Many of us love to shop when we travel. We love to pick up that bargain or find that unique souvenir indicative of the places we have been and the world that we’ve discovered. The question is though, are we shopping fairly? Meaning, are our purchases having a positive affect on the people that produce them.

OK so it’s not easy to trace back the origins of every single item that we want to buy, it’s almost impossible really, but there are indicators as to the fairness associated with our shopping choices.

Below are 5 ways that will help you to shop fairly when you travel, to ensure that you are helping to provide fair opportunities to the producers who make the things you buy.


5 Ways To Shop Ethically When You Travel



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.


Shop Locally


Choose fair trade products


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. Discover fair trade shops in the places you visit or use WFTO’s listing of organisations to find one that suits you.


Choose Fair Trade


Start a conversation and ask where the items were made


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.


Where were these made?


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.


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.


Fair Trade products


These are just some of the ways that you can make more fair shopping choices when you travel, and even when at home.

Do you have any other ways that you can shop fairly? Feel free to comment in the section below.


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12 thoughts on “5 Ways To Shop Fairly When You Travel

  1. These are some great suggestions, all of which are fairly easy to implement but will still have an impact where it’s needed. It is so easy to fall into the trap of trying to save money for ourselves when buying abroad and forgetting about the people we are buying from. Thanks for putting these ideas together.

  2. This is a crucial point to raise awareness. In Lisbon I see gullible tourists being lured in to tourist traps all the time. Sometimes I can convince some to shop at the right places, some really couldn’t care less. In developing countries it’s even worse. Unfortunately most people are selfish when they travel but I think the more we talk about it, the better, and I believe things are slowly changing 🙂

  3. I always HATE barganing! Not because I’m bad at it, but because it makes me feel guilty because I know I can afford even the starting price in some countries and they need the money more. I play the game but I always give in higher than I know I should lol

  4. I love visiting local markets when I travel. I had a lot of fun shopping for small things in China, Vietnam, India and Peru. It’s nice to interact with the locals and understand each other using the sign language. I don’t shop a lot when I travel but I like to buy a special souvenir from each place.

  5. Fantastic suggestions. I’m always worried that as a tourist my money may be supporting unethical or exploitative practices that harm the local culture rather than support it. It’s so important to keep these things in mind especially when abroad. THANK YOU for pointing out that by haggling the already-cheap price down further, you’re just taking money from local producers who need it much more than you do!

  6. Thanks for writing this! I often find myself somewhere in between. In Areas of Europe in tourist areas I was hounded so badly to purchase things it turned me completely off to shopping. However, when I went to Turkey I met some folks who made Turkish pottery and got to watch them make it and fell in love. Seeing them create the items I brought home made me
    Better about buying locally and not off of a machine belt.

  7. I seriously loved this article. Such great insight and something people really need to consider when getting their shop on. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the bargaining and then realize you are only bargaining over a small amount [it sounds like so much more in baht], but something I always try to think about. Also I know what you mean about the tourist shops. Every time I’ve gotten on a bus in SE Asia, we stopped at a shop or restaurant that was just for tourists.

  8. I agree on easing down on bargaining. I grew up in the Philippines and products are already relatively cheap. It’s okay to haggle but not as much as half down the price because the sellers do not earn as much from these too.

  9. Love to bargain! Although I usually leave it up to my mum cause she’s so good, can usually get it half off hehe. I always get try to avoid shopping at really popular areas to save money ???

  10. The weight of these decisions should be better understood by all travelers and I love that you took the time to address this issue! Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. This advice will also make your trip more enjoyable – esp. Start a conversation… A lot of the enjoyment of traveling is learning (for me)

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