Last Updated on 20/03/2021
Sustainable travel starts with your packing list. Each item you choose to take with you has an impact on the planet whether it’s your clothes or the contents of your washbag. However, taking the environment into consideration is a challenge when you’re already trying to negotiate exactly what you need to bring with you on your trip.
Packing is a fine art as it is. It takes a lot of trial and error to get right but I’m here to tell you that your impact doesn’t need to be one of them. Below is your complete sustainable travel packing list with everything you need to start your eco-friendly adventure. These are the essentials you need when you’re travelling the world:
The bags you need for your sustainable travel packing list
Photo credit: Simon Migaj
Before you even start to nail your travel gear, you need to have a good base. Your suitcase is your travelling companion through thick and thin. You want something sturdy so that no matter what if all else fails, you can rely on it to keep your belongings safe.
If I’m backpacking, I prefer to take a rucksack with me because it makes getting around a whole lot easier and you can control how much you carry. My rule is this: if your bag is too heavy for you then you need to take a few things out!
The ultimate aim is to travel carry-on only. It’s a skill which, once mastered, can save you a lot of time and money. If you’re flying, carry-ons are more eco-friendly because the lighter weight uses up less fuel.
Some of my favourite travel bags
PacSafe Metrosafe LS200: For a no-nonsense bag that keeps all your valuables safe, I love PacSafe’s Metrosafe shoulder bag. Designed to be anti-theft, its thick material makes it anti-slash and it has zippered compartments that can lock. There’s even an RFID-safe pocket to stop your bank cards from getting scanned.
Osprey Fairview Trek 40: You can’t go wrong with Osprey when choosing a sturdy rucksack. The Fairview Trek 40 is my go-to trusty carry-on only rucksack. It even has a pocket for my laptop. It’s a great choice if you want to keep your load light. To add to your green points, the brand is also passionate about the environment. It goes lengths to keep waste to a minimum and uses recycled materials where possible.
Packing cubes: The secret to packing light is not about taking less but packing smart. This is where packing cubes come in handy. You’ll be amazed at how much of your wardrobe you can squeeze into a tiny pouch and it keeps the contents of your bag organised. Not all packing cubes are created equal. Some are specially designed to compress your clothes while others have two compartments in one for dirty laundry. Eagle Creek is generally the brand you want to go for.
Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez
Knowing exactly what you need to pack for a trip is tricky if you’ve never been to the destination before. It’s tempting to it hit the high street and buy a whole new wardrobe but you don’t want to end up with low-quality clothes that won’t serve you. Instead, pack a few well-chosen items and save room in your bag for shopping while you travel. It’s much more fun to have a wardrobe that reflects your passion for wanderlust!
A quick note on fast fashion
The majority of clothing we get on the high street is made cheaply and quickly with the intention of getting into the consumer’s hands as fast as possible (hence the name fast fashion). Quantity champions quality at the cost of the garment workers and the environment.
Just one casualty of fast fashion is the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It was once the fourth largest saltwater lake in the world but it has now been reduced to a fraction of its size thanks to the cotton industry.
Sustainable fabrics and where to shop
The good news is that there are loads of sustainable clothing fabrics. Just some of them include:
- Bamboo – soft, antimicrobial and comfortable, fabric made from bamboo is more sustainable than cotton because it requires less water.
- Linen – it’s a natural fibre that has been used for centuries. The fabric is strong and breathable.
- Organic cotton – if grown responsibly, fabric made from organic cotton is an eco-friendly choice.
- Recycled nylon – nylon is made out of plastic fibre which is, of course, unsustainable. Recycled nylon tends to be made out of easily recycled items such as plastic bottles which adds a new purpose to your clothing.
What I pack
The key here is easy to clean and easy to wear. You essentially want to create a mini capsule wardrobe where everything more or less goes together so you don’t need to stress too much about your outfit choices.
I would pack at least for a week. Regardless of where you’re going, you can usually find somewhere to wash your clothes – be it a washing machine, laundry service or good old sink and soap. Depending on the climate, you may also need to add a few thermals:
- 5 t-shirts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 2 pairs of leggings
- 1 pair of shorts
- 2 long sleeve tops
- 2 lightweight fleece jumpers
- Enough underwear for the trip
- Enough socks for the trip
- 1 pair of thick socks
- 1 dress or skirt
- 1 set of pyjamas
- 2 or 3 bras (these ones are SO comfy. Perfect for long journeys)
- 1 sports bra
- Rain jacket like this one from Jack Wolfskin
- Light jacket (if you want something a little more stylish)
- Vegetarian trainers
- PFC-free walking boots
- Flip flops (for hostel showers – you can thank me later)
- 2 swimsuits
- Thick coat (depending on the climate and time of year. If it’s a moderate climate you can usually get away with layering up.)
Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska
The secret to packing toiletries is less is more. You don’t need to take the whole bathroom cabinet with you because you can usually find what you need on the road – unless you’re going somewhere super remote.
I like to pack a carry-on where possible which means keeping liquids to a minimum. The easiest way around this is to pack solid toiletries (more on that here). I love them. You can take more quantities with you, they don’t get messy and they last longer. What could be better?
Some of my favourites
Here are some of my top toiletry essentials for packing:
Gallinée cleansing bar: One bar has lasted for years now so I’m certainly chuffed with my investment. It’s gentle, soothing and formulated to help your skin maintain its natural PH levels. You can use it on both your face and body. Oh, and it’s cruelty-free!
