experiences, not things. Souvenirs are nice, but what about investing in a local walking tour or a photography tour to help capture the true essence of a destination? Memories will last longer than that cheap fridge magnet.

9. Take reusable shopping bags with you to ensure you are caring for the environment you are staying in and the country you are visiting.

These suggestions may feel like quite an adjustment initially but taking a more ethical approach to shopping while travelling provides you with a fresh approach to feel-good shopping. It also helps to ensure that local businesses and artisans will still be there for future generations to experience and enjoy in the many years to come.

Article written for Wanderlust with a Purpose by Lucy Barrett.

A honey merchant selling blocks of unrefined, raw honey at the local markets in Mysore, India. This packaging-free alternative not only tasks better, it's also kinder to the environment.

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