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My personal motto is enjoy the world, and be nice to it. This sustainable travel packing list will help you do just that. Pack these 26 items to minimize your landfill contribution as you’re off exploring.
Short-Term Sustainable Travel Packing List
1. Solid deodorant
There’s an abundance of natural deodorant options, including pastes, sticks, creams – you name it. But a deodorant mineral stone is my favorite.
It’s simple, doesn’t make my armpits itchy like some other alternatives have and actually works. The secret is to make sure you rub it on thoroughly. As in, sing-the-ABCs-in-your-head-for-each-pit thoroughly. And then you’re golden!
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The deodorant stone that I use:
2. Reef-safe sunscreen
Normal sunscreen contains chemicals that are directly linked to destruction of marine life, particularly coral reefs. It makes me cringe that I used normal sunscreen for so many years before I was aware of the damage it causes.
This is a sustainable travel must, even if you’re not swimming in the ocean. Do you remember in Finding Nemo, “all drains lead to the ocean?” The same is true of water tributaries. The world is 70% water, and it’s all connected.
The 4 common sunscreen chemicals that directly linked to coral reef bleaching are oxybenzone, butylparaben, octyl methoxycinnamate and enzacamene.
You can check the sunscreen you already have to see if these chemicals are included, and next time you purchase a bottle make sure it’s labeled as marine safe.
Fellow blogger Dr. Stephanie Schuttler shares more about reef-safe sunscreen on her blog, Fancy Scientist.
3. Bamboo toothbrush
Have you ever thought about how every plastic toothbrush you’ve ever used still exists? Bamboo is natural, grows quickly, decomposes and is naturally resistant to bacteria. It’s the perfect solution to the problem of plastic toothbrushes.
After trying a few different bamboo toothbrushes, these are my favorite:
4. Solid soaps
When it comes to body wash, shampoo and conditioner, bar soaps are a traveler’s best friend:
- If you’re flying, there’s no limit on how much soap you can take, like there is for liquids
- Solids don’t have a risk of leaking and causing a huge mess in your bag
- They’re generally cheaper than liquid products
- Solids are lighter, which helps if there’s a weight limit on your luggage or if you’ll be carrying your bag on your back.
- Bar soaps generally have a smaller footprint than bottled soaps: they last a long time, you are less likely to use more than you need, they don’t come in a plastic bottle and can be bought with simpler ingredients
After experimenting with a few different bar shampoos and conditioners, I’m officially making the switch to Lush.
The Lush Naked line makes package-free bar soaps of all kinds. It’s been recommended to me many times and I can’t find anything that comes close to the variety in their products.
5. Tooth tabs
Solid toothpaste has the same benefits as solid soaps: save toothpaste tubes from the landfill by using toothpaste tabs instead. Think of it kind of like a mint that you chew on and then start brushing your teeth with.
6. Quick dry towel
I thought buying a “travel towel” was silly at first, but quickly learned to appreciate mine when constantly packing up my bag and being on the move every few days.
A normal bath towel is thick and holds more moisture than a quick-dry towel. Moist towels start to get mildew-y faster and need washed more often. More laundry means more water, electricity, resources, and so on.
And with a little bad luck, a moist towel can also mean an entire smelly bag *cringes*
The Wise Owl travel towel is super absorbent and thin, plus it has a snap on it which has saved it from blowing out an open window more than once!
When it comes to minimizing waste around food, packaging is the biggest hurdle. When I pack for travel, I minimize the amount of prepared and processed food that I buy. This results in eating better, saving money and throwing less in the landfill.
A thermos is great for taking food and liquids to-go. This is a sustainable travel must for big coffee drinkers. It’s heat retention and spill-proof qualities make it the perfect to-go coffee cup.
My original thermos was only a few bucks from Walmart, but I accidentally left it in the side pocket of my pack when I checked it on a flight.
RIP old thermos, I hope you were found by an airline worker and are still having a vibrant life! And a reminder to you to empty the side pockets on your pack before checking it! I’ll be getting this thermos next.
