007 · Selling Local Crafts While Traveling

Selling exotic items found in small local markets can be a great way to finance your travels or simply make some extra money. Many people are already doing this with varying degrees of success. Of course, this requires some practice because finding good items to sell, knowing how to negotiate prices, learning to market them, and other aspects take some time to master. The goal of this article is to help you get started quickly so you can turn your discoveries into a viable source of income.

What’s the idea?

I’ve always loved traveling and been curious about how other travelers manage to be nomadic while earning enough money to live and travel. A few years ago, while I was in the state of Tamil Nadu (South India), I met a German named Marco who loved browsing old local markets to find unique items.

Although he sometimes bought items for his personal collection, most were meant to be sold online (via eBay and his small online store). His income varied, but some months he made very comfortable profits, enough to continue his 10-month journey through India on his brand-new Royal Enfield.

His method was simple: He shipped all the heavy items by containers to Europe, while light and small items were sold directly on eBay. When I met him, he was negotiating the purchase of a half-meter-high Ganesh (the elephant-headed Hindu god) statue with one of the famous stone carvers of Mahäbalipuram.

Naturally, this might not be an activity that generates income right from the start. You may need time to know what sells and what doesn’t, learn the right buying and selling prices, master negotiation, find the best “spots” to discover rare gems, get used to selling sites, etc. But it can quickly become profitable, especially if you already have a knack for sales.

Sculpture store in Mahäbalipuram, India. Sculpture store in Mahäbalipuram, India. Photo by Karty JazZ on Wikimedia Commons

Where to Find Items to Sell?

Finding interesting items to sell starts with knowing where to look. Local markets are often gold mines for unique artisanal items. During your travels, explore street markets, bazaars, and craft fairs. These places are brimming with potential treasures made by local artisans who carry on centuries-old traditions.

Artisan villages are also places to prioritize. In many countries around the world, there are villages where residents specialize in a type of craft, such as pottery, weaving, or stone carving like in Mahäbalipuram. By visiting these villages, you will find unique items and also have the opportunity to see the artisans at work. This firsthand experience will help you explain the manufacturing process to your customers.

Then there are cultural events and festivals as well. These typically gather artisans from different regions, offering a diversity of items you won’t necessarily find elsewhere. Do some research before you arrive.

Finally, don’t hesitate to explore small shops and local galleries, even in more touristy areas. Although often more expensive, these places offer quality pieces and can be good indicators of what sells well. By talking to the shop owners, you can also get valuable information on current trends, customer preferences, and maybe even the addresses of their suppliers (be very diplomatic 😉).

How to Choose Items to Sell?

First, focus on items that tell a story. Buyers are often attracted to pieces that have cultural or historical significance. For example, a hand-carved Quetzalcóatl statue (the Inca feathered serpent god) or a traditional Berber rug woven with specific patterns can spark interest thanks to their authenticity and story.

But it’s not the only option. You can also choose more “ordinary” and unremarkable items if they hold particular interest for a niche market. For example, costume jewelry made from recycled materials or handmade fashion accessories can appeal to an environmentally conscious clientele.

Likewise, practical items like jute handbags or olive wood kitchen utensils can find buyers among those looking for simple yet functional and aesthetic products. The key is to understand what your target customers are looking for and tailor your products to match accordingly.

Another option is modern and local artworks that you can’t find anywhere else. Paintings or sculptures by emerging artists can attract customers looking for unique and original pieces. For example, a contemporary painting by a local artist in Bali or a modern metal sculpture by an artisan in Buenos Aires can become prized decoration pieces. By offering this type of item, you give your customers the chance to acquire exclusive works while supporting local artists.

Other Criteria

It’s also important to assess the quality of the items. Make sure each piece is carefully crafted, as customers are willing to pay more for superior quality. Carefully examine the materials used and the finish of the products. For example, with artisanal jewelry, check the sturdiness of the clasps and the purity of the metals.

Also, consider the size and weight of the items. Light and compact items are easier and cheaper to ship, which can increase your profit margins. Avoid overly fragile or bulky items that could pose logistical problems. In the case of artworks, this will be complicated, so take all necessary precautions to ensure the journey goes smoothly.

