They say travelers should take only photos and leave only footprints, but it may just be our footprints that are doing the most harm to our planet.
Most of us are now aware of our carbon footprint, which is the total amount of greenhouse gases each of us generates. Sadly, our carbon footprints tend to be more damaging when we travel.
While most of us put a lot of time and effort into carefully packing for our vacations in terms of saving on weight and space and only carrying things we’ll actually need, few of us are conscious of how environmentally friendly our travel gear is.
One of the best ways to become a sustainable traveler is to start thinking about what products you take with you traveling. There are now countless eco-friendly travel products on the market made by companies that use organic or recycled materials and in some cases even donate a percentage of their profits to earth-saving initiatives.
After researching sustainable products, you’ll soon discover that items like sunglasses, hats, and suitcases are now being made from recycled materials, and can result in a huge reduction in waste. Here are some great sustainable travel gear items you should think about.
Trends in Sustainable Travel Gear
Sand Free Towels
Something as simple as packing a sand free towel for your next tropical getaway can help reduce your carbon footprint.
Often made from 80% or more recycled materials like polyester, sand free towels are compact, lightweight, fast-drying, and most conveniently sand-free as their name implies.
You’ll find that many sand free towels contain upwards of 20 plastic bottles that have been recycled and repurposed, bottles which may have otherwise ended up in our oceans which are already suffering from an abundance of harmful plastics.
Being sand-free is not only convenient for you, it also equates to not having to rinse out your towel to remove sand after a day at the beach, thereby saving water.
Some sand free towels are even anti-microbial, meaning they won’t collect odors and can be reused more times in-between washes, saving even more water.
Reusable Water Bottles & Purification Devices
We all drink water daily and while many of us may be eco-friendly at home by using glassware or reusable bottles, we often resort to the convenience of disposable bottled water while traveling.
This becomes even more apparent when traveling to countries where tap water may not be safe to drink.
When you figure you can easily go through 3-4 standard disposable plastic drink bottles a day, going away for a two-week trip can see you going through a huge pile of plastic bottles which isn’t exactly eco-friendly.
Simply packing a reusable water bottle and filling up at safe tap locations is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint while traveling. When the tap water isn’t safe to drink or for those times you’re trekking and sourcing water from natural sources, you can pack a purification device.
Recommended Water Filters
SteriPEN water purification pens are compact and use ultraviolet light to purify water in seconds. There are a number of models to choose from depending on your travel situation and needs, with each removing or destroying 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and other harmful particles.
An alternative is the Grayl Ultralight Compact Purifier and Filter Bottle which allows you to purify water in just 15 seconds.
Also eliminating around 99.9% of bacteria and other nasties that may be in the water, the Grayl purifier uses a replaceable purifier cartridge that has a life of 300 uses and the bottle is BPA and chemical free while also sporting antimicrobial properties.
Biodegradable and Sustainable Toiletries
It’s vital to only use biodegradable soaps and shampoos while camping or multi-day trekking so as to not introduce contaminants that could harm the local environment and its wildlife. You’ll also want to be sure to keep soaps and detergents out of waterways.
Biodegradable options should always be used outdoors whether its laundry detergent for washing clothes, dish soap for cleaning up after outdoor campfire barbecues, body wash for showers under the stars, or biodegradable toilet paper for when nature calls.
You don’t need to be camping to use eco-friendly toiletries either. There are countless health and beauty products that are substituting disposable plastic bottles for packaging like reusable glass jars. Those small travel-sized toiletries may be cute and convenient, but there is a lot of waste packaging involved with using them.
You can find eco-friendly options for just about everything including makeup, toothpaste and toothbrushes, hairbrushes and hair ties, and even reusable makeup wipes. Many of these products ditch plastics and opt for natural materials like wood or cotton for their construction.
It’s also worth noting that some eco-resorts now supply you with eco-friendly toiletries and may actually have a policy that prohibits the use of harmful toiletries.
Be sure to pack all your toiletries in a recycled fabric hanging toiletry kit or bag, reuse your hotel towels, and take shorter showers to further reduce your impacts on the environment while traveling.
Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent and Sunscreen
Mosquito-borne illnesses such as Zika virus, West Nile virus, dengue, and malaria can be found in many regions such as the tropical areas of Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America, making it necessary to protect yourself from mosquitoes and other biting insects.
While common insect repellents, many of which contain DEET, may be effective, they aren’t always great for you or the environment. There are now safer, eco-friendly insect repellents that have been proven to be just as effective as the chemical-ridden brands.
They often utilize natural ingredients such as oils like eucalyptus, citronella, peppermint, or lemongrass to keep mosquitoes at bay.
Sunscreens are another potential problem for the environment, especially when they are introduced to sensitive environments like reefs. Thankfully, there are now reef safe sunscreens available which do away with the harmful chemicals which can damage ocean environments.
When seeking out an eco-friendly sunscreen, avoid brands that contain harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, or octocrylene. A product should also not contain nanoparticles which can prove toxic to the environment.
Seek out a sunscreen with an SPF that uses physical UVA and UVB filters and know that lotions are usually better for the environment than sprays or aerosols.
Another simple item you can pack that won’t take up much space is a set of reusable cutlery. They can be used while flying for in-flight meals, since not all airlines have ditched single use plastic cutlery, and when grabbing takeaway while traveling.
Many travel cutlery sets come with their own convenient carry case to keep them clean and may even include a set of reusable chopsticks or reusable straw.
When traveling, we often grab food on the go whether it be from fast food restaurants or street vendors, so any opportunity we can refrain from using another disposable set of plastic cutlery will help the environment.
Try to also use reusable/washable containers for any snack you pack for the plane or during your travels as opposed to plastic zipper bags. If you’re tight on space, they do make reusable sandwich and snack bags now that are waterproof and rather easy to clean in-between uses.
Solar Power Banks
We’ve long known the earth-friendly benefits of using solar power, and you can now easily charge your important devices such as phones and tablets with a solar power bank while traveling.
Solar power banks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes these days, with many offering different output capabilities for your individual needs.
They are perfect for when you won’t have access to power such as on multi-day treks or safaris and can fully recharge devices in just a few hours with just the help of the sun.
Some solar power banks can be attached to your backpack while others offer a series of portable folding solar panels that offer greater power capabilities.
There are also stronger solar generators and power stations that are great for camping travel as they offer loads of clean energy and are also free of noise pollution since they are often ultra quiet.
Reusable Face Masks
COVID-19 has not only been detrimental to humans, it’s also having a huge impact on the environment thanks to COVID waste.
There are literally billions of disposable masks being produced around the world, with far too many ending up in our oceans and washing up on beaches. This is mostly due to the fact the masks are cheap, flimsy, and disposable.
Purchasing a reusable face mask is not only better for the environment, it’s also far more stylish. They have quickly become the number one must have travel accessory.
This is largely due to the fact many or most airports, airlines, public transport, and public spaces have made it mandatory to wear a mask since their use has been proven to reduce your chances of catching and spreading the virus in most cases.
While airports, restaurants, and other business may hand out cheap disposable masks for free, do yourself and the planet a favor by going out and purchasing a much more comfortable and effective reusable mask.
Lastly, what you put all your travel gear in is just as important as the gear itself. Luggage companies worldwide have now unveiled new sustainable suitcases which are just as durable and stylish, while also attempting to be earth-friendly.
Several luggage companies claim to be creating carbon-neutral suitcases that utilize things like recycled polycarbonate shells and lining made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic water bottles. This eco-friendly design is also being implemented for travel cubes, totes, and backpacks.
Companies are also becoming conscious of the environment when it comes to the production of their suitcases, such as using an innovative eco-dyeing process that requires less water, energy, and chemicals.
Other companies are implementing a zero-wastewater discharging system which treats production wastewater to ensure local waterways are not contaminated with harmful pollutants.
Many suitcases are also now using organic materials in their design and giving back a portion of their profits to environmental protection charities.
The takeaway is that there are plenty of eco-friendly suitcases out there, you just need to do your research when it comes to purchasing from a reliable luggage company.