Why do we travel? To meet people, explore culture, and see the other side of the world, right??
So, why shop local while traveling?
Meet the locals. Going into a small family owned coffee shop, a tiny turkish restaurant on the second floor of an apartment building, a tiny corner book store, or staying with a local are all opportunities to meet and chat with locals. Meeting locals can really change an opinion of a place and let you experience a bit more than the average tourist. While in Istanbul, Turkey, my travel companions and I were searching for a restaurant (one that fit our budget anyways, we travel cheap). Eventually, we stumbled across a tiny restaurant on the second floor of an apartment building. At first we weren’t quite sure about it, but upon entrance we were greeted with a smile and a generous local who was very excited to see us. The language barrier was difficult, but he was very generous and kind. Tea was even on the house, as he sat down and chatted with us.
Support the locals. Shopping local isn’t only beneficial for you, the traveler. It is also beneficial for those on the selling end. Many small businesses get bought out by larger corporations, such as McDonalds, Starbucks, or Holiday Inn. All of these originally American companies have spread to other countries, and supporting these companies as opposed to local companies can hurt the small businesses that do not have the “brand name.” In general, I think it is best to support the local people as opposed to large corporations, and this shouldn’t change while traveling.
Explore and understand culture. When abroad, go into a local coffee shop, not Starbucks. Try out a market with homemade dishes instead of McDonalds. While in many cases chain restaurants adapt to the country in which they are in, they still maintain a certain atmosphere. Each McDonalds is set up the same way – a counter, the customer waits for food, and then grabs a table at one of the many in the restaurant. Instead, go to a local restaurant that serves you the way a restaurant in that culture would. In Spain, one never orders coffee to go. It is a social custom to sit down and chat over coffee, so why bother getting it togo from Starbucks?
Stay with a Local. Check out airbnb.com. You can a room in a house or whole apartments from locals. It is a great way to get advise on where the locals hang out. In Paris, we stayed in an airbnb apartment in the heart of downtown. In Puerto Rico, we stayed in a room above a local’s house for a cheap rate. She even brought us to the local market one morning. Talking to the locals can really help when deciding what to see in a city. They can guide you to the real attractions, best restaurants, and local hang outs. Again, it also financially helps out the local people as opposed to large corporations. Another site to check out is couch surfing.org, a site that sets you up with local couches to stay at free of charge.
Putting money back into the community. By shopping local, about 30% more goes back into the community than if shopping at corporations. By shopping local we can help communities to stay the way they are, keep their culture, and continue to be enjoyed by future travelers. The build up in corporations in an area can really change a place. It was so nice to go to the island of Vieques (off of Puerto Rico) and see tiny local restaurants and bars but nothing corporate. But, in many countries it doesn’t even feel like I have left home because of all the Starbucks, McDonalds, Walmarts, etc. I would much rather check out a unique store, restaurant, or bar while traveling.
To be honest:
While meeting locals and becoming good friends with them has many great things about it, there is always the part that sucks and that is saying goodbye. The only thing that reassures me when saying goodbye to good friends from abroad is the possibility that I may see them again, even if it isn’t any time soon. This month I have had two international friends stay with me, one from Spain and one from Britain. I have also traveled back to the city in which I studied abroad in and visited many friends in Oregon. The fact is that the world is getting smaller, and it is becoming much easier to stay in contact with friends from around the world – Skype is basically my best friend.