Small actions of individuals can make a big difference. Starting with these beautiful words, I want to talk about one of the factors of sustainability – buying locally. In this text, I write about reasons why to buy local in general, with focus on shopping locally while traveling. I will explain why it’s so important and how everyone can contribute to positive changes for good of humanity and the environment.
That being said, I hope to inspire you to switch to shopping in the street markets and from small local producers rather than giving money to big corporations and supermarkets. I am going to show you, that it’s not only more healthy for you, but also more eco-friendly and responsible as you get to support local economy.
Why buying locally?
I grew up in the village in Poland so eating home made foods and growing our own vegetables is a standard I got. Therefore, I cannot accept the low quality that offer supermarkets. Besides, I know how difficult is to sell crops as a small farmer so I choose to support local businesses wherever I can.
When I moved to a big city, I started to look for natural products on the street markets. When I lived in France, I used to go to local farmers market every Saturday, where I could get village eggs, local cheese or honey and support local bee-keepers. The bread on the market was better than in any bakery and I liked to see old farmers selling their best crops. Once a week, I was going to organic food store to get the rest of the products. All the tours I was doing by bicycle and visited the nearby supermarket only when I forgot something. When I lived in Prague, my routine was quite the same, apart from the fact that I didn’t have a bike, but was using public transportation.
When I care what I eat, I am rarely having infections or the flu, my body is more resilient. However, eating nutritiously and well-being while traveling is a tough task, yet so important to keep strong, positive and enjoy the trip. Also shopping locally while traveling is harder than is daily life but it’s surely worth the effort to support local people.
Why am I crazy about street markets?
If you follow my blog and facebook, you were sure to see photos from many different markets around the world. Why do I love street markets so much? Believe or not, going to the street market is one of my favorite activities while traveling. Not just for shopping locally, but for seeing the essence of the country, the most authentic place with real people, local farmers and artists.
The street markets from South East Asia: in Myanmar or Philippines were the best places for photography and getting taste of something new and unexpected. Who has been to Chatuchak in Bangkok or market in Chiang Mai, both in Thailand, was surely overwhelmed with the buzz and colors. Street markets are where I saw fruits and vegetables I have never seen before, weird spices and herbal teas I fell in love with. Shopping of hand made clothes in Delhi market in India, made me come back with double size luggage; Even though I usually travel with a backpack and prefer minimalist packing, sometimes I just can’t help getting some hand made crafts from local artists or feed my tea addiction.
Markets in the Middle East were so impressive. Huge area with a roof which sells everything you can imagine sometimes since centuries. Heritage of ancient markets in Fez, Morocco, Dubai, the biggest markets in the world in Istanbul, Turkey, Esfahan in Iran or Aleppo, Syria were really magnificent heritage. Those were places to get the best souvenirs and taste of the country. In Europe, I am fan of the flea markets, which sell old stuff as well as farmers markets. I loved Copenhagen for having markets for everything from food, furniture to clothes, bikes to upcycling art crafts. The list of the bazaars I visited and admired is long.
It’s the street markets where I get to discover what the land I am visiting has to offer. Even in my own country, on every street market I am finding some new smells, tastes and regional dishes. Street markets are exotic and full of life. When I can support locally owned shops and local farmers, I feel happy that my money is spent well and can help someone.
8 reasons for shopping locally while traveling
Buying locally when traveling is a bit more difficult as it requires doing more research in the area you have no idea about than you would need where you live. Responsible shopping abroad is an opportunity to support local families, artists or small producers.
I travelled to over 50 countries and haven’t been in one which doesn’t have street markets. No matter the country, street markets are my favorite place for photography, where I capture the simplicity of life, colors and have a chance to support local businesses.
As a fan of sustainable travel, I tend to spend my money on local products rather than supporting big companies. Traveling or not, local shopping has become a way to eat well, create less waste and support locally owned businesses. There are several reasons which will convince you for buying locally in your daily life, and also while you travel.