8. Produce bags
Mesh produce bags are a life saver if you’re buying fresh fruit and veggies on your trip.
Firstly, they keep you from using disposable plastic produce bags.
Secondly, they double as a strainer, making it super easy for you to wash your food.
This can be as simple as bringing a set of silverware from your home. Skip The Bag shared this easy-to-make travel cutlery kit. The best part: you probably already have all of the items in your home.
My travel cutlery set is made from bamboo, so that I can take it with me when I fly. Metal cutlery is sometimes (but, oddly enough, not always) confiscated by the TSA.
Bamboo utensils aren’t essential for day-to-day use, but are an important item on a sustainable travel packing list.
10. Shopping bag
A reusable shopping bag is immensity handy, even if you don’t think you’ll be doing much grocery shopping during your travels. Always carry one with you in your bag or car.
11. Reusable bottle
Save a mountain of bottles from being wasted and also a mountain of money by using a reusable bottle. If access to clean drinking water is an issue where you’re traveling, see sustainable packing list item #17.
Everyone is probably sick of hearing about straws, so I won’t linger here. Remember to always keep it in your bag so you’re not caught without it!
Long Term Sustainable Travel Packing List
13. Menstrual cup and washable pads
Menstruating adds up, financially and packing the physical supplies. Having to carry even one month’s supply of products takes up a lot of precious space.
Another challenge is that buying menstrual products can be difficult depending on where you’re traveling.
I avoid all of this by using reusable period products. It’s a one-time cost that saves a massive amount of money and waste.
I invested in a menstrual cup when I started traveling so I didn’t have to sacrifice the space in my bag. The sustainable travel element was just a side perk, and now I’ll never go back.
Taking care of your health makes for better travel (and life), and also helps prevent waste.
When I was traveling through Central America, I got sick and was desperately trying different drugstore products (with labels I couldn’t understand) trying to get better.
It was expensive, stressful and wasteful. Taking care of your health and being proactive about minimizing illness also minimizes waste.
A Steripod is a small plastic toothbrush cover that helps prevent bacteria growth on toothbrush bristles. It clips over the bristles, and has a small tablet inside that releases a vapor that’s similar to mouthwash.
Some low-wasters would avoid this because it’s plastic, but I find this important for the same reason as vitamins. Nothing wastes our time, money and spirit like illness while traveling.
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16. Single kitchen knife and sheath
Depending on where you are in the world, fresh food isn’t always easy to come by so when you see it you want to be able to prepare it.
I found my knife at TJ Maxx for a few dollars, and I wouldn’t recommend spending more than that on one in case you ever forget it’s in your bag and the TSA confiscates it.
If you’re traveling to a country that doesn’t have drinkable tap water, water sanitation is vital to avoid buying bottled water.
There are many different products for this, but Steripen is a long-time favorite for many travelers. It uses a UV light to kill everything in the water. It’s small, lightweight and effective. The SteriPen Ultra is also USB chargeable which is another sustainable selling point: no batteries.
After trying other products, such as a bottle filter and pump filter, and being discontent with them, I’m finally investing in a SteriPen Ultra before my next trip.
18. Scrubba Bag
I haven’t tried the Scrubba Bag yet, but I WISH I had this on my trip through Latin America. I will buy one before I go traveling again.
Personally, I hate having to give my clothes away to strangers for every single wash.
Sometimes things come back shrunken, or soaking wet and smelling like mildew, or the person who we gave our clothes to gets sick so the shop is closed (for days) and you play the waiting game to get our underwear back.
The Scrubba Bag makes you more self-sufficient, which leads to waste and cost aversion.
The Scrubba Bag reduces water usage, electricity usage and wear-and-tear on clothing.
Once I try it I’ll share a review. If you want to make sure you see it, you can sign up for my Sunday newsletter 🙂
19. Laundry Soap
Normal laundry soap isn’t travel friendly, so take a soap concentrate. I love the Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash. It’s safe to use outdoors and is carry-on friendly.
Taking Care of What You Have
In a truly low-waste world, buying new products would be a last resort. It should be when traveling too.
