It’s that famous Filipino tradition: buying pasalubong to let your family and friends know that you thought of them during the shortest of trips.
However, I have come to see how one mindless, almost expected gesture is more damaging than benefitting. It’s hard to let go of our learned instincts to buy key chains, ref magnets, delicacies, trinkets, and other exotic items. It’s easier to argue that it creates employment and livelihood for communities. The question is: At what cost?
Here is my attempt to convince you NOT to buy pasalubong the next time you travel:
#1 It’s an eye sore to most tourist spots
I get it. Filipinos are fond of going to the mall and shopping to the point that we’ve invented the word, “malling.”
When you go to the provinces, not all places have malls but tiangges. And dare I argue that many of them have destroyed public spaces in both the city and the provinces. Places such as footbridges, outside of churches, sidewalks, right outside or beside famous attractions have been clad by sellers of cheap and common goods. Suddenly, a serene place of worship, a viewing deck, or even the foot of a mountain becomes one big marketplace!
Not only are they an eyesore, but they actually hamper foot and vehicular traffic. Most pedestrians lose their precious sidewalks and end up walking along side cars because the spaces have been taken by shops. These stalls also make tourist spots more susceptible to activities such as pickpocketing, illegal settling, and begging. Are you really paying cheaply for those key chains?
#2 It’s not eco-friendly
Have you ever thought about what it took to produce just a piece of trinket?
Majority of goods being sold in souvenir shops have little use except for decorations. A lot of these goods branded locally (e.g. I <3 Davao) can be produced anywhere in the Philippines. It has little value and yet it is produced in massive quantities. Do you ever wonder how many key chains does one person really need? The harsh reality is, most of these trinkets go to the trash bin.
Let’s not forget that these souvenirs are made from wood, plastic, paper, or textile. Some of them are non-recyclable, and others are sourced from limited natural resources. The effort to manufacture, distribute, and sell all these tiny items are massive. Yet the are easily broken and disposable. Maintaining hundreds of shops in one tourist attraction consumes a lot of energy. Just imagine the amount of waste we produce for these tiny, nearly useless items.
#3 Your beneficiaries won’t appreciate most of them
If you give me another Singapore keychain, it would head straight to the trash.
Most of the trinkets being used as souvenirs are not even useable. You can get better key chains, pencil cases, t-shirts, or decorations anywhere. If you’re buying souvenirs for yourself, it would be understandable since it’s a sentimental way to remember your trip. But if you’re buying for someone else, what makes you think they want another key chain?
#4 It’s an unnecessary travel expense (time, money, bag space)
#5 Take nothing but pictures