Finally, consider market trends. Research online sales platforms to see what types of crafts are popular. Use tools like Google Trends or the “best sellers” sections on sites like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy to identify in-demand products. Adapt your selection based on current consumer preferences while staying true to the authenticity and quality of the items.

Respect Local Regulations!

Always pay close attention to local export laws (customs fees, religious relics, precious stones, archaeological items, etc.)! Exporting certain items is strictly regulated, and the penalties for violators can be severe. It would be a shame to end up in prison for trafficking in ancient art or dealing in counterfeit goods. Seriously, make sure to do your research! Also, avoid selling perishable goods (food) or “exotic” medicines — you can probably guess why.

How to Negotiate the Purchase of Your Items?

When buying artisanal items to resell, negotiation is an essential skill to master as quickly as possible. Good negotiation can not only get you lower prices but also help build positive relationships with local artisans, which can be beneficial for future purchases.

Here are some negotiation strategies to help you get the best deals:

  • Research beforehand to know the average prices of similar items.
  • Show interest in the craftsmanship and ask questions about how the items are made.
  • Always start with a lower offer than what you’re willing to pay.
  • Be ready to walk away if the price isn’t right; often, sellers will come back with a better offer.
  • Use silence as a negotiation tool; it can put pressure on the seller.
  • Be respectful and friendly; building good rapport can positively influence the negotiation.
  • Negotiate in groups if possible; it can give the impression of greater purchasing power.
  • Make bulk purchases to get additional discounts.
  • Pay in cash for flexibility and additional discounts.

But be cautious because, although negotiation is a common practice, especially in many Asian and African countries, it’s important to know when to stop and accept a good deal. I’ve witnessed some negotiations that went too far, with a seller starting to lose their temper because buyers never found the price low enough.

There is a downside to such “hardcore” negotiation. More and more sellers are raising their prices to have more room for maneuver as soon as they see tourists approaching. Moreover, an overly aggressive negotiation can be seen as insulting, which can harm the relationship you’re trying to build. Therefore, strive to find a balance between getting a good price and maintaining a positive and respectful interaction. The goal is to reach an agreement that satisfies both parties.

A cargo ship filled with containers in a commercial port Cargo shipments take much longer, but are often more economical and safer for fragile goods or large quantities.

How to Ship Items Safely?

Depending on the circumstances, it might be more advantageous to ship your products by cargo ship using containers, even if they’re only partially filled, rather than individually or in small packages. This method is more economical for heavy or bulky items or for smaller ones bought in large quantities and offers additional protection against damage.

To do this, you need to find an agency specialized in maritime logistics that can handle the entire process for you. These freight forwarding agencies can be found through online searches based on the country of shipment or recommendations from other sellers.

Whether you choose container shipping or traditional postal services (UPS, DHL, FedEx, etc.), you must prepare your items for shipment. Choose packaging suitable for each type of product and use protective materials like bubble wrap, foam, or packing peanuts.

For fragile items, opt for rigid boxes and ensure the items are securely cushioned inside. Clearly label each package with the necessary information, such as the recipient’s address and handling instructions. Use “fragile” labels when necessary and make sure the barcodes are visible to facilitate tracking.

Ensure you opt for reliable and experienced international shippers, compare the rates and services offered by different companies, and don’t hesitate to take out insurance to cover any potential damages or losses during transport.

Finally, closely monitor each shipment using the tracking tools provided by the carrier. Inform your customers of the estimated delivery times and provide them with a tracking number so they can track their package in real-time. Transparent and proactive communication can greatly enhance the customer experience.

Ship to Yourself or Directly to the Customer?

A crucial question to consider before shipping is whether it’s better to ship directly to the customer or to a storage location near you. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages.

Shipping directly to the customer can reduce delivery times and storage costs. This method is particularly useful for light and compact items. However, it requires rigorous management of shipments to avoid errors and delays. Additionally, international shipping can be complicated by customs duties and import regulations.

