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 27 items to minimize your landfill contribution as much as possible as you’re off exploring.
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Short-Term Sustainable Travel Packing List
1. Solid deodorant
There’s an abundance of low-waste deodorant options, including creams, sticks, pastes – you name it. But a deodorant mineral stone is my favorite.
There are 3 big wins to this deo stone:
- It doesn’t make my armpits itchy like any baking soda-based natural deos do
- It works
- So simple!
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 daisy fresh!
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This deo stone isn’t just for your sustainable travel packing list – make this a part of your daily low-waste arsenal!
The deodorant stone that I use:
2. Reef-safe sunscreen
Did you know that normal sunscreen contains chemicals that are directly linked to destruction of marine life, particularly coral?
It makes me sick that I used this normal sunscreen for so many years before I became 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, octyl methoxycinnamate, butylparaben and enzacamene. (source)
Check the sunscreen you already have to see if these chemicals are included, and next time you purchase sunscreen, make sure it’s marine safe.
Fellow eco-blogger Dr. Stephanie Schuttler shares more on 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?
Unlike plastic, bamboo is natural, grows quickly and is biodegradable. It’s the perfect solution to the problem of plastic toothbrushes.
After trying a few different bamboo toothbrushes, these are my favorite. I love them so much, I even give them away as Christmas presents every year.
4. Solid toothpaste
Now to accompany your bamboo toothpaste, you need solid toothpaste! Solid toothpaste comes in several different forms.
I’ve found that the tooth tabs are the best bet for your sustainable travel packing list. Here’s how tooth tabs hold up compared to other forms of low-waste toothpaste:
- Tooth tabs
–> small, lightweight
- Tooth powder
–> bulkier, powders can be problematic at airports
- Paste in a glass jar
–> heavier than tabs
- DIY toothpaste
–> can be problematic at airports
And yes, there is a story to the “problematic at airports” warning. In 2017, TSA called in the explosives team to analyse everything I had in my bag because of the chemicals in some homemade soap. The real kicker – I didn’t even pack the soap! It had just left traces of a “red flag” substance on all of my stuff. I still don’t know which ingredient was the trigger.
5. Solid soaps
When it comes to your sustainable travel packing list, bar soaps are a traveler’s best friend. Here are 5 reasons bar soap trumps liquid:
- If you’re flying, there’s no limit on how much soap you can take, like there is for liquids
- Solids don’t pose the risk of leaking and causing a huge (and potentially expensive) mess in your bag
- Bar soaps are generally cheaper than liquid products
- Solid soaps are lighter, which is important if there’s a weight limit on your luggage or if you’ll be carrying your bag long ways (who wants a heavier pack than necessary?)
- Bar soaps have a smaller footprint than their bottled, liquid counterparts: they generally last longer, you are less likely to use more than you need, they don’t come in plastic packaging and can be made with simpler and more natural ingredients
After experimenting with a few different bar shampoos and conditioners, I’ve made 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.
Lush is also vegetarian and doesn’t test on animals. You can find a Lush near you here.
6. Quick-dry towel
Personally, I thought buying a “travel towel” was silly at first, but quickly learned to appreciate mine during busy travel.
The difference between a quick-day towel and a normal towel? 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 electricity, water, resources and so on.
And with a little bad luck, a moist towel can also mean an entire smelly bag *cringes*
May backpack was overcome with mildew in El Salvador in 2017. I had laundry done at a lavandería and they returned all of the clothes back wet. We were moving that day and didn’t have any time to let the clothes dry. In only a matter of hours, my bag smelled SO bad. Mildew is a truly sinister thing. I avoid it at all costs.
The Wise Owl travel towel is super absorbent and thin, reducing the likelihood of mildew. Plus, it has a snap on it which will save your towel from blowing out an open window!
Sustainable Travel Packing List: Food Items
When it comes to minimizing waste around food, packaging is the biggest hurdle.
7. Collapsible cup
This is a sustainable travel packing list item is crazy handy, even if you’re not a big coffee drinker.
It collapses into a pocket-size cup, and also comes with a straw. It can spare the landfill any cup.
8. Produce bags
Mesh produce bags are a lifesaver for buying fresh fruit and veggies on your trip.
First and foremost, 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 immensely handy, even if you don’t think you’ll be doing much grocery shopping during your travels. Always carry one with you in your backpack, car, bike, sailboat, etc.
I even have a secret on how to use a shopping bag to help you avoid theft!!
Use what you already have, or if you’re going to buy a new one, choose responsibly. While any bag will do the job, I recommend a packable cotton bag. These pack into convenient carrying units, and are made from cotton. Most reusable bags are made from polyester, which is considered to be the least sustainable fabric and is made from oil. (source)
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, scroll down further to see the Steripen.
Any bottle will do the trick! Use what you have or buy second hand, and buy new as a last resort. My bottle is a clear 1L Nalgene, covered in stickers (#basic).
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! I store mine with my bamboo cutlery.
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.
For specific instructions, you should consult your doctor. Which I am not (*internet disclaimer*).
My routine: I take a generic One A Day Multivitamin for Women. You can buy generic versions even cheaper from Target or Walgreens.
If you have allergies, you’re going to want to prepare for those as well. You never know what allergens you’re going to run into on the road! I have serious allergies, and take a generic Zyrtec e v e r y. s i n g l e. d a y. You can buy an entire year’s supply for less than $20, and it hardly takes up any room in your pack.
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.
A thermos is particularly handy for low-budget travelers. Take a hot meal like soup, curry or pasta to-go for a long bus ride or flight. Or protect yogurt, tuna or a salad from the heat
My original termos was only a few bucks from the supermarket, but I accidentally left it in the side pocket of my pack when I checked it on a flight and it disappeared.
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 got this thermos for my birthday and just love it. It’s the perfect size for meals, and keeps food hot for hours.
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 sterilize 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 finally invested in a SteriPen Ultra before my next trip.
The next-most popular water sanitation method right now is probably the Grayl Bottle. The advantage of the Grayl over the Steripen is that it filters instead of just sanitizing.
Deep down, I knew I couldn’t be bothered to to carry another whole bottle with me, so that’s why I opted for the Steripen.
But like all aspects of travel, it’s all about finding what works best for you!
Important: if you won’t have access to clean water, always pack TWO SYSTEMS in case one breaks. You don’t need two fancy systems, simple tablets will be enough of a plan B.
19. 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. Am I the only one?? Is anyone else like this?
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.
20. Laundry Soap
Normal laundry soap isn’t travel friendly, so take a soap concentrate. But if you’re still in the market for normally laundry detergent, check out the EcoEgg! I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention the EcoEgg… Okay, back to the sustainable travel packing list.
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.
21. Rain covers for your bags
Water-damaged electronics, wet clothes that all need re-washed, soggy books – getting caught unprepared in a storm is not a pretty picture.
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!
22. 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 waterproof. Just don’t throw them away!
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. Sugru also comes in small pouches that’s TSA safe.
24. 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.
Sustainable Travel Packing List Miscellaneous Items
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!
26. 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
27. 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.