We travel because we want to explore new places and cultures. We want to expand our horizons and make lasting memories. While the memories can never be taken from us, it is nice to sometimes have something to remember our trip by. Here are some tips on buying sustainable souvenirs on your next trip.
- Buy local: When shopping for souvenirs look for something that represents the area, the people and the culture. Purchasing something from local crafts people not only does all of that but also supports the local communities. You might also find more unique and interesting products than those mass produced in factories.
- Avoid buyer’s remorse: When purchasing souvenirs take a moment to think through your purchases. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all, especially in local markets or while trying to haggle over prices. Do you really need the item or will it make its way to a landfill a couple of years down the line?
- Legal requirements: Do some research before purchasing souvenirs. Some countries have strict regulations on what is allowed in and out of the country. For example some countries have large fines linked to collecting and removing shells while others do not permit plant material to enter their borders.
- Plant and animal materials: While we are on the subject… As mentioned many countries have strict quarantine laws relating to what you are allowed to take in and out of the country. These products also have potential devastating effects on the environment. For example 150 million seahorses are killed each year for souvenir and medicinal uses. When purchasing souvenirs rather opt for something that is environmentally friendly and sustainable. Who wants a dead seahorse in their home anyway? Unless you can 100% guarantee that products were sustainable gathered (think feathers picked up from the forest floor vs plucked from live birds) rather choose a different memento.
- Consumables: Brining home some of the foods or drinks that you enjoyed on your trip is a wonderful way to remember your travels. While making sure that your home country allows you to bring in your purchases you also need to consider how the products were harvested. For example while kopi luwak might make an excellent purchase for a coffee connoisseur, most farms keep the animals in cages in order to harvest this delicacy- even when they say that the civets roam freely.
- Shells and rocks: Picking up shells on a beach or a rock from the volcano you just climbed might seem harmless. However, removing anything from a natural environment might impact the area negatively. Shells, for example, provide homes to critters, stabilises beaches and anchors sea grass. Purchasing these products from individuals or shops have the same impact – if not grater due to a larger demand. It is also extremely disrespectful to remove anything from sacred sites and some even say bad luck will follow you if you do.
- Plastic: Before buying that mass-produced plastic doo-hickey, think about whether you really need it. There is probably a more interesting alternative around the corner worth spending your hard earned cash on.
- Ancient artefacts: If you encounter an ancient artefact for sale it is likely either a fake or illegally obtained. Either way its best to avoid these kinds of purchases.
Engaging with local crafts people and finding out more about the souvenirs that you are looking at purchasing is a wonderful way to emerge deeper into the culture of the place that you are visiting.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com