From avoiding cruises to skipping elephant rides to using towels more than once, travelers have a huge number of opportunities to travel responsibly. But an ethical trip can start before you even leave home, when you’re deciding what to bring with you.
Below are our top items to pack to be a more eco-friendly traveler. Some of them are probably things you regularly use at home, but (if you’re like us) you might not always think to bring them on a trip.Pack these seven things next time you #travel, and make your trip more eco-friendly. #thisissustainable Click To Tweet
Hydration is critical when you’re traveling in hot climates or doing anything active – but that doesn’t mean you need to buy bottled water. Plastic water bottles might be small, but they’re big offenders when it comes to environmental damage.
They’re usually made from crude oil and require more resources to transport them around the world, not to mention that it actually takes three liters of water just to produce a one-liter bottled water.
And what happens once the bottle’s empty? In most cases, developing countries don’t have the infrastructure to recycle plastic bottles (which is a costly and energy-intensive process anyway), meaning they get tossed in the trash – and then sit in landfills basically forever, or end up in the ocean, where 8 million tons of plastic trash gets dumped every year.
Avoiding bottled water is one easy way to reduce your environmental footprint when you travel; just pack a reusable water bottle like this stainless steel one from Klean Kanteen and refill it with tap water. Bonus: you’ll save money, too!
Water Treatment System
Of course, in plenty of places, the water isn’t safe to drink and you can’t simply fill up your bottle from a sink or water fountain. Buying bottled water might seem like the only option, but consider bringing your own means of water treatment.
If you’re planning on doing any camping and will be drinking water straight from a source, you may need an actual water filter. Otherwise, try a SteriPEN, which is a stick that uses ultra-violet light to kill the microbes that cause waterborne illnesses; it only takes 90 seconds to sterilize a liter of water!
Better yet, double up with the first item and get a water bottle with a built-in UV sterilizer, which doesn’t take up any extra space and is super convenient to use. We use this sterilizing bottle from CamelBak.
Like plastic water bottles, to-go coffee cups are a big source of waste. While coffee cups are mostly paper, which seems relatively innocuous, they’re usually lined with plastic – otherwise, they wouldn’t be waterproof. While people often toss their cups in recycling bins, they’re not actually recyclable except at specialized facilities (which you’re probably not likely to encounter while traveling).
Fortunately, insulated water bottles are an easy replacement for disposable coffee cups. Just pack your own bottle, and have it filled up whenever you want a hot drink to go – many coffee shops will even give you a discount for bringing your own container, so it’s really a win-win. I just got this HydroFlask bottle and am looking forward to trying it out.
If you’re trying to save space in your bag (and make sure you get through airport security), it can be tempting to leave all your toiletries at home and rely on the mini bottles of shampoo and lotion at your hotel.
But while those are convenient, the bottles and leftover product usually get thrown out once they’ve been opened, so using them creates unnecessary waste. Cut down on waste and on plastic trash by bringing your own toiletries when you travel.
Speaking of which, I’m still on the hunt for refillable travel-sized bottles that don’t leak. If you made it to your last destination without finding a bag full of shampoo-soap-lotion goo upon arrival, please tell me your secret!
Traveling often means shopping – for souvenirs, snacks, random things you forgot to bring, even toilet paper. And unless you’re in a country where they’re banned (like Rwanda – seriously!), you’ll probably amass a number of plastic bags.
Ugh: plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources, don’t break down in landfills, and release dangerous chemicals. In developing countries like India and Bangladesh, they’ve even been blamed for exacerbating floods.
To avoid being part of this problem, pack a reusable cloth bag to use for shopping when you travel. Ryan is obsessed with his Trek Light Eco Tote Bag; they’re made out of leftover fabric from the company’s hammocks (win!), are super durable, and can hold pretty much an infinite amount of weight (at least in our experience).
Food Storage Container
Whether you’re hiking, road tripping, or heading to the airport, it can be convenient to throw some snacks in a Ziploc bag to take along. For greener snacking, use a small food storage container instead of a plastic bag.
While the Tupperware of your childhood might be the default, it’s of course plastic and made from crude oil, so it’s only a half-step better than Ziploc bags. Fortunately, there are plenty of Tupperware alternatives (besides the too-heavy-for-travel glass options) out there now, like these Klean Kanteen canisters.
When you’re eating street food or take-out, the default is almost always to grab a plastic fork or spoon, which then gets thrown out after one use. Even worse, many places give out those little bags with a full set of plastic silverware and even salt and pepper packets, which usually means opening a bag for the fork you actually need and tossing the rest without even using it.
Bring your own silverware on your travels, and you’ll continue to cut down on your waste. Regular silverware is heavy and awkward to carry, but this post has a bunch of travel-friendly bamboo and stainless steel options. (Personally, I’d skip the fork that has a “knife” on one edge, unless you want to cut the inside of your mouth, and not actually be able to slice or chop that efficiently.)
This one’s a practical point, too. How many times have you wanted to have something to eat in your hotel room, only to realize you had nothing to eat it with? Bring silverware with you, and you’ll be ready when hunger strikes!
Many countries don’t have great (or any) trash management systems, so generating a bunch of garbage during a trip really puts a burden on the local – and global – environment. Anything you can bring with you that isn’t plastic and replaces using disposable items on the road is a step toward reducing your footprint.
How do you make your travel eco-friendly? Are any of these items on your packing list?
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