Year for the Planet Year 2 Week 14: Rejecting the Souvenir T-Shirt Industry

Year for the Planet is a campaign to make better choices for the planet. 2017 was when I fixed my eating habits. This year, 2018, is where I deal with my clothing choices.

When I travel, I always get a few episodes of déjà vu in the tourist-populated areas because of the typical souvenir shops who all hawk the same merchandise of T-shirts, sweaters, mugs, baseball caps, snow globes, magnets, flags of sports teams, and figurines. With the same typography, they exclaim what I always thought is a presumptive conclusion of “I love NYC/Barcelona/Vienna/Seoul/Singapore” etc. Sometimes they even drop the first words and then one is left with a bag that boasts to everyone where you’ve been in block letters. The stores who tried to at least personalize it according to the country leave us with half-hearted attempts at cleverness: “It’s Colombia not Columbia”, “There are No Kangaroos is Austria”, and other sentences that shows that you have leapt over the stereotypes of the country.

Traveling has a way of letting one’s guard down. We are fish out of water, or a bear that went out of hibernation and now finds itself in territory that is at once familiar and dangerous. And so we cave in to these easy traps of consumerist reassurance. It’s only 10 dollars, we tell ourselves. Might as well. I’ll never come back here again. What else have I got to show for my trip aside from the same photos everyone else took? Until you realize that most of these items were manufactured in the same factory town in China.

This is an invitation to stop supporting this endless cycle of what I like to call Generic Artifacts of Tourism, where we prevent future archeologists from excavating our urban apartments and find, alas, that we all bought the same crap. How unoriginal. Instead, let’s help offset the carbon footprint of our travels by supporting sustainable local businesses, removing trash when we find them, and urging enterprises to cut down on plastic waste and packaging. Instead of buying stuff, perhaps we can take a class to learn a local craft. Not only will we avoid excess baggage charges at the airport, but our minds will expand instead of our closets. And doesn’t that make for a better world indeed.

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