If you’re in a foreign country and the strap on your backpack snaps, or the zipper on your only jacket breaks, you have an immediate need to go replace those items.
As a result, you’re at the mercy of whatever is available: whether or not it’s the right fit, size or if it’s just plain ole junk. Avoiding new purchases on the road minimizes waste, stress and costs.
20. Rain covers for your bags
Water-damaged electronics, wet clothes that all need re-washed, soggy books – you get it.
Carry a water-proof pack cover for all of your bags. When I travel, I take a big pack and a day-pack, and have covers for both of them.
Rocking my construction-orange rain cover on the Appalachian Trail in 2018. I chose orange because in the event that I’ve ever lost or hurt in the woods and people are searching for me, orange is very easy to spot. You should also always carry a whistle while hiking for this same reason!
21. Ziplock bags
This may seem counter-intuitive to being low waste, but Ziplock bags can serve a tremendous purpose for protecting gear.
Instead of buying an expensive water-proof laptop sleeve or camera case, just throw your gear in a Ziplock bag and zip it up.
They’re essentially weightless, take up no space and are water proof.
It’s smart to carry some glue: something that could maybe repair a broken buckle on your pack, or reattach the bottom of your shoe or seal a broken water bottle.
I take Sugru, because I already own it and it’s so versatile. It’s flexible, mouldable and waterproof. It’s kind of like a glue version of Play Dough.
You can bond things together, create a seal, plug holes. Surgru also comes in small pouches that’s TSA safe.
If you’re packing liquid glue, make sure it’s in a Ziplock bag so if it breaks it doesn’t damage anything.
23. Sewing kit
Being able to stretch the life of your clothes is a win, whether you’re at home or the other side of the world.
Personally, I always like the clothes that I take traveling. You’ll meet some people who only take clothes they don’t care about in case they’re destroyed, but that doesn’t work for me. I bring things I enjoy wearing, and try my darnest to keep them alive.
If you do have to buy new clothes, remember that second hand stores are always a less expensive and more sustainable alternative to buying items new.
Your travels may take you to places where getting books in your language is difficult. Book swapping at hostels is always fun, but there are no guarantees on finding something new to read that you enjoy.
I borrow e-books from the public library and download through WiFi onto my Kindle Paperwhite. That’s about as convenient as it gets!
You can get a Kindle Paperwhite on Amazon, but I wouldn’t recommend buying a new one. I got a great deal buying one used, and used it always more sustainable!
25. Sleeping Bag
Even when I’m not camping, I always take a sleeping bag with me. It gives me that “my bed” feeling that you lose when you’re away from home.
It’s improved many a cold night, and many a why-would-a-bus-EVER-be-this-cold bus ride. If you can cover up instead of turning up the heat, you’ll save electricity and be more comfortable.
A sleeping bag has also saved the day when I’ve the hotel bed was less than desirably clean (read: not clean at all).
Putting It All Together
26. The right bag
When you’re going on a long trip, it’s important to take a suitable pack. Ideally, your gear is sturdy, fits you well and does the job efficiently. This helps avoid injuries and dissatisfaction with gear, ultimately leading to more purchases.
My bags are always purchased at REI. The people there are fantastic at finding the right pack and adjusting it to fit your body. REI also has a return policy where you can bring anything back within one year and they’ll give you and exchange or your money back.
This was immensely helpful for me the first time I went traveling. I read dozens of bag reviews and blog posts about finding the bag. Alas, my bag was not the right fit for me. Thankfully I was able to return it and get my perfect bag, the Osprey Aura 65.
When you’re comfortable and all of your needs are met, you’re less likely to have to buy replacement gear.
These sustainable travel ideas will minimize your impact on the communities you visit. I hope these tips help you to be a little nicer to world as you’re out enjoying it!
You can take your efforts even further by trying to offset the carbon of your travels. Fellow blogger My Green Closet has a great piece on carbon offsetting that you can learn from.
Hello, friend! I’m Kayla. I help people shrink their footprint on the Earth and find freedom in owning less. On Writing From Nowhere, I share ideas on living more intentionally and sustainably.