What To Buy and What Not To Buy on a Green / Eco Vacation


A street in Sicily, Italy

No matter what kind of green vacation you are considering, it is often the case that you will be tempted to make a range of purchases while you are away. Of course, the first and most crucial thing to remember is that you should always try, both at home and away, to reduce your overall consumption as much as possible. Reducing, reusing and recycling wherever possible are the pillars of a green and sustainable way of life. www.travelrows.com

The Story

That said, there will be times when making certain purchases can actually make your green vacation more sustainable. Within our current monetary system, economics dictate that people require money to survive. This is just a fact of life, and will remain so unless the current capitalist system were to collapse entirely, and people return to a gifting or bartering model of society. Since people need money, there is, inevitably, an entire tourist industry that has sprung up around a global desire for travel.

When we travel, we inevitably consume resources – energy, food, water etc. in the locations that we are visiting. On a green and sustainable stay, it is vital that we make sure that the money we spend is funneled back into the local community, so that local people are left better off, and not worse off, by our stay. Sustainable tourism makes sure that the land, resources and people of the local community benefit from your visit. This is the opposite of much mass tourism, which involves money being funneled from tourists into the hands of big business interests and away from the local populace.

Thinking carefully about what we buy on our green vacations can help us to make sure that the money goes where it should, as well as ensuring that we make other ethical choices regarding what we do and do not buy:

What to Buy:

As mentioned above, it is important to think carefully before buying anything on our eco vacations. Often, it is best not to buy at all. The exceptions to this are when we can benefit a local community (and make the tourism more sustainable) by buying things that will provide money that is channelled back into the area.

Things that you might want to consider buying on your green vacation include:

  • local, seasonal organic produce, preserves and other food products.
  • tapestries/ woven pieces using natural fibres & dyes.
  • rugs & carpets using natural fibres & dyes.
  • woven bags and baskets of wood, bark or raffia.
  • natural fibre, organic, locally produced, clothing.
  • hand-crafted sculptures or figurines made by a local community.
  • local community paintings or other artwork.
  • hand-made ceramic pottery/ tiles etc..
  • hand-made natural wooden/ seed bead jewelry.
  • upcycled items crafted from local waste materials.

Buying such items can not only provide fund for the improvement and protection of the local people and the local environment, but can also help to keep native crafts and traditional skills alive. But as you will learn below – you do need to make sure that you know where the items have actually come from, and who gets the profits from the sale.

What Not to Buy:

Unfortunately, there are a lot of products for sale out there that do far more harm than good. There are a wide range of items often sold to tourists during their stay, or taken home as souvenirs, which are the very opposite of ethical. Many items do great harm to people and planet, to the world’s natural environments and to all the creatures that call this planet home. Many of the items on the list below are not only unethical, bad for people and planet, buying them will also help to perpetuate damaging systems, funneling money in completely the wrong direction.

Here is a list of many of the things green travelers should most definitely try to avoid:

  • food products from harmful, polluting mono-crop agriculture.
  • food from far away, the transportation of which had a high carbon cost.
  • heavily processed/ mass produced ‘junk’ food.
  • live-animals/ living creature souvenirs. (In China, for example, horrendous souvenirs are sold – including key chains containing living creatures such as tiny turtles!)
  • ivory, horn, or other animal-derived products for which animals are killed.
  • leather or fur products from non-ethical/ non-sustainable production.
  • hardwood (e.g. mahogany) items from non-sustainable forestry.
  • non-sustainable hot house flowers.
  • mass produced tourist tat (especially plastic items).
  • hand-crafted items, the proceeds from which do not go to those who made them.

Unfortunately, sometimes local people can be taken advantage of. So before you choose hand-crafted items on the list of what to buy, do make absolutely sure that those that made them are those who get the profits.

In Conclusion

Buying anything at all, whether you are at home or away on a green vacation, can be a complicated business. But though it can sometimes to difficult to work out all the details of the life-cycle and provenance of a product, it is important to try your best to learn as much as you can before you commit to making any purchase.

Having a green vacation is often in large part about keeping yourself informed, about asking the right questions and waiting for the right answers. Buying gifts or souvenirs to take back home with you can be a lot of fun – but make sure you use your brain and common sense, or you could end up doing harm rather than doing good.

Author of our ‘green’ articles is Elizabeth Waddington – a professional writer and a consultant on topics related to permaculture, sustainability, green living and eco travel.


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