Have you been wondering if you can exchange some of your travel gear with a more ecological friendly one? If you are looking for the latest eco friendly product innovations and what to look out for when buying in a conscious and responsible way this article is for you.
It will provide you with a complete travel packing list while at the same time giving you the necessary background information to know what is currently discussed as environmentally problematic and the available alternatives.
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Pants (long, short)
- Sportswear (top, shorts or pants)
- For women
- Multi-functionality items / convertible clothing such as dresses and skirts
- Sarong / Pareo (large, thin beach garment)
- Leggings (to put under dresses and skirts in culturally sensitive areas)
The choice of your clothing has a huge impact on the way fashion will be perceived and made in the future. Did you know that textiles take up the most space in landfills and take hundreds of years to break down? When deciding on what clothes do buy it is important to take into account the whole product life cycle. The choice of fiber and thereby the amount of water and potentially environmentally harming additives needed, the production process and with it the compliance with safety and social standards and the biodegradability of the end product. You as a consumer can pave the way to request and buy clothing items from brands which are applying ecological and socially friendly practices. Will they leave a zero impact on the environment? Very unlikely. The only way to not harm the environment through the textile industry is to not buy any more clothes. Is this realistic? Not so much. Nevertheless, you could rethink every purchase you make and evaluate if it is really necessary. Think also if buying more timeless designs which are not prone to a specific trend serve you more in the long term. Another great idea is the concept of multi-use items such as dresses which can be converted into jumpers.
So how can you make a difference without having to compromise on comfort, style and budget? Be assured that the fact that you are already interested in making a difference is a great starting point. While some brands focus more on improving social standards others prioritize environmentally friendly practices and then there are those doing both. Some target the reuse of already produced fabric through the use of recycled fibers. This has the advantage that these items don’t end up in landfills and when fewer resources are used to fabricate a recycled item compared to the resources used to produce the same one new you save a lot of resources such as water, energy and petroleum. When you produce new items from scratch you can already implement environmentally friendly practices from the beginning and shape the product life cycle in a completely new and innovate way. There are several brands which actively support carbon offsetting, eco friendly packaging, fair wages, renewable energies and the financial support of various social projects. At the end, you have to decide for yourself what is more important to you. There is hardly any brand which is perfect in all aspects but many do try to make a difference. The same goes for you. Don’t be discouraged by the number of alternatives you might not yet have at home. You can start little by little by slowly transforming your travel equipment over time.
Let’s have a look at the fibers which are currently used for eco friendly clothing alternatives. Cotton is by far the fiber most used in all of our clothing. Conventional cotton is intensely relying on great amounts of water, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides all endangering the health of the workers and our ecosystem. Furthermore, it depletes the soil and uses many chemicals for the bleaching and dying process. Organic cotton is still heavy on the amount of water and soil depletion but uses no chemicals for the growing and manufacturing process. It is also stronger than conventional cotton.
One of the biggest current eco trends is the use of bamboo fiber. It is easily understandable looking at the many positive facts. In is the fastest growing plant in the world which regenerates itself after being cut. It requires a lot less water than cotton, purifies the air when grown, is healthy for the soil and the planting does not require any chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The material made out of bamboo fiber is very soft, absorbs moisture better than cotton and is very elastic. There exists also a controversy about the way bamboo wood is transformed into bamboo fiber which is said to require several toxic chemicals. These chemicals are many times not part of a closed-loop system which recycles the ingredients and makes them non-harmful for the water and soil. There are several manufacturers which have recognized the problem and have either changed their way of manufacturing or have always used an environmentally friendly alternative. Those who do treat the fiber in an ecological way will clearly highlight this on their product website.
Another great alternative is the use of hemp fiber. It grows like weed which requires little amounts of water. It only takes few weeks to mature, improves the soil and is naturally resistant to pests, therefore, no pesticides and insecticides are needed. Hemp fabrics are stronger than cotton, durable and comfortable. It becomes softer the more you wear it.
Fabrics made of linen or flax fiber are the next alternative you can watch out for. They are biodegradable, do not need chemicals for their growth and have strong fibers. When worn they are moisture absorbent, feel cool on the skin and withstand easily high temperatures. The downside is that the items wrinkle easily.
