Free up your time for actual vacationing and reduce your environmental footprint by greening your souvenir and vacation shopping habits.
If you are like most people, you probably have between two to four weeks to go on vacation each year. That is not a lot of time for connecting with your family and friends, seeing new sights, revisiting favorite places, relaxing, and refreshing your spirit.
So, why would you or I spend our vacation time shopping?
I posit that consumerism is so entrenched in our society that we will use our limited and precious vacation time for shopping without really thinking about it.
Nowadays, even rural areas and national parks have gift shops and visitor centers so we can shop even while we are “getting away from it all.”
Besides using up our vacation time, buying at the American or Western level is using up the planet’s resources at a faster clip than Earth can renew them while wreaking environmental havoc on people and other living things.
After a recent trip to Oregon with two long-time friends, I decided to evaluate my souvenir and vacation shopping on that trip. Below is a synopsis of my findings. At the end of the post, you will have an opportunity to evaluate your own souvenir and vacation shopping habits.
My Souvenir and Vacation Shopping Evaluation
Interestingly, at least to me, it was non-souvenir shopping that tripped me up the most.
My ideal souvenir is a refrigerator magnet so I was on the lookout for one with a quilt on it at the Sisters outdoor quilt show. I did not find one, but I did spot and buy a lovely quilted postcard donated by a quilter for a Sisters High School scholarship fundraiser.
I found my souvenir refrigerator magnet in the Crater Lake National Park visitor center. It has a beautiful photo of the deep blue almost purple colored Crater Lake. Showing some restraint, I did not buy a Christmas tree ornament, jigsaw puzzle (I love puzzles), coffee mug, a book about Crater Lake, or a hat I eyed for a while as I stood in the checkout line.
Near the end of our trip, while we were walking through a Chinese garden in Portland, we came across a young woman playing a Chinese zither. Her music was captivating. I saw she had CD’s for sale and I snapped one up.
On a sweltering day in the upper 80s, my friends and I decided to visit a lavender farm. The couple who own the farm shared their knowledge about lavender freely and offered us ice-cold lemonade and melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies.
I was not interested in buying a lavender item in their small store, but I felt obligated somehow to buy something from these delightful people. Also influencing me was my desire to support small and local businesses. Why did I feel that just thanking them as we were leaving would be inadequate?
In the end, I purchased a small metal tin of tea with lavender justifying to myself that it was consumable.
This is just one example of the millions of purchase transactions occurring at any given moment where the buyer does not really want and/or need the item but is purchasing it out of a sense of obligation either to the seller or to a person they intend to give it to.
Quilting, Book, and Cross-Stitch Stores
One of my friends is a quilter and the three of us like reading and cross-stitching so we often build browsing at quilting, book, and cross-stitch stores into our vacation plans.
In the two quilting stores we visited, I admired the fabrics, tools, and sample quilts with no desire to buy anything, whew.
Unfortunately, I began a book-buying binge in Sisters with the purchase of a used book at a library sale and a new book signed by a local author who was signing copies of her books in a bookstore. I purchased four used books in Corvallis and eight more in Portland.
Fourteen books would not fit in my luggage so I mailed them to myself from a post office in Eugene before I boarded the train to come home. (The books never made it and seem to have disappeared at the Seattle distribution center.)
I am a book lover so by not establishing a self-imposed limit on book purchases up front and then visiting multiple bookstores, I unintentionally set myself up for excessive book buying.
We visited two cross-stitch stores during our trip where I bought materials for two projects and a few embellishments (I could not resist the happy face buttons).
The weird thing is that I actually prefer finishing one cross-stitch project before buying materials and starting a new one. So, how did I end up with more projects? I think it was partly because, again, the store owners were friendly, helpful, and small business owners.
Another and more interesting factor is that many cross-stitch enthusiasts, including my two friends, routinely have multiple projects going at the same time so even though no one told me I am a loser for doing one project at I time, I allowed this to influence me and purchased supplies for projects I am not ready to start yet.
Update: Months later, I decided to mail the excess cross-stitch project materials back to the store with a note telling the owner I did not want a refund and I would appreciate it if she would give them to a cross-stitch enthusiast on a tight budget, which she did.
The Bottom Line
Evaluating my purchases and thinking about why I made them was an eye-opening experience. The bottom line for me is that as a person trying to live happily with fewer possessions, I sure bought a lot of stuff on my vacation.
Consumerism is a powerful force that is difficult to overcome, even for a committed environmentalist like me.
Humans excel at justifying our actions and I even wrote a whole paragraph justifying my purchases, like how I was planning on donating the books to the library after I read them. I later deleted that paragraph. The thing is regardless of how much pleasure you or I might take in the stuff we buy on vacation (or any other time), we cannot shop our way to a sustainable world. Changing our relationship with stuff and shopping less is critical to maintaining a habitable planet now and in the future.
Prior to my next vacation, I intend to set shopping limits for myself before I even leave my house.
Now, it is your turn to evaluate your souvenir and vacation shopping habits.
Evaluate Your Souvenir and Vacation Shopping Habits
Take a moment to think back over your most recent vacation and ask yourself the following questions.
- What did you buy for yourself and why?
- Did you buy gifts for people back home and if so what and why?
- Was most of your shopping for souvenirs or non-souvenirs (e.g. art, books, wine)?
- How much time did you spend shopping?
- Did you spend more money than you felt comfortable spending?
- Are you wearing, using, or otherwise enjoying the items you bought?
- Which items, if any, ended up in the trash, back of a closet, or in a charity box?
- Did you eat and drink the edible products you purchased and brought home?
- Were your traveling companions enthusiastic about shopping?
- What actions, if any, do you plan to take to curtail souvenir and vacation shopping on your next trip?
Now, imagine spending your next vacation actually vacationing.
Featured Image at Top: Souvenir Store in New York, NY with an ATM Sign next to a Replica of the Statue of Liberty (hmmm) – Photo Credit iStock/anouchka
- Carbon Offsets – Air Travel
- Green Travel – Aboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight Train
- Green Travel – Airport Water Bottle Empty and Refill Stations
- Green Travel – Take the Bus
- Green Travel – Take the Train
- Not So Green Vacation
- Take a Green Vacation – Go Camping
- Vacation – Let’s Take Our Green Habits with Us
- Earth Overshoot Day 2017 is August 2, the earliest date since ecological overshoot began in the early 1970s, 06/27/17, Global Footprint Network
- Gift, novelty, and souvenir store sales in the United States from 1992 to 2015 (in billion U.S. dollars), Statista
- Human Consumption of Earth’s Natural Resources Has Tripled in 40 Years, by Alex Kirby, Climate News Network, 07/25/16
- We’ve Already Used Up Earth’s Resources For 2016 — And It’s Only August, by Dominique Mosbergen, Huffington Post, 08/08/16
- We would need 1.7 Earths to make our consumption sustainable, by Denise Lu, The Washington Post, 05/04/17