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8 Must-Have Items for Eco-Friendly Travel

Last year was a ground-breaking year for sustainability. David Attenborough’s documentary Blue Planet II opened our eyes to the devastating effects that plastics are having on our oceans. No one could have predicted just how much of an impact it could have had on the public. Waitrose found that 88% of people who watched Blue Planet II changed their shopping habits and the company received an 800% increase in the number of questions it received from customers regarding plastics and sustainability.

The success of the documentary prompted further reports on the topic and I remember being very shocked and saddened when watching a documentary called Drowning in Plastic. I decided it was time to make changes to my habits. It was easy enough to implement sustainable solutions in the home but what about when we travel?

Travelling doesn’t have a reputation for being eco-friendly. Flying in itself is terrible for the planet with one flight releasing more than 20% of a car’s yearly emissions. Then there’s the vast number of single-use plastics involved in travelling such as plane food with plastic knives and forks and plastic coffee cups and the number of plastic bottles we are forced to buy as tap water is often contaminated.

So is there a way to travel in a more sustainable way? I’ve asked several travel bloggers what they’ve been doing to make their travelling more sustainable.

Travel With a Water Filter Flask

The quantity of plastic bottles which we can go through whilst travelling is shocking. When I think back to my Sri Lanka trip, it makes me queasy to tally them up. I’d estimate over 20 plastic bottles in a 10 day period! Whilst it’s easy to switch for a stainless steel alternative in countries where it is safe to drink tap water, what about countries with contaminated water? Jane from Explore the Great Ocean Road believes she has the answer.

“We have travelled with a few different filter bottles for a long time, whether it is overseas or at home. The Grayl has been the best one we have used, it is simple and effective. It’s a stainless steel flask with a filter that works a bit like a French coffee press. It comes with different filters as an option – one is for regular stream water or tap water and a filter that can purify even the worst looking water, These filters have been used in countries where water is incredibly dirty looking, but the Grayl can filter out sediment and is claimed to remove 99.9999% of viruses. We have never had any tummy upsets when using it and the water always tastes fine. Each filter lasts for about 300 uses.”

“It is simple to use, just separate the two parts (filter and flask) fill with water to a marked line and then put the filter in and push down firmly until it is all the way in. It does take some pressure to do this but is not too difficult. Water can then be poured into another flask and the process repeated if it is for more than one person or you can drink it straight from the Grayl itself.”

“Whilst it is not a cheap item, it pays for itself over time in savings from buying water and eliminates totally the use of plastic or any type of bottled water. Ours has been overseas as well as camping in Australia, out on canoe trips and even when horse riding. IT is definitely something we recommend for everyone, not just eco-conscious travellers.”

Jane recommends the Grayl Water Filter Flask For Sustainable Travel

Use Palm Oil-Free Shampoo Bars

Angie from Feet Do Travel recommends Shampoo Bars as a plastic-free alternative to travelling with shampoo bottles. “Shampoo Bars tick a lot of boxes if you want to be an eco-friendly traveller.” Angie begins. “Most shower gels/shampoo/conditioners are sold in plastic bottles, and if you want to reduce your plastic usage, alternatives need to be found.”

“With a shampoo bar, there is no plastic. If you also wish to reduce your palm oil usage to save orang-utans and the deforestation in Borneo, you can find shampoo bars which do not contain palm oil.”

“Palm oil is the new buzz word at the moment and has been all over the news. The world is waking up to the destruction of our rainforests and there are now many places you can purchase palm oil free/sustainable palm oil products.”

“Shampoo Bars also take up less space in your luggage/backpack – and who doesn’t want extra space when they are travelling? They are a 2-in-1 product – a soap to clean your body, a shampoo to wash your hair, and are suitable for both men and women. For people with long hair you can also buy a conditioning bar.”

“There are many different smells and ingredients that make up a shampoo bar, just like the soaps and shampoos you are used to. If you don’t get along with your first bar, don’t give up, try another brand!”

“Shampoo bars are definitely the way forward for the eco-conscious traveller!”

Friendly Shampoo Bar is a great plastic-free alternative to regular shampoo

Introduce Metal Straws To Your Bag

Plastic straws are everywhere. Whilst it’s easy to turn down straws in drinks, sometimes they are necessary. For example, it is far more hygienic to drink out of a straw than directly from a can or bottle which could be riddled with bacteria. At other times it just isn’t possible to have a drink without a straw. Ever tried drinking from a coconut straight? Yeah, it’s a messy business. Mary from A Mary Road swears by travelling with a metal straw. I asked Mary to talk more about her experience with metal straws.

