When travelling, we all enjoy bringing something back to remind us of our trip. Whether it’s stunning photos of the location or a small souvenir, this can be the perfect reminder of an enjoyable holiday. However, rather than just keepsakes, the souvenirs we bring back also reflect our travel ethics and values. In a world increasingly aware of environmental issues, choosing sustainable souvenirs is the best way forward.

Shop Sustainable Souvenirs

Shop Sustainable Souvenirs

Buying souvenirs responsibly, ensuring your purchases support local artisans and preserve cultural heritage, can also help minimise the environmental impact of tourism. Whether you're wandering through bustling markets, visiting quiet villages, or exploring vibrant cities, the choices you make can contribute positively to the communities you visit.

As 1 in 10 of us spend most of our holiday budget on souvenirs, and that’s after other essential holiday items like travel insurance and even a new passport, how can you select ethical, sustainable items that are not only memorable but also meaningful? Here, we'll provide some practical tips and insights into avoiding common tourist traps and making purchases that you can feel good about long after your journey ends.

What Are Sustainable Souvenirs?

Buying souvenirs that are more sustainable means avoiding buying mass-produced items to remind you of your travels. You want to find items that adhere to ethical production practices, support local economies, and have minimal environmental impact.

Typically, these items are crafted locally using environmentally friendly materials and processes and directly contribute to the livelihoods of local artisans rather than benefitting big-name companies. More people want this too, with 58% of Millennials and Gen Z willing to spend more if they knew their money was going into the local community they are visiting, with 77% saying sustainability impacts their decision to travel.

The significance of choosing sustainable souvenirs supports wider sustainable tourism efforts that help local cultures and traditions while protecting natural resources. As the World Fair Trade Organisation (WTFO) points out, many businesses are prioritising short-term profit over long-term sustainability, so being more mindful with our holiday purchases can make a big difference. For instance, purchasing a hand-woven basket from a local craftsperson not only provides them with a direct economic benefit but also helps keep traditional crafts alive too.

By reaching for sustainable souvenirs, travellers can play a part in a larger movement towards a more sustainable and equitable global tourism industry.

Benefits of Buying Sustainable and Ethical Souvenirs

Buying sustainable and ethical souvenirs benefits everyone involved – here’s how:

Economic Perks – When you buy from local artisans and small businesses, your money goes directly into the pockets of local communities. This boosts the local economy by keeping jobs and money where they belong, helping towns and cities thrive. It also feels good to know your money is going into the hands of those who need it most rather than into the profits of big brands.

Environmental Impact – Sustainable souvenirs often use materials that are local and eco-friendly, like bamboo or recycled goods. This cuts down on transportation and reduces carbon footprint. It also means you are buying items that are not made from exploited animals and conservation areas such as those made from ivory or coral. Plus, using renewable resources helps conserve the environment, making your purchase a green choice.

Cultural Connection – Choosing these souvenirs supports traditional crafts and skills, keeping cultural heritage alive and well. This way, you’re not just buying a souvenir but helping preserve a piece of the culture for future generations. As per guidelines on sustainable development from UN Tourism, it respects the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserving their living cultural heritage.

By opting for sustainable and ethical souvenirs, you’re making a positive impact all around. It’s a simple way to give back to the places you visit and bring home a piece of your travels that truly matters.

How to Identify Sustainable and Ethical Souvenirs

Would you know the difference between what is and isn’t a sustainable purchase? Identifying sustainable and ethical souvenirs can make sure your purchases have a positive impact, but it isn’t always obvious. Here’s how to spot them while exploring new destinations:

Look for Local Origins – Sustainable souvenirs are typically made locally, so check for labels or ask sellers about the origin of their goods to find the authentic ones. Products crafted nearby support the local economy so if it isn’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask. You can find a list of ecolabels and what they mean on the Eco Label Index.

Assess the Materials – You want to find souvenirs made from natural, organic, recycled, or upcycled materials rather than plastic. These choices are more environmentally friendly and help reduce waste. Common sustainable materials include bamboo, local wood, recycled fabrics, and wool among others.

Understand the Craftsmanship – Authentic, handcrafted items not only carry unique cultural significance but also promote traditional skills and jobs. They are also much more impressively made compared to anything mass-produced and show the care and dedication someone has put into creating them. The stories behind their creation can be just as wonderful.

Verify Authenticity and Ethics – Look for certifications or signs that the artisans are being fairly compensated. Fair Trade labels, for example, can assure you that the products are made under fair working conditions and that the artisans receive a fair wage.

Avoid Mass-Produced Items – Steer clear of generic, mass-produced souvenirs that are often imported and sold as local goods. These are typically less sustainable and do little to benefit local communities.

By being mindful of these factors, you can confidently select souvenirs that are both beautiful and beneficial.

Tips for Shopping Responsibly While Travelling

Shopping responsibly whilst you’re away doesn’t just preserve your memories, it also respects the places you visit. Here are some practical tips that will also help you avoid common tourist traps:

  • Beware of Non-Authentic Handicrafts – You may find items sold as 'local' handicrafts that are actually mass-produced in factories far away. Always ask about the origin of the product and the maker if you’re unsure. Genuine local crafts will usually have a clear origin.
  • Skip the Street Vendors Near Major Tourist Attractions – They may be convenient, but these locations are notorious for overpriced, non-authentic items. Instead, venture off the beaten path or seek out recommended artisan markets where you're more likely to find authentic, locally-made souvenirs.
  • Question Bargain Prices – If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Extremely low prices can indicate that the items are not handmade or that the workers are underpaid.
  • Engage with Sellers – Talk to the artisans and sellers to learn more about the craftsmanship and origin of their goods. This can provide valuable insights into the authenticity of the products. If you can pick up some helpful phrases in the local language to use (have a phrasebook handy for this) this will help even further.

So, do you feel more confident identifying and purchasing more sustainable souvenirs on your next trip? If you do so, you can be part of promoting positive change and helping responsible tourism. Avoid the mass-produced stuff that can be bought from anywhere and choose more authentic, more meaningful purchases.