I’m a big believer in buying local at home, so buying local while traveling shouldn’t be a big change for me. I’m assuming most of these same principles carry over.
Know both ways to buy local
Locally produced goods have all kinds of benefits. Not only do they support local makers economically, but they’re also more environmentally friendly because they don’t use up fossil fuels traveling halfway around the world. As an added bonus, locally made products are often higher quality than imitations sold elsewhere. For example, Italian leather is better bought in Florence than in Venice, while the opposite is true of Italian glass.
But if for some reason, you can’t buy something locally produced, the next best option is to buy it from a business that is locally owned. This is largely how I handle my groceries at home. If I need something that isn’t grown or farmed in central Virginia, like tea, I typically buy it from a locally owned market rather than a large chain supermarket.
Research foreign chains
Chains and franchises vary from country to country, so just because you haven’t heard of a particular store, doesn’t mean it’s a mom-and-pop operation. When I did my college study abroad program in England, many of my classmates and I were experiencing places like Caffe Nero and Pret a Manger for the first time, but that didn’t mean those vendors were unique to Bath. Granted, authenticity isn’t black and white, and eating at a chain that’s new to you can still be a way to experience life as a local. But eating or shopping exclusively at chains also doesn’t support local economies as much as spreading some of that wealth to truly local businesses. If supporting small businesses is a high priority, look for guidebooks that include at least a sidebar on your destination’s common chain stores and restaurants, and don’t risk stumbling into a chain by accident.
Use cash instead of credit cards
Credit card processing fees can eat up a lot of a small business’s profit, even in the U.S. In a developing economy, those fees could be even more devastating. Even if a store does accept credit cards, consider paying in cash anyway, so they can keep more of the profits. Or, if you pay with a credit card in a restaurant, leave a cash tip. Having a back-up supply of both foreign currency and American dollars is important for an emergency fund anyway. Add a little extra to the stash to ensure the local businesses you support can benefit as much as possible from that support.