• Jefferine Jean-Jacques

Street Vendors - Hidden Gems

Updated: Jun 6

Lima, Peru

Through my years of travel and the many countries I've been fortunate enough to visit, I found the interactions between myself and street vendors always gratifying. When I first started to venture out into the world, I must admit my interactions were quite limited. Traveling solo as a woman, I always erred on the side of caution and stayed focused on my itinerary. Only veering off to purchase something like a forgotten electrical plug-in converter, a snack for a long day of travel, or perhaps a small souvenir to bring home before heading to the airport. Like most new travelers, expectations of being taken advantage of monetarily or otherwise were a significant concern. As a born and bred New Yorker, being suspicious of everyone is second nature to me, but I've found over time that there's much value to be had when time is taken to converse with these everyday people.

Cusco, Peru

Like with anywhere in the world, safety trumps any and everything. So, it's completely fine to stick to your itinerary or to only ask the concierge at your hotel for recommendations. It's also okay to be interested in only the popular tourist attractions. However, I implore you to be open and consider being more engaging with the people whose country you are visiting. If you really desire to capture the pulse of a place and, have a richer and more immersive experience, there's no better point of reference than that old man on the corner selling newspapers, who's lived in that area his entire life. This is where you get intel on that mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall spot that serves the best food with the best vibe that only locals know about. The woman selling food on the side of the road, may be the person that will talk to you about the rich history of the place and the struggles she faces but would never think of living anywhere else in the world.

The information I've acquired and even the access I've been afforded has been priceless. The knowledge gained and the photographs created resonate more deeply than anything I could have gotten from a book. They are often surprised by my curiosity, just as I am sometimes caught off-guard when they inquire about me and my life in America. The beautiful thing that transpires periodically is that we start to self-evaluate and shift perspectives, letting go of previously held stereotypes.

Because of these experiences, I am a more relaxed traveler. I am open and receptive. So now it's nothing for me to sit with a vendor in Morocco to haggle over items I'm interested in buying. We will sit and talk about various topics over mint tea while we pepper in discussions on why I should get a better deal since we're now 'good friends' sharing tea. Or being invited into a vendor's home in India to get a henna design and staying for an hour talking about women and motherhood.

Varanasi, India

Street vendors add vibrancy to any area they are found. It's easy to overlook them as they seem to blend into the fabric of the city's landscape. But overlooking them is like overlooking a jewel right there before you. Do yourself a favor and engage with these vendors a bit more (of course, with your intuition and good senses intact). The rich stories of the land lie in the people. Share information, and you'll find the exchange becomes more than just goods for commerce. Allow yourself to walk away with more than a trinket but with a richer experience and perhaps a newfound perspective.

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