Wanting to bring something home from your travels is a natural reaction - mementoes help extend those memories and share them with your loved ones. Souvenir stalls crowd street corners in the most unlikely places, and hawkers have developed superb expertise in parting you from your cash, so it's no wonder we stumble around weighed down by 'irresistible' purchages.
All this would be fine if it didn't do any harm. Did you know that seemingly innocuous shopping for souvenirs can damage the environment, destroy cultures and contribute to child labor? And does that mean you have to go home empty-handed?
Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #44
- To Buy or Not to Buy: That is the Question
- Connecting with Women on the Road
- My free travel writing course
- Most Popular Posts Last Month
- Travel News from Across the Web
- Cause of the Month: Welcome to South Sudan
Stay away from anything animal
Many animal products on display are either endangered or illegal, so buyer beware. These can range to furry bags and crocodile belts to ivory or tortoiseshell combs. Avoid anything with feathers. Even if your souvenir isn't actually illegal, it may be unethical. Ask yourself where the feathers for that headdress came from, and how they got off the bird. Do you think it relinquished its plumage willingly? Or was it plucked and then thrown away to die or killed first just for an ornament's sake?
Plants are also suspect
The rule of thumb is to stay away from anything that is or might have been alive. Many orchids are endangered, and you've certainly heard of coral reef destruction - sometimes due to pollution, but also by mining for sale to unsuspecting travelers. So please, pass them by.
It's more than ethics
If you do buy animal or plant products, you may find out when you get home that they are confiscated - and you may be fined (or worse) for importing an illegal substance.
Just because it's on sale...
Don't assume that because someone is selling it, it's legal or acceptable back home - or even where you are, for that matter. Often it's quite the contrary! Hawkers may insist that their particular item is farmed, or an antique (also a no go - you don't want to be robbing a culture of its heritage, do you?) or certified legal, with some bogus papers attached. Don't fall for it, and don't take chances.
Don't undermine local livelihoods
It's not just about the environment, but about cultures too. If certain people have traditionally been weaving a certain cloth and a factory starts manufacting that cloth at a cut price, the weaver loses work and runs out of money, and her culture is weakened because her artistry is no longer passed down the generations. She gets poorer, while the factory-owner makes money, engendering a vicious cycle of poverty.
And then there's cheap labor
This cultural sabotage has another side effect - cheap factory labor. To offer you souvenirs at incredibly low prices, a factory has to keep its own costs down. So it won't invest much in creature comforts for staff (like bathrooms, safe machinery or fire exits) and workers will be exploited, many of them women because they often work for less. Worse, in the poorest of regions, some of those workers may be children, whose cheap labor mortgages their lives so that tourists can take home useless trinkets.
So what CAN you bring home?
Don't despair - there's plenty you can bring home that won't damage the environment, kill wildlife, decimate cultures or exploit women and children. A good place to start is art, of any kind - paintings, sculptures, drawings - as long as you buy directly from the artist or from an artists' cooperative.
Souvenirs don't necessarily have to be bought - you can make something. Take a gorgeous photograph and place it in a nice locally crafted frame. Pick some seashells along the beach and don't forget to clean them first (just don't buy any because those beautiful shiny shells come from seabeds that have been dragged by huge nets, killing fish and destroying habitats). Buy a local recipe book or a packet of exotic spices for the chef in your life, some unusual beads or string for your crafty friends, some homemade cloth for fashion enthusiasts, hand-made jewellery, a CD of a fabulous local artist for music-lovers... there's no end to the list of personalized gifts you can bring home.
I've received every single one of the above gifts and have enjoyed them far more than something store-bought or found on every street corner. Let your originality shine - hang on to your memories without damaging anyone else's.
Please do - we'd love to meet you!
- Join the growing Facebook community at facebook.com/womenontheroad and post on our wall about solo travel and your travels
- Follow me on Twitter @womanontheroad for regular bursts
- Share your experiences with the rest of us by writing a story! This month, read Karen's Restoring my joie de vivre: solo in Paris.
- Ask me a question! This month, Anna in Australia is moving to Paris and asks, how long should I buy travel insurance for? And Janice wants to write so she asks - which travel writing course should I take first, she asks.
- Link to my website from your own blog or site.
- And when you visit women-on-the-road.com, please don't forget to click LIKE in the left-hand column!
Are you a solo first-timer?