On the other hand, shipping your items to a storage location near you, or any other strategic location, offers greater flexibility and better control over inventory. This method also allows you to group shipments and reduce bulk transportation costs. It also facilitates the management of returns and exchanges, which can improve customer satisfaction. However, it can incur additional costs for storage and national transportation. It’s up to you to decide.

How to Manage Taxes and Customs Duties?

Managing taxes and customs duties might not be the most exciting part of the journey, but it’s necessary. Start by learning about the customs regulations of the destination country, as they can vary greatly. Consult the official websites of the customs authorities to get precise information on the applicable duty rates and taxes for your products.

Next, make sure to accurately declare the value and nature of your items on the customs forms. Precise declarations can avoid delays or penalties. It’s often useful to work with a freight forwarder or customs broker to complete these formalities correctly and thoroughly.

Finally, inform your customers of the potential additional costs related to customs duties and taxes. Be transparent about who is responsible for these fees to avoid misunderstandings. Use online tools like customs duty calculators to estimate these costs in advance and include them in your prices if necessary.

How to Sell Your Items?

There are many ways to sell your products online, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the most reliable and effective methods:

  • Online Sales Platforms: Platforms like Etsy, Amazon, Facebook Marketplace and eBay are popular choices for selling craft items or otherwise. They offer great visibility thanks to their large customer base, but commissions and other selling fees can be high.
  • E-commerce Store: Having your own online store gives you full control over your brand and marketing strategy. Use tools like Shopify or WooCommerce (a WordPress plugin) to create a professional online store. Read this article for more information.
  • Social Networks: Social networks like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are great ways to promote your items and engage with your audience. Use paid ads and sponsored posts to reach a wider audience.

Besides selling directly to consumers, you can also consider wholesaling your items to resellers. If you have enough inventory, this option can allow you to make larger and more regular sales. Contact local shops, specialized online stores, and chain stores to offer your products as a wholesaler. This strategy can significantly expand your market and stabilize your income.

Shopify online store administration interface Shopify offers a clear and comprehensive interface for creating an online store quickly, and managing it efficiently on a day-to-day basis.

Promoting Your Products Online

Listing your products on your own store or sales platforms might not be enough to guarantee their success. To attract the attention of potential customers and increase your sales, you will need to implement an effective online promotion strategy.

To help you do this, digital marketing includes various sales techniques that you could implement, some more easily than others. Using social media to share photos of your products, creating quality content like blog posts or videos, and optimizing your site for search engine optimization (SEO) are just a few among others.

It’s a vast subject with much to discuss. That’s why I invite you to read my “Beginner’s Complete Guide to Digital Marketing Strategy.” You will find all the information you need to promote your products.

Tips and Tricks

Finally, here is a list of practical tips to help you maximize your chances of success and overcome the challenges you might encounter along the way.

  • Inventory Management: Create a detailed inventory of your products with descriptions, photos, and prices. This will be especially useful if you have large stocks of a wide variety of items. Use inventory management software to track your items in real-time and avoid stockouts.
  • Local Communication: The global trade language is generally English, but if you or the seller don’t speak a common language, use translation apps like Deepl or Google Translate to communicate smoothly and effectively. Communication is key in this kind of business.
  • Exclusive Partnerships: Negotiate partnerships with artisans to get exclusive or limited-edition items, which can attract more customers and justify higher prices.
  • Product Customization: Offer customization options for certain items, such as engravings or specific colors, to add a unique and personal touch to your products.
  • Storytelling: Share stories and photos of the artisans and places where you found your items on your social media and website to create an emotional connection with your customers. Customers love authentic stories, especially when they are touching, funny, or surprising.
  • Community Recommendations: Use travel forums and Facebook groups to get recommendations on the best markets and local artisans. These communities can also provide other valuable information and useful contacts.
  • Loyalty Program: Set up a loyalty or rewards system to encourage repeat purchases and retain your customers. For example, offer a discount or a free item after a certain number of purchases.
  • Video Content: Create short videos showing the process of making the items or visits to local markets. These videos can be shared on YouTube or social media to attract more engagement and visibility.
  • Repair Kits: Prepare repair kits for fragile items like jewelry so that your customers can easily repair minor damages themselves. This can improve their satisfaction and reduce returns.
  • Customer Engagement: Maintain regular contact with your customers through newsletters, sharing news about your travels, new products, and special promotions. This helps keep your audience engaged and informed.

