5 tips to help you shop responsibly while travelling

15 Nov 2018 5 tips to help you shop responsibly while travelling

Supporting the local people, local economies and not harming the environment is what responsible travel is all about. Bianca Caruana of the Altruistic Traveller gives her 5 tips on being a conscious shopper while travelling.

Shop locally

There really is no point going to Vietnam and then buying a product that is made in China, or going to China and buying a product that is made in Thailand. If you want to shop fairly in a country buy products that have been produced in that country. Your money is then going straight into their economy and to the local people who have put their time and effort into producing it. A great option here is to shop at markets where local people are selling their own goods. Whether it is fruit, clothing, or accessories, your purchase is providing income directly to the sellers and their families. Choose to buy your food at the market instead of at the corner store, and choose to buy your clothes at a small designer store rather than in a large international department store. Large players in the fashion game are rolling in millions so support the smaller players.


This might not always be an option everywhere you visit but fair trade is definitely making its mark on the world. Fair trade shops are emerging in hundreds of cities worldwide and many organisations are partnering with marginalised communities to bring you the best range of handmade goods, which contribute to poverty alleviation and sustainable development. In some countries the use of the words “fair trade” is still a little foreign but that’s not to say some of the places aren’t adhering to the principals of fair trade, which include payment of a fair price to workers, and traceability and accountability for worker’s conditions. 


Nowadays when I walk into a shop I don’t see a bunch of products, but rather a bunch of stories and people behind those products. It doesn’t hurt to ask the question ‘Who made this?’ and I’ve even gone as far as asking ‘Did those people get paid a fair price’. Sometimes I am left with deaf ears, sometimes an awkward silence, but sometimes I find the answer I am looking for, good or bad. While I don’t expect a business to give me the raw details of their profit margins, and keeping in mind that businesses do have to make some money, those kinds of questions can paint a picture about whether those profit margins are fair or not. Plus it’s nice to know that a business has enough transparency in their supply chain that even the store worker’s know where the clothes were made. Fair trade is about creating the relationship with the end buyer, and the producer.

Ease up on the bargaining

People will always tell you to bargain when shopping, especially in Asian countries. This is somewhat true because in these countries shopkeepers set their own price, which is often much higher than a ‘fair’ price. It’s like a game whereby the seller sets the highest price, the buyer sets a lower price and generally you meet somewhere in between. But sometimes bargaining can go a little too far. I’ve travelled to many places in Asia and overheard people bargaining on a product that is $2, trying to get it down to $1. For the more affluent $1 means nothing more than a small side at a fast food restaurant (if that), but sometimes that $1 can mean food on the table for a whole family. Use some perspective when bargaining and play a fair game.

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Avoid tourist traps

Have you ever been on a tour that tells you that you are going to see all the sights but then they just happen to stop off at 3 different shops on the way? That’s happened to me, many times. It seems it’s not a tour unless you go to a shop. I get that this is supposed to be good for the economy but in most of my experiences these ‘shops’ are fancy places designed for tourists to buy products that have an 80% mark up. One place was a silk factory in Myanmar where the ladies were making the silk on site. I asked how much they get for 1 silk scarf and was told $3. I then asked how much the silk scarf was to buy and was told $70. Another instance was at a ‘shop’ in Vietnam where I asked about the price of a beanie and was told $12. I asked how much the producer was paid and was told $2.50. Shopping at these tourist traps is only helping a big company make more money. Stick to options mentioned above.

You can also use the fair food forager app to find more ethical food options and suggest places that you discover to help the next traveller. 

This article originally appeared on the Altruistic Traveller all images by Bianca Caruana

Bianca Caruana - The Altruistic Traveller

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