Sustainable Travel – Buying Local Produce and Local Products. Anat, a former non-profit collective in Syria. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Sustainable Travel – Buying Local Produce and Local Products

This post may contain paid links. If you make a purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission.

Sustainable travel will be a big focus of our grand tour of the world this year. Whenever we settle into a place we’ll be buying local produce and local products wherever we go. We want to inspire you to do the same on your travels.

As we’ve travelled the globe over the past few years we’ve noticed an increasing trend for markets around the world to all sell the same trashy manufactured stuff – a real blight for those who believe in sustainable travel and buying local.

From Jordan to Spain and Bangkok to Bahrain the same cheap, mass-produced souvenirs, plastic trinkets and machine-made textiles and carpets keep turning up.

We’ve been seeing everything from Kashmiri ‘pashminas’ made in Korea to ‘local’ tribal jewellery sold right across the Asia and the Middle East that comes from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Conversely, the amount of authentic, locally produced handicrafts and other products are in serious decline, or are simply finding it hard to find buyers.

In recent months, we revisited a handful of markets across the Middle East and in Thailand that once sold largely locally-made goods that are now selling tacky foreign-made ornaments that have nothing to do with the country or culture where they’re being sold. In Petra, Jordan, for instance, most of the stalls that are scattered about the site are selling junk from China.

While we find it mind-boggling that people buy this stuff, we can only assume that most people don’t know where the things are coming from and are trusting the vendors who tell them it is made locally. It’s disheartening to know that traditional crafts are dying in the process, as much as it is to know that this rubbish is being transported halfway around the globe.

We’ve persistently promoted locally-made products in the writing and photography we’ve done over the years, writing about everything from home-grown specialty food products, such as ‘nduja, the fiery sausage from Calabria, Italy, to bespoke, handmade leather bags in Rome, to handcrafted musical instruments such as the oud (Arabic lute) and saz (a Turkish instrument) and their makers in Cairo and Istanbul.

One example of the kind of projects we love to discover and support is Anat,* a non-profit collective in Syria, established and operated by a Palestinian-German family, with a workshop in the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, that markets and sells beautiful embroidered products made by women in villages across Syria (see the photos above).

This year, we will continue to seek out and identify unique, authentic, locally-produced goods, both traditional and modern, from food and wine, handicrafts and textiles, to clothes and accessories, and highlight these here on Grantourismo. We’ll visit the craftspeople and artisans who make them and talk to the people keeping their traditions and culture alive.

Is there really anyone out there who is happy to see a stand in a traditional market selling knock-off Crocs or fake designer sunglasses, where once there were locally made leather sandals and handcrafted bags?

Are we the only people who get annoyed about seeing unplayable Chinese-made guitars and Indian knick-knacks for sale in the souqs of Jerusalem? We’d love to know what you think.

And if you know of some ‘must-have’ locally-made handicrafts, artisanal foods and wines, or other authentic goods that you want us to report on here, please let us know in the comments below.

You might also like our post on Travelling Responsibly: How to Shop Ethically and Sustainably.

*Sadly, Anat no longer exists. You can read more about the story of Anat and about its tragic demise here.


Lara Dunston Patreon


Photo of author
A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

9 thoughts on “Sustainable Travel – Buying Local Produce and Local Products”

  1. Here I am, to agree with you once again on your point of view on rubbish sold in markets around the world. I had the same feeling many times and I as well get pretty annoyed when I can’t find anything “authentic” in a place I expected more genuine. You can tell right away if something tells a story or not and I like the first kind of object. In fact, I adorned our house in Sardinia with lots of things that have a story and this story is perceived by whoever gets to visit our place. Talking about something unique and authentic in Sardinia, you must try the “Pecorino Sardo” and all the other goat cheese you’ll find on your journey there! They are absolutely fabuolus. My wife and I often buy a log of freshly made Italian bread, half Pecorino cheese, then go to the beach and have it for lunch! What a treat! :-)

  2. I am sure you know I have a huge list of places for you to go!
    I will be sending them to you as you go along. Happy travel!