1. The best quality
Knowing that small merchandise focuses on quality rather than quantity, buying locally you are sure to get better products. Small farmers don’t spend a bunch of money on pesticides. I am from a farmers family and the advice I can give you is to get your food from the smallest farmers possible. Big ones have to use a lot of chemicals to maintain the crops and focus more on quantity, so the money they invest will return with interest. Mass consumption equals lower standard.
2. Support local businesses and farmers
Buying locally is important for local economy. Small businesses sometimes rely only on the local customers. Without consumer demand, some of the entrepreneurs will stop to exist.
From my own experience, I have to admit that it’s not easy to sell the crops as a small farmer and sometimes they are getting wasted. The street market in the nearest town provides all the fruits and vegetables polish soil can produce and the prices are really low. Yet, people still buy in the supermarkets without considering that the food is imported and less healthy due to pesticides, long travel and storing. That is a very sad thing, but this is reality, at least in my hometown. Do we really have no time for going to the farmers market once a week, instead of supermarket?
Shopping locally while traveling, you support people working in the area in keeping their jobs. Working locally requires less travel so comes with less pollution. Analysing deeper, you may even make someones dreams come true, as the small producers have no money for big advertising and they often rely only on the local market. Having this knowledge about your region makes shopping locally priceless.
3. Less carbon footprint
Every imported item had to travel, producing pollution. Buying locally reduces the impact you have on the environment. Check for nearby street markets or locally owned businesses rather than heading for shopping to outside city shopping mall. If you cannot get what you want nearby, ordering online from the same country creates less carbon footprint than driving far, as the shipping companies are like public transportation for delivery goods.
Street markets offer not only food but also sell used clothes, antique furniture or upcycled items. This gives opportunity to follow the eco-friendly mantra to reduce, reuse and recycle whatever possible. Instead of buying new things, consider getting used products. You can also exchange what you don’t need in the same way.
4. Less waste
It’s worth introducing to your life eco-friendly habits, like taking the reusable bag for shopping. I bet everyone has at least one of those at home, as for the last few years it has been a very popular promotional material of the companies. I think I have around 7 of them while I purchased only one. The one you see on the photo I bought in Palestine from local community. The rest of the bags I own are some freebies from organisations which wanted to promote their brand plus some I made during the screen printing workshop. I always have one cotton bag in my backpack while traveling. I use it not only for shopping but also as a hand bag when I am not carrying anything fancy.
Really useful guys are those tiny string bags for fruits or vegies so the seller doesn’t have to pack it in a plastic bag for you. When shopping locally, I am trying to choose products with less packing or even without labels. Here comes topic of trust. In the supermarket, you buy from the company and need a label with information what is inside of the product. On the street market, you buy in person, you can ask questions, and come back to trustable sellers the next time. Small producers usually care much more for quality than big companies, but also be mindful for the cheaters which can appear everywhere.
5. Buying locally is more healthy
It’s truth that products on the street market will be less processed than those from a supermarket, made in the factories. Fruits and vegetables will rather have fewer chemicals and preservatives and in general, will be more natural. What’s more, food on the street market will be more fresh, so consist of more vitamins and microelements. If you are worried, that buying locally when traveling will cause you a stomach problem, I hope to change your mind in the end of this post.
On the street market, you will see what nature has to offer in the area. I try to eat seasonal goods, which is more healthy. Spoiled with luxury of having whatever we want all year long, we stopped to consider that our body actually doesn’t need all those exotic fruits. Eating seasonal and regional fruits and vegetables is more beneficial for our body. During winter, in my home in Poland, we eat pickles we made during summer together with fruit juices stored in jars. If you are not able to make those at your place, do a research who does foods for sell. You may find local honey, jam or dry fruits.
Nowadays, in the age of the genetic modifications, we have a beautiful looking fruits and vegetables. The newer and modified kinds are proved to have fewer vitamins and nutrition value. As a farmer I can recommend you getting ugly crops, as it’s clear that, they didn’t get as many pesticides as the others. If you see shiny, unnaturally beautiful veggies in the supermarket, I advice you to avoid them. You cannot imagine how many chemicals they absorbed. Moreover, some supermarkets use toxic spray which makes them looking fresh for long time on a shelf. Why getting these, if you can stay healthy and support local farmers along with their working hard families?