“Exactly a year ago, I swore to myself to stop using single-use plastic straws. I went on the internet and ordered a full set of stainless straws with cleaning brush, I gave some to my other travel friends and kept 3 pieces with me. In the beginning, it’s hard to keep up on always using it. I forget to bring it sometimes or it slipped my mind to tell the waiter/waitress to not put a plastic straw on my drink. It is also often that I get conscious of people starting or laughing at me because I whip a metal straw from my purse. It only took a month or two and I got over with these issues. It feels so much better to use a stainless straw and wash them once I get home or to my hostel to clean it. Starting to say no to single-use plastic doesn’t only prevent you form contributing to the massive landfill issue but you also say goodbye from the chemical taste that a plastic straw every time you have to sip. This is only one of the few changes I’ve done, this year, I’m excited to welcome new eco-friendly travel accessories in my backpacking journey.”

Stainless Steel Metal Straw
Metal straws are perfect to carry around with you as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic

Invest In a Reusable Wet/Laundry Bag

I think we can all recall a time when we’ve arrived at our destinations and are getting changed for the night when we discover that we don’t have anywhere to put our dirty laundry. I’m so guilty of this! Often a plastic shopping bag ends up housing my laundry… or maybe a couple of them. Felicity from The Baby Vine is also familiar with this experience.

“When I used to go travelling on my own, I always found I had to pack a couple of extra plastic bags with me for those desperate moments: wet swimmers on a day outing, muddy shoes needing to be packed, dirty clothes I haven’t yet washed…” Felicity starts.

“By the time I had kids, the amount of plastic bags almost tripled and the amount of waste horrified me. And it wasn’t just for travelling, but for other activities such as swimming lessons. That’s when I decided to invest in a wet bag just for day to day use, and I haven’t looked back. We own a couple of them now and they come in handy for everything and it means plastic bags are non-existent for us now, which makes us feel great when it comes to the environment.”

“We simply pack the bags with us for a holiday and take them in a back pack on every day outing. Wet clothes, dirty clothes… it all goes straight into our wet bag until we get back to where we are staying and can sort it out. It also means everything else in our day pack gets to stay dry and clean. These bags fold up nice and small, making them very easy to travel with.”

“They are also the perfect size for the kids, who like to help out from time to time and carry them around and come in a huge range of colours and patterns, which for me just adds to the fun of them!”

A reusable wetbag is perfect for dirty laundry whilst travelling

Travel With a Reusable Coffee Cup

A reusable coffee cup is an essential part of Bevan from The Travel Quandary‘s bag. Here, she explains why.

“Have you ever thought about the impact of your daily takeaway coffee cup on the health of Planet Earth? Probably not. Around 500 billion disposable coffee cups are produced each year, making the coffee industry one of the largest contributors towards single-use plastic waste. According to Planet Ark, single-use coffee cups take about 50 years to decompose. Whilst many people may presume that coffee cup materials are recyclable, coffee cups require a dedicated waste collection. Unless compostable cups are differentiated from other disposable cups, the dispenser of our morning caffeine kick ends up in landfill.”

“As passionate travellers, we have seen first-hand the damage and destruction caused by single-use plastic. We are committed to less plastic usage and adopting sustainable initiatives that will help to reduce our carbon footprint. Being avid coffee drinkers, we now travel with our Keep Cups. Whenever and wherever we can, we order our coffees to go in these reusable cups.”

“Many cafes are jumping on board to minimise their waste and offer discounts to customers with reusable cups. You’ll not only be helping to save the planet, you’ll save a few dollars too! Being lightweight and compact, they also make great companions on those early morning hikes. Just remember to pack the thermos!”

“Reusable coffee cups prove to be a versatile asset in your travelling kit. If you’re planning a quick breakfast while on the road, use your cup to make overnight oats. Combine rolled oats, chia seeds and fruit and mix with almond night. Store in the fridge overnight and voila! You have a healthy breakfast to start your day of exploring.”

Reusable coffee cups are a great way to cut-down on single-use plastics

Switching to Menstrual Underwear and Cups

If you’re a female traveller, you’ll understand the despair of just how much plastic periods seem to require! From applicators to wrappers, there is single-use plastic everywhere. I hate to think how much plastic waste I have generated in my lifetime as a result of my time of the month. However, there are eco-friendly options out there. Emma from Small Footprints Big Adventures goes into the details of some more sustainable options.

