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Souvenir Shopping in Africa

Souvenir Buying Tips

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While shopping may not be the main reason you visit Africa, it will certainly be one of the pleasures you experience when you get there. You'll love getting lost in Cairo's bazaars while searching for the perfect copper jug or bartering your old pair of Nike's for Zulu beadwork in a flea market in Cape Town. Here are some tips to make the most of your souvenir shopping:

Make Sure It's Legal

Avoid buying any souvenirs made of ivory, animal furs/hides, tortoise shell, coral, indigenous hardwoods or any other dubious materials that you believe could harm the flora or fauna of the country you are visiting. The last thing you want to do is encourage poaching or deforestation simply because that carved ebony chair or the elephant foot waste paper basket would look wonderful in your living room back home. It is also illegal to buy these goods and customs will simply take them from you and probably give you a hefty fine. For more information on what is legal and what isn't, see the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

The same moral and legal rules apply to buying antiquities. There's a reason the tombs you visit in Egypt are by and large empty of artifacts - they've been looted and sold to tourists for centuries. In fact, you probably enjoy some of them at your museums back home! There are plenty of replicas available, some very good, so make sure you are not buying the 'real thing'.

Luggage Restrictions

When you're flying internationally, the luggage restrictions per person are adhered to much more strictly than they are on a domestic flight within the US. Forty-four pounds (20kg's) is the limit (for those flying economy class) and hand luggage should be no more than a small bag. Just something to think about when you are considering purchasing a 6 foot carving of a giraffe. If you are buying a lot, ship it home.

Tips on Bargaining

Bargaining is commonplace throughout Africa, especially for souvenirs and curios sold in markets, medinas, bazaars and souqs.
  • Halve the first asking price and start from there.
  • Stay polite and have a sense of humor while bargaining, it is supposed to be fun.
  • Walking away is a good way to get the price down quickly.
  • Convert the asking price into your own currency before you end up haggling like crazy over what turns out to be a few pennies.
  • Pay what you think the item is worth and don't worry too much if others have paid less.
  • If the price is too high or you don't want an item just leave, there will be plenty more opportunities just around the corner.

Bartering

In many African countries you can barter for souvenirs, it is more common in sub-Saharan Africa. The most sought after items are usually those with a brand-name: sneakers, jeans, baseball hats, that kind of thing. Bartering your hiking boots for a wonderful wooden carving is a great way to lighten and brighten up your luggage.

My Favorite Souvenirs

My personal favorite souvenirs are those made from recycled cans, plastic bags, wire, that kind of thing. Have a look at some Recycled Art I picked up on a recent trip to South Africa.

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