6. Local shopping is cheaper
In general organic food is more expensive, but you pay for your future health, less negative impact on the environment and high quality. However, I would like to mention, that local shopping can be actually cheaper than supermarkets. Buying on the street market or from local producers, you skip all the mediators in between which were responsible for transport, packing, testing, selling and taking the taxes. Shopping locally you get close and personal with the producers and can negotiate the price, if you are a frequent visitor. Local small businesses are often family owned, and they are simply happy to share their products with someone who appreciates their work.
7. Getting in contact with locals
Look at the street markets, where the social life flourishes and local farmers can earn their living. While shopping malls give place to big companies which often produce their goods in third world countries using cheap labor. Corporations are usually not ethical and tend to vanish small entrepreneurs. The American mall are the image of suburban consumerism and spread all over the world. According to the sociologists, shopping malls are not good for social contacts as people stop to talk, ask and bargain, like on the street market.
8. Get some fresh air
Lastly, shopping locally while traveling or daily, means spending some time on the fresh air and getting your body some movements. It’s rather having a walk on the open air street market, than being in a closed building of a shopping mall or supermarket. Every week shopping, doesn’t have to feel like an unpleasant duty, if you get to breath some fresh air, talk to nice people and get the taste and smell of natural products. Adding riding there on the bicycle, you have a full no waste and pollution experience with profit for body and soul. 😉
Shopping locally while traveling vs. stomach problems
Some people are afraid to get food poisoning while eating street food in exotic countries when the hygiene and bacterial flora are different. The truth is, that eating in the restaurants will not prevent food poisoning either. You can encounter not fresh food pretty much everywhere, which is a big reason for food poisoning. Of course, this also doesn’t mean that we have to eat whatever. Very important thing is to prepare our stomach properly prior the trip.
How do I help my stomach in switching to exotic cuisine?
Very important is preparation of your digestive system for contact with different bacterial flora. What I do is eating one natural yogurt overy day, for two weeks prior my trip to exotic destinations. Yogurt has natural probiotics which strengthen our immune system and reduce likelihood of contracting an illness or inflamation. What’s more, to make my stomach adapting easier to new bacterias, I always take one thing which I eat regularly (usually it’s oat meals). In that way, the new cuisine shock our stomach has to experience, is softer and easier to adapt. Lastly, I try to eat cooked meals for the first few days on my trip, and avoid raw fruits and vegetables. Stuffing stomach with heavy fast-foods will not help either. I am trying to eat light until my stomach adapts.
After few days of treating your stomach well in a new place, it’s more likely that you won’t have any problems. Following those tips, I have never had issues with switching to new cuisine. I had, though, after long time traveling, when my body was a bit depleted or at anytime when I ate something not fresh. The fact is that not many people survive India or Myanmar without any food poisoning. Being afraid of stomach problems doesn’t stop me from shopping locally while traveling, because that can happen pretty much anywhere. Moreover, the value of buying locally is much higher than risk of getting food poisoning.
Instead of heading to big chain supermarkets or restaurants, I encourage you to taste street food and see what local producers have to offer. Don’t be that guy who travels to Vietnam and goes to McDonalds. Seriously, our duty as a visitor is to appreciate the culture and support local economy with our shopping decisions.
Summing up, of course, you may be not able to get everything you want locally, that is normal. People around the world have different access to goods, and it varies from a city to the village and from country to another. But the point is to check locally before buying something, learn what your area has to offer. Shopping locally while traveling or not, can really help small enterprise and farmers in existing, and contribute to lower carbon footprint. In the next post I will talk closer about responsible shopping. Stay tunned!
The Bee is a nature lover and tea addict. Loves the idea of slow life and responsible traveling, constantly trying to improve to bee more eco-friendly. Appreciates old cultures and traditions, loves to immerse with locals, listen to ethnic music as well as taste regional food and drinks. Her favorite spots while traveling are family houses and street markets.