I’m not usually a big shopper, but I found the handcrafted textiles in the Santiago Atitlán market in Guatemala breathtaking, and I loved meeting the women who made them. One did her weaving on a portable backstrap loom just as her foremothers did for 2,500 years. Bargaining is customary in Guatemala, and the occasional haggle gave me a chance to practice my rusty Spanish — but I wasn’t a hard sell. Compared with most Guatemalans, I was wealthy; paying their asking price showed the women that I valued their artistry.
Money is always part of the travel equation, and Jeff Greenwald, cofounder and director of EthicalTraveler.org, notes that bargaining is best done with maximum respect for the seller as well as for the region’s economic realities. “The final transaction should leave both buyer and seller satisfied and pleased,” he says. “It’s not a bargain if either person feels exploited, diminished, or ripped off.”
Greenwald advises familiarizing yourself with the local currency and the current exchange rate before you visit. (And if there’s wireless service at your destination, you can check daily exchange rates on your phone.)
Bargaining is best done with maximum respect for the seller as well as for the region’s economic realities.
Often, what sounds like a giant sum in another currency may not be all that much in dollars. Think twice before haggling over an amount that won’t make a difference in your life but might make a difference in someone else’s.
Show your support by choosing locally owned hotels, shops, and restaurants. Direct your tourist dollars into the community rather than into an international bank account; you’ll be more likely to meet, converse with, and possibly befriend a local person than you would be at a chain hotel or restaurant. Locals tend to have better suggestions for things to see, eat, and do as well.
If you do stay at a chain hotel, you can help sustain local economies by choosing one that plays a positive role in its community. Look for a statement of corporate social responsibility on the website, or ask a manager how the company gives back. If its efforts sound legitimate (such as hosting programs that support local schools or conservation efforts), affirm the company and encourage it to do more. Customer feedback lets companies know their commitments — or lack of them — are being noticed.
The question of whether to stay at a short-term rental, like an Airbnb, is a tricky one. An abundance of short-term rentals in one location can drive up housing costs by depleting the amount of housing available to locals. Many people who live in popular destinations also balk at having a rotating cast of visitors next door instead of a reliable set of neighbors. This changes the character of a community.
On the flip side, vacation rentals offer landowning locals a chance to profit from the tourist economy, and they can be more affordable than hotels. If you end up at a short-term rental, direct some of your tourist dollars into other local businesses.
This was excerpted from “5 Strategies for Becoming a More Conscious Traveler” which was published in Experience Life.