  3. I have also noted the paucity of truly local artisanal goods in the world’s markets.

    My solution has been to commission pieces of hand-painted art from signboard artists in Nepal. Over 1400 pieces have been commissioned to date, making a real difference to my artists and their lifestyle.

    If you’d like to see more about this project, go to or to my blog at Any mention in your fine blog would be appreciated.

    Someone once asked the best way to order a Nepal Art Dog and I say ‘go to Nepal, walk down the street, look and find a signboard shop, give them your pet’s picture, give a third to a half advance (trust me on that — otherwise it’s party time — they are artists after all), and go trekking, ride an elephant, do a yoga retreat. When you return a week or two later, enjoy your very own Danger Dog.’

    This would work in any country. There are artists everywhere, go to their studios and galleries and buy their art directly. We need to support them. I like Folk Art, but buy and promote what you like.

    By the way, your up-coming year-long adventure sounds stunning. Have fun!


  4. great post. especially at ankor wat i couldn’t help but wonder where in the world this giant warehouse of mass-produced cheap touristy crap was! everyone throughout the grounds sold the exact same thing! i wish there was a way to educate locals that we don’t always want what they think we want. maybe with time there will be a shift back to the “handmade” in the way that it’s getting revived in the US (especially through things like etsy and blogs – seeing one person do it, and the ideas spread).


  5. Michelle – I don’t think we got around to telling you how much we love what you’re doing! I think we’ll have to get one of those pieces commissioned ourselves at some stage – they’re wonderful – and what a great initiative! We think it’s a terrific model – good on you!

    Anne – we definitely think there will be a shift back to the handmade, but totally agree that it generally needs a few people to take the lead, and then others will follow.

  6. I have grown very tired of buying local souvenirs only to find a sticker with “Made in China” on the inside. Nowadays I ask people selling at local markets for details about how the product was made–if they are vague and aren’t working on a product, I don’t buy it. I also look for social enterprises/sustainable and ethical fashion companies who provide plenty of information online or in their stores about preserving traditional artisan work and the process of their manufacturing. I’ve become leery of purchasing from mass markets in recent years.

    How do you find local artisans and products?

  7. I completely agree, Brooke, and that’s a great tip to ask questions.

    I have been to so many markets around the world that I have a pretty good idea as to what’s made where and can now differentiate between a puppet made in Indonesia and one made in Myanmar. I also like to think I have a pretty good eye for detail and can distinguish between manufactured/machine-made and handmade/handcrafted products, between, say, handwoven silk and a close imitation.

    Once I find an artisanal producer of some sort, whether it’s a weaver or carver, a master jeweller or shoe-maker, I try to talk to them and not only ask about their own work but also the state of their craft scene in their town/city and if they know of other artisans working in the same area. People who care about the handmade and handcrafted tend to know others who also care about these wonderful old ways of making things. What about you?

  8. I hadn’t thought of asking about other artisans in town, that’s a great question to ask because they often have connections to one another. As a former costumer, I can recall knowing of stores and other artisans in town who knew and helped one another.

    Although I don’t know if I could see the difference between hand-woven and machine woven, I do notice details about certain crafts like millinery and some sewing details. I can definitely tell what has been hand sewn versus machine sewn and if the artisan is honest, there’s a certain level of quality to what they do, versus something that was rushed in a factory. I also try to see how far along an artisan is in the process. After assisting artisans who weave straw in Peru, I can tell if someone is honest about the work they do having seen the process. If the seller is just putting a bow or ribbon band around the hat, they’re working at the end of process, not actually weaving and shaping the straw to make the hat.

    I’ve also noticed, when I ask a seller about who made the hat or the process and they divert away from the question by trying to sell me something else, they probably didn’t make it. If they seem nervous, there’s something not quite right.

Leave a comment