Conclusion

Successfully selling local crafts or other types of products you find during your travels rests on certain fundamental pillars: good preparation, effective communication, and rigorous management of stocks and shipments. By using online sales platforms, social media, and adopting good business practices, you have the opportunity to create a very thriving business. Your success depends on your ability to stay flexible, understand your customers’ needs, and offer quality products, preferably with a compelling and authentic backstory.

With a growing demand for unique and exotic products, this market has promising prospects ahead. However, it’s essential to stay informed about market trends and continue innovating to meet your customers’ expectations. By incorporating digital marketing techniques and maintaining a trusting relationship with your suppliers and customers, you can ensure the long-term sustainability of your business.

What do you think of this idea? What motivates or holds you back from starting such an activity? Do you have experiences to share about buying and selling local crafts? What challenges do you anticipate in this type of business? Your comments and questions are welcome!

EcoTips

Environmental and climate change issues are more than ever at the heart of the concerns of this 21st century, which is why I am proposing a few ideas that will enable you to limit the negative impact that the implementation of this idea could have.

These solutions that I suggest are sometimes largely insufficient to compensate for these negative impacts, such as carbon offsetting. Unfortunately, there is not always an ideal and 100% efficient solution, far from it. And if you have others, please do not hesitate to share them in the comments below.

Whether you ship packages by plane or container ship, the ecological footprint will be very heavy. This is a major downside for which I don’t really see a solution. Although some transport companies seem to take the problem seriously, I haven’t found any offering a truly “green” service (I’ve never seen a sailing container ship or a pedal-powered cargo plane).

There remains the option of carbon offsetting through organizations that plant trees in deforested areas or support populations concerned with reducing their environmental impact (carbonfund.org, purprojet.com or goodplanet.org). This will slightly reduce your profit margin unless you include this cost in the final price, but it can also be a good selling point. Anyway, if you have other ideas, I’m all ears.

Another aspect to consider is the packaging of the items. The excessive use of plastic and non-recyclable materials contributes to ocean pollution. To lessen this impact, choose packaging that can be recycled or is biodegradable. Kraft paper, corn fibers, and even mushrooms can be effective ecological alternatives. Additionally, reusing packaging or encouraging your customers to do so can also reduce waste.

It’s also important to choose products with minimal environmental impact. Prioritize buying crafts made from durable, recycled, or renewable materials. For example, items made from wood certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and others, or textiles made from organic cotton can be good choices.

Finally, be very careful with items resulting from smuggling, poaching, and any other form of illegal trade. Buying and selling such products can not only harm the environment, particularly local biodiversity, but also expose you to serious legal risks.

Make sure all the items you buy come from legitimate sources and comply with local and international conservation and trade laws. For example, avoid items made from protected materials like ivory, turtle shells, or certain rare wood species. Take the time to thoroughly research the regulations in place and favor transparent suppliers who can certify the ethical and legal origin of their products.

Pros

  • Live while you travel
  • Contact with the locals
  • Discovering unique cultures and crafts
  • Flexibility and independence in your schedule
  • Opportunity to develop an online business

Cons

  • The ecological impact can be important
  • Beginning can be difficult
  • Income may be unpredictable
  • Complexity of managing international logistics
Disclaimer, please read this

Legal and administrative aspects of the ideas you'll find on Sweekr are rarely discussed because they vary greatly depending on the country you live in. I would advise you to check with your local adminitration before starting any business. Keep in mind that if you make money, the state will ask for "its share" in order to guarantee the proper functioning of schools, hospitals and other public services. Therefore, you will probably have to acquire a micro-entrepreneur status, or any other similar.

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3 comments

  1. I did this for a few years to pay for my trips around the world. I even made a lot of money. Then the Internet came along and the competition exploded.

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