With steadily increasing concerns over the current state of our planet and the ongoing issue of climate change, more of us are eagerly adopting the practices of sustainable living. These everyday changes can include everything from altering our methods of transportation to revamping our diets and being mindful of our energy consumption.

But we shouldn’t just strive to reduce our usage of the Earth’s natural resources and leave a smaller carbon footprint as we go about our daily lives. Sustainability should be something we actively practice wherever we go, even when we venture abroad. This guide will shed some light on how you, too, can aim for a more sustainable existence when you travel, and how you can pack your suitcase accordingly.

Natural and Organic Body Products

Choosing products that are both organic and chemical-free is the first step when packing a suitcase fit for a sustainable getaway. Whether you’re off for a weekend jaunt, a backpacking expedition, or a long-haul flight, you’ll most likely be taking a selection of your skincare and body products along with you — products that are often filled with harmful chemicals. We all need such toiletries, but replacing more common (and less sustainable) products with their natural, organic counterparts will not only be better for your skin and your health, but will have a gentler effect on the environment.

Organic sunscreens and natural deodorants don’t contain any of the nasty ingredients that synthetic skincare and body products usually do. One common chemical used by major sunscreen brands is oxybenzone, which has been known to cause drastic damage to marine life and, in particular, coral reefs when it is washed off of our bodies and into the ocean. By comparison, organic sunscreens are made of mineral-based, biodegradable, natural ingredients that won’t harm our planet. In a similar vein, deodorants and aerosol antiperspirants often contain aluminum and petroleum derivatives, which are not only toxic to our water systems but also cost the planet substantial losses in precious energy and resources. Natural deodorants, on the other hand, are often made with ingredients such as mineral salts, essential oils, and baking soda, none of which will clog your pores or our fragile ecosystem.

Rustic bars of soap on a plate
Photo by Kristina Balic

Moving away from plastic-bottled products and toward soap and shampoo bars is also a huge benefit to the environment — not to mention that they are wonderful to travel with as they don’t take up much room, spill, or exceed any liquid carry-on restrictions. Finally, it’s a good idea to top off your stash of organic body products with a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush. After all, approximately one billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the United States alone, so it’s safe to say we don’t need to add any more.

Reusable and Recyclable Items

White mesh produce bag full of vegetables
Photo by Sylvie Tittel

Having a handful of reusable items will not only come in handy during your travels, but the environment will thank you for it. We all know by now that plastic bags are suffocating our planet, as they are made from non-biodegradable materials, using non-renewable resources. They block drainage systems, leach toxins into our water, cause injury or death to wildlife when mistaken for food, and continue to wreak havoc long after disposal with the release of harmful gases into our atmosphere. Reusable totes are the answer to this problem and can be used for just about anything — from carry-on luggage to shopping baskets or beach bags. Be sure to purchase those that are made of recycled materials, organic cotton, or hemp, though. Certain companies that sell tote bags have been known to reel in unassuming victims in what’s known as “greenwashing,” where consumers are led to believe that a certain product or company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is. To combat this, be sure to stay away from bags made of inorganic cotton, canvas, or polypropylene.

Reusable utensils are another way to safeguard our environment — and they’re also great to have on the road. Products such as stainless steel straws, water bottles, utensils, and coffee cups are all making a splash on the global scene, and are both easily purchased and inexpensive. Say no to single-use cups, plastic straws, and plastic forks, and say hello to a cleaner, greener world.

Two iced coffees in jars with steel straws and two coconut smoothie bowls
Photo by Louise Burton

Sustainable and Ethical Clothing

Creating a sustainable wardrobe can, of course, be daunting, when considering the added costs of purchasing ethical clothing and the shift of mindset needed to stay away from brands we may have previously loved so much. But the truth is your wardrobe doesn’t need to be changed all at once (unless you want it to). Making a few adjustments to how you purchase new clothing and picking out a few sustainable pieces for your wardrobe — or, in this instance, your suitcase — is all that’s needed to start you on your way.

When purchasing new items, you’ll need to make an informed decision about which companies you choose to support. Seeking out brands that manufacture sustainable clothing made from organic cotton, organic wool, sustainably grown bamboo, hemp, and linen, and avoiding synthetic materials such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon is a crucial aspect of building a sustainable wardrobe. From there, it’s important to research your chosen company’s approach to ethical working standards and stance on child labor. Purchase from stores that utilize eco-friendly, recycled packaging and have ongoing commitments to social enterprises and charities. Finally, when buying new, be sure to purchase from companies that rate quality over quantity to be sure that your pieces were made to last.

The second course of action in building a more sustainable wardrobe is to shop vintage. Thrift stores and op-shops are calling your name, and with it, a far more sustainable way of sourcing new outfits. Likewise, when you’re ready to get rid of certain clothing items, whether you’re at home or on the road, be sure to donate them. This will help someone else invest in your old pieces rather than buying new themselves. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, after all, and with a quick Google search, you’re bound to find locations that accept donations in most cities you might visit.

Person reaches up to select a ball of wool from a colourful wall display
Photo by Josh Edgoose

Lastly, remember to take good care of the clothes that you already have. Go the extra mile to wash your clothes carefully and as their labels advise, and hang and fold them appropriately. When you can repair small damages like loose buttons or minor tears, do it!

Eco-Friendly Tech

Persons hand holds mobile phone taking photo of seaside cliffs
Photo by Luke Porter

Solar power has been around for decades, but only in recent years has solar technology become more efficient and affordable. Adding a solar-powered portable battery to your repertoire of travel tech is a great eco-friendly solution that will provide you with a constant source of reliable power, whenever you’re on the go. Replacing disposable batteries with rechargeable ones should be your next step, as in most instances, each rechargeable battery can be reused over 500 times — that’s a lot of batteries saved from landfills.

Other eco-friendly gadgets include shake-and-shine flashlights, which forgo the use of batteries altogether and provide torchlight for up to two hours; water-powered digital alarm clocks, which can get you out of bed while harvesting green energy; and sustainably sourced (and produced) laptop or camera bags for carrying your possessions in an Earth and animal-friendly manner.

In addition, more and more mobile apps are being designed to help travelers ensure that their trips are as eco-friendly as possible. A few examples are Maps.me, which allows users to download maps to use offline instead of purchasing physical ones, and UNEP Carbon Calculator, which enables users to calculate the size of their current carbon footprint and visualize its impact on a particular ecosystem. No matter which apps you try out on your next trip, there is a plethora of information out there that enables us to pay closer attention to the big issues and guide us down greener paths.

A man walks along a dirt path in Robonov Kot
Photo by Steve Brock

In this day and age, sustainable living — and traveling — should be at the forefront of our minds. We owe it to future generations to make sustainable choices both at home and abroad. Be respectful of the Earth’s precious and fragile ecology when you’re traveling, and remember that we can all make a difference, wherever we are in the world. Happy packing!

If you want to read more about sustainable travel, check out these 12 ways to live sustainably in 2019, or learn how to plan an eco-friendly road-trip.

Header image by Neil Iris

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Tara Worthington
Tara is a writer at heart and a traveler by nature, recently making the move from her hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, to Melbourne, Australia. When she isn't thinking up new stories, she's dreaming of faraway places — and potentially adding them to a wanderlust list as long as her arm.