If you're traveling solo for the first time, perhaps you've got a few doubts, fears or just plain questions. Maybe it's complicated and you don't really know where to start. Or you may know someone who is a bit apprehensive about her first solo trip.
The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl's Guide is a feisty, congenial, well-designed and smart e-book that will tell you everything you need to know to get out the door and on the road. Find out how to save for your trip, break the news to your loved ones, take care of those last-minute jitters, and even how to deal with coming home. It's short, light and to the point - no padding like so many other e-books.
Author Stephanie Lee, an architect turned travel writer, traveled solo for six months and took plenty of notes along the way. Her advice carries a lot of common sense, from the obvious - don't walk alone in dark alleys - to using iGoogle for everything from location to translation.
Her central premise? "Embrace your individuality and sense of adventure."
If you're like thousands of others who would love to see their names in print and if you love to travel, have you ever thought of writing to pay for your travels?
It paid for my own travel across several continents so I know a bit about the writer's life and what editors like. I've put a lot of that knowledge together for you in a free online course called the The Travel Writing Magician, available exclusively to readers of Women on the Road.
Just sign up and get it in your mailbox in seven easy daily installments. Work the self-help assignments on your own and see how your writing improves after just one week. You'll never know if there's a travel writer lurking inside you until you try!
Do you want to make amazing travel videos?
If you love moving pictures and want to make travel videos - or any videos, for that matter - you can be proud of, maybe you need some advice from THE expert. In my opinion that's my friend Lisa Lubin of LLMedia, a television journalist and producer who has won THREE Emmy Awards for her broadcast work. You can't get much better than that!
Lisa traveled around the world on her own for several years and she knows what it's like to share brilliant videos with friends and family back home. So she's written an ebook - Video 101 - for all those of us television producer wannabes.
It's incredibly straightforward - no fluff at all, just the facts: figure out your story, make it human, plan your video ahead of time, use interviews, write for pictures and edit it all together... it's all in the book. So are some priceless checklists to make sure you don't forget a thing.
If you have any aspirations beyond stringing together a few scattered shots, Video 101: Tips and Tricks for Awesome Visual Storytelling will open your eyes to what making video is all about, right from the source, and a darn sight cheaper than taking a TV course. It certainly taught me plenty!
1. Travel Packing List
2. International Travel Nursing
3. Overseas Jobs
4. Stay in a Monastery
5. Travel Accessories for Women
6. Cheap Ways to Travel
7. Top Ten Travel Destinations
8. Travel Money Belt
9. Overseas Jobs
10. Women's Travel Clothing
Organizing Travel the Old School Way
India: 71 Days on $1000
Couchsurfing for Solo Women: Good or Bad?
How to Use Frequent Flyer Miles to Go Anywhere
Travel Cargo Ship: An Awesome Way to Get Around?
How Many Countries Have You Visited? 10 Ghost Railway Stations
For food lovers...
...and lovers of other arts
If You're Visual
Thailand: A Great Budget Destination for Your First Solo Trip
10 Amazing Australian Experiences
Slovenia: Castles, Wine and Snow
The Most Overrated Places in Southeast Asia
New York from a New Angle
275 Waterfalls Between Brazil and Argentina
The World Welcomes South Sudan
A few days ago, on 9 July, the world welcomed its 193rd country, South Sudan. This newest of nations is emerging from two decades of war between the mostly African South and Arab North. More than a quarter of a million people have died as a result.
Desperate for development, the new country faces more fighting as displaced people, disputed borders and grinding poverty continue to take their toll.
Today, South Sudan's chances for survival are better than average, although it's still one of the least developed countries on earth. Maternal mortality is the highest in the world; education of young girls is almost non-existent; starvation is rampant; illiteracy is widespread. At the same time, there is international goodwill towards the new country; it has oil wealth and farmland; and its people are tired of war.
Independence doesn't mean it will become a stable peaceful nation overnight, but at least it now has a chance, and is getting a fresh start in life.
To find out more about South Sudan:
The Official South Sudan Government website
South Sudan News Agency
Nicholas D Kristof: Welcome to South Sudan!
South Sudan Travel Advisories: UK Government
South Sudan Profile
Help Sudan International
Re-entry: how to fit back in at home when you've been on the road for a while
(c) 2007-2011, Leyla Giray. All rights reserved. Women on the Road News is published monthly. Reproduction of any material from this newsletter without written permission is prohibited.