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  • Writer's pictureDorien Scheets

The Dark Side of Souvenir Shopping: Why You Should Think Twice Before Buying

Traveling to new places often comes with the desire to bring back a souvenir or two as a memento of your trip. Souvenir shopping can be a fun and exciting part of the travel experience, but it's essential to consider the ethical implications of what you're buying. In this blog post, we will explore the dark side of souvenir shopping and why you should think twice before making a purchase.


One of the most significant issues with souvenir shopping is the exploitation of local cultures. Tourists often purchase items that are marketed as "authentic" or "traditional," but in reality, they are mass-produced and have little to no connection to the local culture. The production of these items can also contribute to the commodification and commercialization of culture, which can have negative effects on the community.

Negative Environmental Impacts

Another issue with souvenir shopping is the impact it can have on the environment. Many of the items sold in tourist markets are made from materials that are not sustainable, such as coral, turtle shells, and other endangered species. These items may also contribute to the destruction of habitats and ecosystems, leading to the loss of biodiversity (Epler Wood, 2010).

Consider the Local Economy

Furthermore, the production of souvenirs can have negative social and economic impacts on the local community. Often, the people who create these items are underpaid and exploited. This is especially true for those who work in sweatshops or factories where labor standards are not enforced. By purchasing these items, you may be contributing to the exploitation of workers and supporting a system that perpetuates inequality.

So what now? Should I just never buy anything when traveling?

So, what can you do to ensure that your souvenir shopping is ethical? The response is not simply to stop buying things at all when you travel. To the contrary, you can use your power as a traveler and tourist to make a positive impact and contribute to growth in the local economy, support artisans and their livelihoods, and vote with your dollars to promote more sustainable, ethical goods.

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure you are doing the most good you can with the souvenirs you purchase:

The first step is to do your research. Before you travel, research the local culture and customs to gain an understanding of what is appropriate and respectful to buy. Look for products that are made by local artisans or craftspeople who use sustainable materials and pay fair wages. It's also important to support small, local businesses rather than large corporations that may contribute to exploitation.

When shopping for souvenirs, ask questions about the products and their origins. If you're unsure about the authenticity of an item, it's better to err on the side of caution and avoid purchasing it. Consider looking for certifications or labels that indicate that the product was ethically made, such as Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance.

Another way to ensure that your souvenir shopping is ethical is to consider the impact on the environment. Look for products made from sustainable materials such as bamboo or recycled materials--in other words, skip the plastic knickknacks! Avoid purchasing items made from endangered species or those that contribute to deforestation or pollution.

Better yet, you might even consider choosing to invest in intangible souvenirs. That is, perhaps spend your money on experiences, intangible cultural heritage, rather than stuff. To read more about this check out this article by Kim, Whitford, and Arcodia (2019).

But do also keep in mind when choosing those experiences to participate in ethical experiences. See my post about 10 unethical travel experiences to avoid so you can make sure you're traveling better.

To Conclude...

In conclusion, souvenir shopping can be a fun and exciting part of the travel experience, but it's important to consider the ethical implications of what you're buying. By doing your research, supporting local businesses and artisans, and considering the impact on the environment and the local community, you can ensure that your souvenir shopping is ethical and supports sustainable tourism. Remember, the choices you make as a traveler can have a significant impact on the world around you, so choose wisely.

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