How to Shop for an Ethical Souvenir

By Erin Reynolds

Whether you are staying close to home this summer (thanks a lot, COVID), or headed out on a socially distant adventure, how you spend your money has a big impact on the community around you. Being mindful of how to shop for an moral souvenir is a great way to be supportive of communities in a sustainable way.

Here are some tips for purchasing ethical souvenirs on your next vacation!

 

How to Shop for an Ethical Souvenir:

 

Shop local

How to shop for an ethical souvenir
We purchased this painting on our honeymoon in Costa Rica and it now hangs above our daughter’s changing table.

Support local artisans: It can be hard to figure out if a product is made locally, so you might have to do a bit of investigating. Look out for stickers that indicate where the souvenirs were made and be weary of items that look like they were mass produced. Ask who made specific items and if they were paid fairly.

Or, even better, buy directly from artists! Coming home with a piece of artwork is a great way to remember your trip. Have the artist sign the back of your artwork or ask to take a photo together. Find out if they have social media so you can support them from home. Check out my website, The Mapping Artisans Project for artists around the world. If you meet an artist, ask them to join the website so other travelers can support them. It is free to use and I don’t charge commissions!

Ask locals where they go: This is a great tactic to use when you want to find great local food. The best restaurants and cafes are usually just a block away from the overpriced touristy food. Why not ask locals if they can recommend local artists, too?

Lion custom made souvenir from Jamaica
My husband and I had this lion custom made for us in Jamaica.

Get off the beaten track: Check out markets, which will make you feel like a local. Markets are also the best place to get some cheap, local food!

Buy gifts to bring home with you: Consider purchasing birthday and holiday presents in advance while you are on vacation. It is a great way to give something unique. It doesn’t have to be expensive, you can take home greeting cards, jewelry or even packaged food items!

Spoil yourself and stimulate the local economy: Visit a spa, get your nails done, or, if you are feeling adventurous, get your hair cut like I did in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. There was a major language barrier but I still got a cute, affordable cut and had an experience I will never forget!

Take a painting, pottery, or traditional art class and make your own souvenir! Or, take a cooking class and go home with a new favorite recipe!

Commission a custom piece: My husband and I had this lion custom made for us in Jamaica! We were staying at a funky little boutique hotel in Negril, Jamaica and our hardworking security guard was really friendly to us. He worked overnight and we found out he made wood carvings and we asked if we could buy one. He said he could make anything for us and we requested a lion and he brought this back in the morning! As you can see, it’s incredibly intricate! He is hung in front of our front door and reminds us of our first trip together!

 

Be sustainable, ethical and respectful

This is a key part to how to shop for an ethical souvenir. Check out thrift stores, vintage stores and garage sales for unique finds!

Purchase products made of sustainable materials and ensure they are made without using illegal materials or endangered natural materials. Local guidebooks can tell you more about what materials to avoid for in a specific destination. If you are plant-based like me, shopping for vegan products is important.

Consider the lifespan of your purchase. Don’t buy something you don’t need. Invest in artwork (it doesn’t have to be expensive, some of our favorite paintings were less than $30!)

Photos are the most sustainable souvenirs! Make sure you capture and share all of the special moments!

Menu cover from Rome
Artwork doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. One of my favorites is a menu from a wonderful night in Rome!

Negotiate (or don’t): Consult your local guidebook to find out whether the local culture haggles with shoppers or not. It takes a little practice, but this is a fun way to interact with locals.

Don’t take photos of artwork or street entertainers without asking. If they are asking for tips, by all means, tip!

Speaking of tips, tip well: This is especially important when visiting vulnerable economies and during the pandemic. Everyone who is serving you at stores, hotels and restaurants are literally risking their health to be there. I have spent plenty of time in the service industry and a good tip can really turn your day around.

Be respectful of others: Wear a mask when asked, pay attention to local customs and practice safe distances.

Purchase items that the region is known for: support traditional artwork! Invest in the local culture! Purchasing artisan products is one of the best ways you can give back to the community that is hosting you. Practicing these simple tips really will also demonstrate to others how to shop for an ethical souvenir, spreading the word through your actions.

 

Whether you’re spending this summer are at home or abroad, The Mapping Artisans Project is designed to help you! It is a free resource for artists to display their handmade home and apparel products and is intended to help shoppers find great products. If you are planning a trip, you can find great places to buy souvenirs from local artists. Or, if you have cabin fever and want to purchase traditional artwork and support a real person, you can get a handmade piece of art from a faraway place.

If you enjoyed ‘How to Shop for an Ethical Souvenir’ click on the ‘related posts’ tab next to ‘about the author’ to read more from Erin Reynolds.

Blogger and Guest Author at

Erin is a stay-at-home mom, MBA student and host of travel-inspired craft classes. She loves exploring at home and around the world. Her international experience includes volunteering in Cambodia and an internship in Dublin, Ireland. She lives in Bend, Oregon with her daughter, husband, cat and dog.

27 thoughts on “How to Shop for an Ethical Souvenir

  • July 29, 2020 at 5:53 am
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    I love these suggestions, especially the menu you got in Rome. What a great idea to frame it, as well. There are usually local artisans or people off the beaten path who are selling their work or the work of their friends – that’s usually the kind of souvenir I like to go for. This post was a great reminder of what to keep in mind when I’m next out there exploring.

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  • July 21, 2020 at 2:45 am
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    If all travelers would pay attention to important information like this, we would put illegal and unethical vendors out of business. I shop local and fair trade when I’m abroad.

