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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shop “Local” on Small Business Saturday 11.23.11

This Saturday is Small Business Saturday. You are encouraged to frequent independent stores, restaurants and other merchants. I try to do this as much as possible, at home and on vacation. Why should you stay, dine or shop local instead of sticking with brand names you know? Let’s talk about “Small Business” in relationship to travel and you can see how it correlates to your hometown. 

What are the advantages? There are so many, it’s hard to list them all, but I’ll definitely give you the biggest ones. See how it can save you money and immerse you in a new culture. When faced with new names and new places, I get a jolt of excitement, because I love new things. I want to stay somewhere cool and unlike other places I’ve stayed, eat new, delicious food and shop in family-owned stores that have totally unique merchandise. I know I’m much more adventurous than a lot of other people, but I think if you make the commitment to travel to new and exotic places and want to have a whole new experience, cut your ties with your normal life and psyche yourself up for doing something different and potentially life-changing.

I bring my comforts of home with me (travel blanket, Kindle, iPod, netbook), so if I need to just get back in my own familiar mode for a bit, I totally can when I get back to my room at the end of the day. Not sure you’ll love the food in a foreign land? That’s okay. Nobody else is either. Throw some snacks from home in your bag that you know you enjoy. It also helps when you’re walking around getting all that exercise and start to get a bit hungry in between meals. This happens to me all the time on vacation and I tend to want to eat all day long, so keeping a stash of goodies in my day bag is a good idea wherever I am.

Shop Local (or small). I’m sure you hear this all the time where you live. Shop local and support your local farmers, other workers and economy.  Makes sense. Shopping where you live can be beneficial to yourself and others in your community. Well, the same goes for travel. Shop local grocers, farmers markets and family-owned shops. Not only will you be helping the local economy thrive, but you’re also going to get better deals on local foods, engage with the locals, find authentic merchandise that is likely handmade or, at the very least, made in the area and go home with memories of the quaint stores you shopped in, instead of memories of wandering the endless aisles of a Wal-Mart (or similar).

I can help you shop Small this Saturday, too. I consider myself a small business and if you want to get a copy (or three) of Shereen Travels Cheap, I’ll give you a code for 20% off! Purchase the book through my page on CreateSpace and use code BBGHV9F8 and purchase an ebook through Smashwords and use code CL73Z. I’ve already had several people I know buy two or more copies as holiday gifts, so I know travel is a great gift to give. These codes will be good through Cyber Monday (November 28).

Eat Local. With the same premise as shopping local, eating local is even better. When you go out to have a nice meal, ask the people who live in the area that you come in contact with where they recommend. They aren’t going to point your towards McDonalds (I hope). Likely, they will send you to one of their favorite dining destinations that has local and, likely, more affordable fare. When people come to Portland and ask where a nice place to have dinner is, I don’t point them immediately to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, even though it’s delicious. I can’t afford to eat there, though, so I give them directions to places that I love to eat at, like Seasons & Regions, and can do so without having to save for three weeks. Travelers always appreciate suggestions for restaurants that are tasty and they don’t have at home. And just like with shopping, the food will probably be much more authentic than those that you see on the main street that cater to tourists.

Eating local also ensures that you find new and different foods. Those restaurants that have the local cuisine are going to be less expensive than others that have to order their food from other regions. If you’re visiting Germany, you’re always going to get a better price on German cuisine than if you went hunting for an Italian eatery. It just makes sense. Check out TopTable for listings of restaurants in the area you’ll be traveling. You can read reviews, book a table and get big discounts. You can also check out TripAdvisor and find diner reviews on hundreds of thousands of eateries worldwide.

Stay Local. I know this sounds odd, since you’re obviously going to stay local, but the point is that many chain hotels are still owned by other countries. You can also save money by not staying at big brand hotels, because the smaller ones have really competitive rates. Plus, many are more “traditional” to where they are located and can offer more personal service. While you probably won’t get a hotel with conference rooms and a gym, how many times have you ever used those things on vacation anyway? They still offer breakfasts, WiFi, pools and many other amenities you’re used to and will actually take advantage of. 

The employees of any hotel should be able to give you tips on where to eat, play and shop, but locally-owned hotels can give you the inside scoop and don’t get kick-backs for their suggestions. (Not all hotels do this, but many brand name hotels often get comped in some way for pointing hotel guests to certain establishments. Make sure to ask hotel workers that don’t work the front desk or concierge for their ideas, because they don’t have any affiliations.)

Choose carefully, just as you would any other lodging. You aren’t going in blindly, though. There are so many review sites to read up on hotels worldwide that it’s almost impossible to not find any reviews of almost any accommodation. Ask your friends and extended social network where they stayed when they went and then check out sites like TripAdvisor, Venere and Travelocity for traveler’s comments.

So again, shop, eat and stay small and local for these awesome reasons:
·                     Help the economy
·                     Get to know the locals
·                     Find more authentic food and merchandise
·                     Get immersed in the culture
·                     Try new things and find new favorites
·                     Get out of your “comfort zone”
·                     Eat where the locals do
·                     And, as always, save money

Your local shops and eateries will thank you, as well as all those independent merchants on your trips and you'll find brand-new places, food and things you may love that you will return to when you make it back to that destination. Small Business Saturday is waiting for you. Make it a Small Business Year.

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