A few weeks ago I published a post called 10 Easy-Peasy Ways to Make Your Travels More Sustainable. Now that you’ve got the basics down (as well as a pretty good handle on carbon offsets), let’s move on to a slightly more complicated topic: souvenirs.
How on earth could souvenirs be complicated?
Well let’s find out!
Whenever I talk about souvenirs, people generally get uncomfortable. Souvenirs are personal, and feeling like you’re being criticized over souvenirs seems like you’re being criticized over whom you are as a person. I won’t be criticizing you as a person or telling you what to do in this blog post, just making suggestions (and occasionally voicing my opinion) about how you can make your souvenirs more sustainable.
Do I think you should purchase your souvenirs more sustainably? Absolutely.
Do I think there are different ways for different people to do that? Definitely.
So here we go!
Don’t Buy Them
The easiest way—and most affordable way—to make your souvenirs more sustainable is to avoid them. Instead you can take pictures, keep a journal, make a vlog, document your trip on Instagram, etc. Seemingly infinite ways exist to record memories through social media that buying souvenirs is almost passé. But remember: most developing countries’ number one export is tourism, and one of the pillars of sustainability is economic. If we’re trying to purchase sustainably we have to think about how all of our purchasing actions affect the destination. You have to decide for yourself whether or not foregoing souvenirs is a good way for you to make your souvenirs more sustainable.
Buy Something Practical
There are definitely souvenirs that are a complete affront to sustainability, though. Yeah, the plastic Eiffel Tower was cute on the shelf in the store, but not so much tucked away in the back of your closet and forgotten. Why not purchase a hand-woven scarf or rug that you’ll use often? You can think back fondly to the trip every time you see it! One of my favorite souvenirs I’ve purchased was on my first wedding anniversary. We went to North Carolina to a very cute B&B and spent our time looking at frescoes painted on churches. On that trip I purchased a handmade cooking spoon, and now every time we cook with it I have think back to our trip!
Avoid Plastic Souvenirs
Most mass-produced plastic souvenirs don’t benefit anybody except the executives of companies producing them in countries like China & Bangladesh—countries that don’t have great workers’ rights track records. They’re cheap, they break, and frankly they’re not even that cute. They don’t benefit the local economy, encourage the cultivation of local culture, or help the environment (and, in fact, they harm it).
So just don’t buy them.
Buy Locally Made Souvenirs
So if you can’t buy plastic souvenirs, what can you buy? Handmade/Local souvenirs of course! The nice thing about handmade souvenirs is each one is unique. The higuero I purchased from the Dominican Republic is completely different from all the others because the fruit grew differently—I have a completely singular souvenir. Not only that, I gave local artisans and businesspeople sustainable economic support!
Avoid Plant & Animal Souvenirs
“But, Kelsey, you said you just bought a souvenir made from a fruit called higuero!” This is true. What I mean when I say avoid plant and animal souvenirs is avoid them unless you know how the materials were sourced. All of the souvenirs I bought in the Dominican Republic were sourced sustainably. My chocolate: the women of Chocal raise their own cacao trees. My recycled paper: RePapel gets all their paper from local businesses who would throw it in the trash instead. My higuero: higueros grow naturally on the Dominican Republic & the fruit can’t be eaten—so all in all a very unique & sustainable way to create art.
One of the first times I gave my presentation on sustainable travel to the Sierra Club, I said, “Don’t buy plant and animal souvenirs.” One woman asked, “Well, what if that’s the only way they can support themselves—by making souvenirs out of an endangered species of tree or something?” What happens when different pillars of sustainability clash—in this case environmental and economic? The fact of the matter is there is no right answer. (I told you this was a slightly more complicated issue!) Living sustainably requires us to not only to think more about how our actions affect others, but also to examine our values more closely. What would you do in this instance?
I can’t always give you clear-cut tips on how to live sustainably, but I hope I’ve gotten you to stop and think the next time you’re about to purchase a souvenir! Now get out there and go!