Have also a look at fabrics made of Tencel derived from Eucalyptus trees. When grown it needs few amounts of water and no pesticides and insecticides. It is processed to Lyocell with a non-harmful chemical which is part of a closed-loop system and being constantly recycled. It is important that the wood comes from a sustainably grown forest. Tencel is soft, lightweight, breathable and durable.
Lenpur is another plant-derived fiber you can have a go at. It is extracted from white pine wood pulp from a sustainably cultivated forest. It comes from trimming the tree while the rest of the tree is left alive. Clothes made from Lenpur are soft with a feeling similar to cashmere and have thermo-regulatory and odor-eliminating properties.
The last alternative we would like to make you aware of are all sorts of recycled synthetics ranging from recycled polyester to fleece and cotton yarn. It can be made of recycled plastic bottles which are blended with cotton or other materials to become a soft fabric. Recycled cotton yarn can be obtained from cut-offs from t-shirt factories and be respun. On the one hand, it is a great way to reuse the material already produced and therefore save valuable resources. On the other hand, it comes with the chemical composition from the original manufacturing and is said to contribute to the microplastic problematic during every washing.
- Rain jacket / windbreaker / waterproof jacket
- Fleece jacket
- Hiking pants
Outdoor gear needs to be waterproof, durable, lightweight and quick drying. With most outdoor items these features are met by using PFCs (polyfluorinated chemicals). Studies showed that PFCs evaporates from the outdoor gear in the air and has already been found in secluded mountain lakes and snow. The chemicals can then accumulate in living organisms where the long term effects to the human body are yet unknown. Many brands have already switched to PFC free technologies and are using other eco friendly alternatives such as recycled polyester, recycled rubber for shoes and dye free membranes among others.
- Hiking shoes
- Flip flops
Soles of shoes and their cushioning system are usually made out of synthetic rubber which is a petroleum-based material. Furthermore, the production of shoes for example in Asia is prone to unfair social and dangerous production standards. Luckily, the choice of responsibly made shoes could not be greater. Look out for brands which are working under the fair trade certification or any other independent social and environmental assessment bodies. Material wise you have plenty to choose from. Instead of using synthetic rubber, shoes can be made of natural rubber which is harvested by tapping into the bank and removing a milky sap while the tree continues to grow. Comfort and quality wise the shoes come with the same characteristics. Other alternatives for the sole especially for flip flops and sandals are cork, hemp, natural bamboo grass, seagrass, corn-based soles and Pinatex which is a fiber made of pineapple leaves. In the category of reused material used for the soles, you can find shoes made of recycled rubber, plastic from the ocean, tires, wine corks, industrial hoses, polyester, post-industrial foam and fabric. Watch out also for all natural dye and non-toxic ink.
- Toiletry bag
You can find upcycled toiletry bags for example made out of recycled cement and feed bags and bags made of 100% recycled water bottles.
Given the fact that dentists recommend exchanging your toothbrush every three months, this would end up to a lot of plastic waste during your lifetime. Alternatively, you can choose from toothbrushes with handles made of bamboo, bioplastic from leftover plants, cellulose (from wood) or recycled plastic for example from yogurt containers. Bristles can be composed of a large percentage of castor bean oil or vegetable nylon which is free from petroleum.
If you want to understand the exact ingredients of your toothpaste why not do it yourself? There are many tutorials online which promote the use of all natural ingredients such as baking soda, coconut oil and drops of essential oils.
- Face lotion
Changing your skin care products to all natural ones hits two birds with one stone. First, you can be assured that you only let natural ingredients touch your body and hair and no synthetic fragrances, dyes, parabens and preservatives are used. Secondly, you avoid thousands of little microplastic parts used in many conventional beauty care products entering the sewage system which cannot be filtered. Once they enter our ecosystem they do not decompose and consequently become part of our food system where the long-term effects on our body are not yet clear. Why taking the risk when there are so many great alternatives?