“One effective change for women to reduce waste is to choose reusable menstrual gear. There are numerous options now, including washable pads, menstrual cups, and period- proof underwear. I have tried them all and personally like the underwear the best, especially for travelling with. Mine are from Modibodi and they are as comfortable as normal underwear, yet I feel totally safe from any early-arriving period or leaks during my cycle. In several years of using them every month I have not had a single leak!”

“They are able to be worn all day which is a blessing while travelling, especially on those days when I’m on a bus for 8 hours. Menstrual cups are also able to be worn for long periods, but I never found mine to be very comfortable, and some ladies need to use a pad or underwear as back-up on heavy days with them. Makes most sense to me to stick with the underwear, as I’m comfy and never have to worry about leaks!”

“All reusable options require something to carry them in while you’re not using them or waiting to wash them. With pads and underwear, a leak-proof bag is perfect to store them after a rinse, until you get to do your laundry. The cups can be rinsed or wiped out during your period, and then must be sterilized afterwards. That’s what makes them a bit trickier to travel with, but many women manage successfully and find them excellent. Whatever you choose, it makes a huge difference to the amount of waste our world has to cope with.”

You can read more about various types of sustainable menstrual products on Emma’s blog.

Modibodi Menstrual Underwear
Menstrual underwear is a great eco-friendly alternative to pads

Bring a Wash bag Aka a Portable Washing Machine

Lora from Explore with Laura‘s number 1 tip for eco-friendly travel is to always bring a wash bag which Lora explains saves more than just water.

The Scrubba wash bag is a pocket-sized travel companion that allows you to save money, time and water. Weighing less than 142g, This eco-friendly product is a modern take on the old fashioned washboard. The Scrubba wash bag is a portable washing machine that allows you to achieve a machine quality wash in 6 easy steps.”

“This product is great for long-term backpackers; especially those who want to reduce their impact on the environment. Having a Scrubba wash bag means you can wash clothes wherever and whenever you want. Therefore, you can pack fewer clothes and travel with a lighter backpack, saving money on excess airline baggage fees. On top of this, you also save money by not having to pay someone to do your laundry abroad. As an added benefit, the Scrubba wash bag is much more hygienic and efficient than trying to wash clothes in a dirty hostel sink. This product is great for the environment, as it saves a significant amount of water compared to traditional washing machines.”

“I took this product with me on my yearlong trip backpacking the world and it ended up being one of my favorite items. It provided me with the convenience of being able to wash my clothes whenever I needed, and helped reduce my environmental footprint while traveling.”

Lora says the Scrubba wash bag is like a portable washing machine

Use Reusable & Sustainable Makeup Remover

We’ve probably never considered just how much plastics and other single-use materials we go through when removing makeup. I used to go through packs and packs of makeup wipes! However, there are more sustainable options out there. Danni from Live in 10 Countries goes into the options.

“I used to go through a roll of cotton wool pads a month, just taking off make up, applying creams and the like. It was a waste of money, a waste for the environment and inconvenient for travel because not everywhere you go will have those kind of disposables. For example when you’re trekking on a sabbatical in Antarctica, you’d best believe they won’t have any handy shops!”

“I did have some hesitation, switching to bamboo reusable pads and a home made, glass bottle make up remover. Mainly I was worried it might irritate my sensitive skin or not work, and there was an initial outlay of a few quid to get started.”

“Luckily, it has massively paid off as I’m still using the same supplies a year later, and over time I’ve saved a lot!”

“I picked up the pads from Amazon and they are beautifully soft. Just pop them in the wash after you’re done. I suggest getting five or so, which gives you plenty of time to wash and rotate them.”

“For the remover, all you need is a glass bottle (reuse one from home) to which you add jojoba oil or a mix of castille soap and water and it works great. It’s really portable and easy for anyone on the go. I guarantee that once you’ve made the switch, you’ll never go back.”

Danni makes her own makeup remover and says she’d never go back!

So although it may seem daunting at first, there are several quick fixes to your lifestyle that can really help the environment. Plus not only are these items eco-friendly, they’re actually really useful and help save money too! I hope you found this useful. Collaborating on this post with eco-savvy travellers has certainly opened up my eyes to new possibilities and I’m already making changes to my packing lists for travels.

Do you have any eco-friendly items for travellers that you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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Sunday 31st of March 2019

Really well thought out post, Ella. Every single item is an excellent idea and easy to implement. Thank you!


Friday 26th of June 2020

So glad you enjoyed this post!

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