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  • July 20, 2020 at 3:23 pm
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    Buying local crafts is something I love. As you’ve mentioned, I prefer meeting the artists and buying from them, instead of shops. One major advantage with that is all that you pay directly goes to the artist. It has so much character than any mass-produced stuff which anyways you could buy online sitting at home from anywhere in the world.

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  • July 20, 2020 at 6:04 am
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    I usually love to get souvenirs from the places I travel. And after the pandemic, it is important that we help the local economies and community by buying directly from the local artisans and from the local market. infact, we usually find the best things from the local markets itself. I have an interest in local handlooms and whenever I travel, I look for local weavers and try to find out their stories. I love buying stoles from these local weavers. This helps them and I get my souvenir as well.

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  • July 20, 2020 at 4:32 am
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    Wonderful write up on buying souvenir as many of the times, we end up buying something unnecessary. It is great to be ethical and buy something which is really required by us and also respecting local values. Buying mask when entering into the shop is a good idea after this COVID. Buying local and handicrafts projects after COVID makes sense.

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  • July 19, 2020 at 5:24 am
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    Whenever I visit a place, I always inquire about the local markets. I feel they are a great way to support the community and contribute to a place. I have found so many beautiful pieces of jewellery or clothing through these local markets. I also visit the local shops that are owned and managed by the local artisits.

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  • July 17, 2020 at 8:14 pm
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    These are some excellent tips. Whenever I’m traveling I prefer to try to find something unique from the area and I think the most unique things you can get are directly from the locals. I also try to find the shops and markets that the locals would shop at, giving me a chance to find some great items! I love the painting you purchased in Costa Rica, so cute!

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  • July 17, 2020 at 6:50 pm
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    Love buying from the locals and better yet things made by the locals! A perfect way to bring back a little piece of your favorite place with you! I always find it so crucial to support the local businesses in whatever way we can on our travels and I feel it’s all the more necessary now post this pandemic where so many small businesses have suffered massive losses.

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  • July 17, 2020 at 12:17 pm
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    I usually shop at the local food markets and buy a selection of spices to bring back to my kitchen, so that I can try to recreate my travel dishes at home. These are so prevalent at the destination, but once back home they’re usually really expensive, so it’s a win-win. We bought lots of Kampot Pepper in Cambodia, which is prized by chefs all over the world and the best pepper to cook with. I haven’t cooked with it yet .. I’m saving it!

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  • July 17, 2020 at 11:17 am
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    I feel bad saying that I never thought about an “ethical souvenir” before. Thank you for the information and will take into consideration in the future.

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  • July 16, 2020 at 12:17 pm
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    I really like your to go to super interesting. I love your gorilla mask it would go well on my wall with all my other mask

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  • July 16, 2020 at 9:24 am
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    Thank you for your tips. Whenever we travel, we always make sure we buy souvenirs which we give to friends and family and keep some as mementos of our trip. Local made handicraft is what we always get. Supporting local craftsmen is always a good thing to do.

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  • July 16, 2020 at 2:16 am
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    This is a big movement in my country. I’m glad too see that is is catching more attention abroad.

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  • July 15, 2020 at 8:42 pm
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    Im glad this is a topic. A gift to take home should always be ethical and respectful. Do your research!

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  • July 15, 2020 at 8:20 pm
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    Oh I am going to remember this when we travel. This is super important!

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  • July 15, 2020 at 7:59 pm
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    I never thought of shopping for an ethical souvenir before but what a smart idea. I love that you laid out some tips to help us be more conscious about what we purchase for souvenirs.

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  • July 15, 2020 at 4:41 pm
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    Here in the UK, we are lucky enough to have lots of northern local shops, so we are all sorted.

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  • July 15, 2020 at 3:35 pm
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    Thanks for the insight, and pointing out the importance of shopping ethically. I do love to collect local arts and products when I travel and I will also bear this in mind.

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  • July 15, 2020 at 2:46 am
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    Great post!! I believe that it is really important to Choose an ethical souvenir which is preferably made by a local person. There’s nothing worse than visiting somewhere to buy some generic souvenir made in Chiiiina!

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  • July 15, 2020 at 2:20 am
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    I love shopping for ethical and sustainable souvenirs. Also, I make sure I support a local community as it is a source of income for them. It’s also nice to see their handicrafts.

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  • July 14, 2020 at 9:21 pm
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    If people take this advice, the lives of so many people worldwide will be changed! I always try to support fair trade directly without a middle man so that more benefit goes directly to the (mostly) women that need it the most.

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  • July 14, 2020 at 9:10 pm
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    I must admit that we hardly ever bring souvenirs home. Unless it is a food product from a local vendor that we can eat or drink. We just don’t need any more stuff. Thrift shops are a great choice for us if we need something we have forgotten. We may even donate those items back when we leave.

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  • July 14, 2020 at 3:03 pm
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    I think it is always awesome to buy straight from the source if you can. When I am traveling I love visiting the little shops and fairs that have souvenirs for sale where the creators/artists are actually there present. And you get to meet them and speak with them. So fun!

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  • July 14, 2020 at 2:07 pm
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    This is something I’ve never thought about during our travels. Next time, we will consider it all!

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  • July 14, 2020 at 1:58 pm
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    This is such important information for travelers. Souvenirs seem like innocuous things, but the way some of them are made or procured are decidedly unethical.

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  • July 14, 2020 at 3:43 am
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    You have raised so many great points here – things that we should all consider when thinking of shopping for souvenirs abroad. Doing this while being respectful to local people is the way to go.

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  • July 14, 2020 at 3:35 am
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    I never think about this when traveling. we love getting souvenirs and will keep these tips in mind next time we are traveling.

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