The best bet when hitting the road is a multi-use liquid soap which can be used for laundry, as a shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, for washing the dishes and many more. There are also soap sheets which come in very small sizes and dissolve in water. If you are in areas with no access to water there are even waterless soaps available. You just apply the liquid on your body or hair and leave it on.
Have a go at an all natural solid shampoo which is great for traveling as it does not account as a liquid when passing security. If you want to try to do it yourself you will find plenty of recipes online which contain for example avocado oil, shea butter and essential oils. In terms of conditioner, many swear by using apple cider vinegar.
Face lotions can also be easily done by mixing your favorite ingredients such as olive oil, almond oil and essential oils.
If you want to avoid aluminum, alcohol and other chemicals which are part of conventional deodorants try also the do-it-yourself deodorant mixtures found largely online. Tested by their many users they are said to do the job. Popular ingredients are baking soda, coconut oil and essential oils.
- Mosquito repellent
In order to effectively keep away mosquito, repellents contain DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide). It’s frequent and prolonged use is clearly not recommended by many medical professionals as it can lead to rashes, skin irritation, headaches and dizziness among others. What’s more, it is highly toxic to wildlife such as birds and can easily enter the marine system by water. Nowadays, luckily there are DEET-free mosquito repellents available or you apply your own textures made of olive oil mixed with essential oils such as citronella, cloves or eucalyptus.
The chemicals used in conventional sunscreen have a huge negative impact on fish and coral especially in areas close to beaches, snorkeling or diving terrain. The alternative is a plastic free and biodegradable sunscreen available on the market. Not sure if your current sunscreen is eco friendly? It should not contain the following ingredients: Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, Octinoxate / Octylmethoxycinnamate, Octisalate, Avobenzone, ethylhexl methoxycinnamate , 4-mehtylbenzylidene and Homosalate.
- Travel towel
You want your travel towel to be lightweight and quick to dry. Most of the travel towels are made of microfiber. An alternative could be those made of organic bamboo fiber which is unbleached and undyed or towels made of recycled materials. Some designs even let the towel turn into a sarong, beach towel or yoga and gym towel.
Alternatives to plastic handles are similar to those of the toothbrushes namely bamboo, birchwood, cork or cellulose.
Most of the razors used while traveling are one-time-use razors or razors with a plastic cartridge. Both options compile to a lot of plastic waste during our lives. Additionally, the plastic razors are non-biodegradable and the blades rust while being in landfills. There are two options we can recommend. Changing to a stainless steel safety razor where only the blades need to be replaced during its lifetime. The steel razor is fully recyclable and the blades can be sent back to the manufacturer. The only downside of using a steel safety razor while traveling is that the blades by themselves don’t make it through hand luggage security. If you check your bag then never mind, they will go through easily. If you would like to stay with the plastic ones there are also alternatives made of recycled hangers, buckets or other household items.
- Hand sanitizer
Look out for biodegradable, plant-based ethanol and fragrance-free hand sanitizes which ideally come in a recyclable PET plastic container.
- Feminine hygiene products
You can save hundreds of kilo of plastic and cotton used for disposable pads and tampons by switching to more sustainable alternatives. It might also come to you as a surprise that pads and tampons are a chemical mix of artificial colors, fragrances and polyester just to name a few. Therefore switching to more environmentally friendly alternatives also is good for your body. A very popular alternative among female travelers is currently the Diva Cup or also called Moon Cup. It is a certified silicone cup which collects the blood and is emptied in intervals slightly longer than those of tampons. It is recommended to replace it once a year. The next good bet is period underwear which absorbs the blood safely while nothing can shift. You will need at least two in order to allow for washing and drying. Our last recommendation is reusable pads which are absorbent and are rinsed in cold water before putting them in a washing machine. Naturally, here you also need several.
If you already have a laptop or tablet which you would like to take with you on your trip this is the best bet in order to avoid buying new electronics and reducing the amount of electronic waste worldwide. If you are thinking of buying a new one find here the things to look out for. The brands producing more environmentally friendly laptops are changing the exterior from plastic to aluminum, glass, wood or bamboo. They are reducing the number of precious metals used and avoid using environmental harming materials such as halogen and lead. Many also use a high amount of recycled plastic, plastic not based on petroleum or natural ash. There is also a shift to reduce the amount of plastic used in the machine’s circuit board, connectors and cables. Another important factor is the product longevity and modular design. The environmentally friendly laptops should run longer than average and are made of a modular design which allows updating and repairing of individual components and upgrading to newer ones.
If buying a new phone look out for high usage of recycled material, material used from conflict-free regions and fair traded, a modular and timeless design and a brand which encourages you to repair your phone yourself rather then buying a new one. There is currently one brand available incorporating all mentioned features.
- Laptop & phone case
For your laptop and phone case, you can find many alternatives made of natural fibers such as palm leaves, cork, tung tree, jute and pineapple. Have also a look at the many funny and interesting upcycling cases made of wetsuits, tires, life vests, seat belts, candy wrapper, coffee bags, plastic bags and many more.
- Charger & power bank
Our recommendation is to change to a wireless charger made of organic hemp, plant-based bioplastic, recycled material or a solar charger.
- Electric converter and adapter
(No alternative found.)
You can find speakers and headphones made of cotton, recycled plastic and metals, bamboo and certified woods or solar powered ones.
- Digital camera
Alternatively sourced and built cameras in the amount already available for laptops and phones are currently not on the market. Nevertheless, we found a great gadget for having an all-time charged camera by using a solar camera strap providing you choose a sunny travel destination.
There are great alternatives available which do not rely on electric energy. You can opt for a solar powered flashlight, a flashlight powered by human heat or one which charges by shaking it. The outer cases come also in timber, wood or cork.
- Laundry wash bag & soap nuts
A laundry wash bag makes sure you are washing machine independent and do not have to compromise on clean clothes. The bag comes with a flexible washboard inside, is waterproof, pocket-size, more effective than hand washing and can also be used as a dry bag. Combine it with natural soap nuts which come from a tree and are therefore 100% biodegradable. Users have experienced that the nuts only turns soapy in combination with hot water so make sure to add boiled water to your wash bag. If you want a natural bleach just add vinegar or lime juice to your washing.
- Packing cubes
Packing cubes come in different colors and sizes and organize your backpack by preventing your items to fall out when opening. Look for packing cubes made of recycled and upcycled material.
- Squeezy bottles
Squeezy bottles are ideal for your do-it-yourself skin care products or any other smaller amounts of products you want to take on your trip. Take the ones made of approved silicone and free of any leaching chemicals.
- Water bottle
In order to avoid to buy many small water bottles during your trip, you can take your own and fill it up at water stations (if available). A good bet is a bottle or flask made of stainless steel in order to keep your liquids hot and cold. They are durable, recyclable and are not known to leach. Another alternative is a collapsible or foldable water bottle made of approved silicone.
- Fork-knife-spoon (spork)
Sporks are great for eating on the go and avoiding plastic cutlery from restaurants when ordering a takeaway. You can buy them made of bamboo, stainless steel and wood.
- Reusable shopping bag
Reusable shopping bags are also available made from recycled material or natural fibers and help to avoid plastic bags when shopping during your trip. Opt for one which is easily foldable and pocket-size.
- Mesh produce bags
Mesh produce bags are another great way to avoid the many plastic bags when buying fruit and vegetable. They are see-through, ultra lightweight, washable and usually made of nylon.
A good backpack with an optional daypack is one of the most important travel items. There are several brands which are using recycled material such as plastic bottles, airbags, cut-offs from truck covers, tires and many more.
There is a wide range of sunglasses made of certified wood, bamboo, cork, reclaimed materials, recycled materials and bioplastic.
- Wallet / money belt / neck wallet
When it comes to upcycled wallets the current designs surprise you with the use of old skateboards, airplane aluminum, paper, fabric, wood and cork.
- Yoga mat
If you do not want to compromise on your yoga practice and roll out your mat at any given time make sure to opt for an easy to fold, lightweight mat made of natural rubber and free of toxic chemicals dyes.
- Plastic pen
To jot down your travel impressions you can choose from plastic pens entirely made of recycled plastic bottles and journals out of tree-free pages, recycled paper or sugar cane fiber.