Ethique shampoo bar: I have fairly recently discovered the wonders of Ethique. For me, shampoo bars were always ideal but finding one that suited my hair was tricky. I’ve managed to find that in Ethique’s St Clements Shampoo Bar. The best bit is you don’t need a conditioner with it which frees up extra space in the washbag. Ethique is a great choice if you want to reduce plastic in your packing list. It’s of course cruelty-free and vegan.
Green People SPF 30 sunscreen: It’s important to protect your skin while travelling. In fact, it’s a good idea to add sunscreen to your daily skincare routine regardless. There’s just one problem. Not all sunscreen is good for the planet. In fact, chemical-based sunscreen containing oxybenzone has been linked to the destruction of coral reefs.
Mineral-based sunscreen made with non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is the way to go for environmentally-conscious sun protection. My favourite for the face is Green People. It’s luxuriously soft, scent-free, gentle on sensitive skin and non-greasy. Yep, it’s organic and cruelty-free too. Alternatively, you can read my complete guide to reef-friendly sunscreen here.
What I pack
- Shampoo bar
- Conditioner bar
- Cleansing bar
- Soap tins depending on how many solid toiletries you’re taking
- 1 100ml or less moisturiser
- 1 100ml or less body wash
- 1 100ml or less body lotion
- Bamboo toothbrush
- Bamboo toothbrush case
- Solid deodorant
- Nail clippers
- Stainless steel razor (carry-on only depending otherwise these ones are pretty great)
- 1 100ml or less sunscreen
- Sunscreen powder
- Cruelty-free makeup like this selection here
- Cruelty-free makeup remover
- Cotton face cloth
- Eco-friendly shower puff
- Travel towel
- First aid kit
- Set of hairbands
- Colourful headbands and scarfs
Photo credit: Annie Spratt
The amount of tech you bring really depends on what kind of trip you’re planning to have. If you’re in holiday mode there’s no reason why you should bring a laptop. It’ll only be an unnecessary worry for you and more insurance. If you want to be able to download films then a tablet should suffice. You can also get a case with a handy Bluetooth keyboard to go with it.
Some of my favourite tech packing essentials
I’ve recently started to up my travel tech game. Here are some of my favourite items:
Sony a6000: I love my Sony a6000 camera. It’s fairly midweight as far as professional cameras go so it’s a nice starting point for anyone wanting to get a bit more serious about travel photography. You’ll want to get a couple of lenses to go with it but they can be a bit expensive. I have the Sony E 55-210mm lens.
House of Marley wireless earbuds: Tech can and should be green too and a great piece of gear to add to your eco-friendly packing list is these liberate air wireless earbuds. They have 32 hours playtime with the case and they’re made from bamboo, recycled silicone and fabric. Heads up, they’re a little on the big side so they might not be suitable for small ears.
What I pack
- 1 or 2 lenses
- SD card (plus spare)
- Camera charger (very important and easily forgotten!)
- Unlocked smartphone (so you can buy a SIM card everywhere you go)
- Handy travel apps like these ones
- Phone charger
- Monzo banking app
- Worldwide travel adaptor
- Tripod (if you’re a solo travel photographer)
- Tablet or laptop (depending on how long you’re planning to go)
- GoPro or similar
- GoPro waterproof case
Photo credit: Anna Oliinyk
These travel packing essentials are ideal if you want to make your suitcase more efficient. I always like to take reusables with me so I can cut down on my plastic waste consumption when I travel.
Some of my favourite reusable items
Tote bag: They are so, so useful for just about anything which means you don’t need to rely on plastic bags. Going to the supermarket? Tote bag. Day at the beach? Pack a tote! Here are some organic cotton tote bags that I like to use.
Bamboo cutlery: It’s time to ditch the plastic fork once and for all. Whether you’re planning to hit the street food market scene or enjoy a bite on the go now and again, a bamboo cutlery set is essential. I love these ones. They come in a colourful cotton pouch and can survive plenty of uses!
Metal straw: The era of the plastic straw is dead. More and more bars and restaurants are starting to use sustainable alternatives but if you want to keep ahead of the game you might want to invest in a metal straw. You never know when it might come in handy! I like this straw set. It’s collapsible and has its own little pouch!
Stainless steel lunchbox: Say goodbye to unnecessary food waste by packing a lightweight lunchbox you can stash away. I personally like this two-tier stainless steel lunchbox by Wearth London. It’s a decent size and its sturdy so you don’t have to worry about spills or drips.
LifeStraw: Staying hydrated can be a tricky business when you’re travelling. Unsafe drinking water is a very real possibility so it’s much less stressful to buy sealed plastic bottles. However, single-use plastic is a scourge on the planet.
I’ve started using LifeStraw. It’s a water filter bottle with the capacity to filter out 99.999999% of nasties. You can get potable water out of just about any freshwater source. I love it but it can leak a bit at the top if you’re not careful.
Thermos: If you like hot brew when you’re travelling then a thermos or KeepCup would be an excellent investment. It’ll save you having to use throwaway cups when you get a takeaway. You could even make soup and have something warm and filling to drink as you travel.
Refillable liquid containers: Resist the urge to stock up on mini toiletries before your trip. They’re expensive and bad for the planet. Instead, save those extra pennies by taking your favourite toiletries with you in refillable liquid containers. GoToobs are excellent and they’re made from BPA-free silicone. If you choose one sustainable thing to pack for your trip make it this.
Extra Travel Essentials
Photo credit: Andrew Neel
Here are some bonus packing essentials I like to take with me for extra comfort when I’m on the road:
Oversized scarf: I can’t tell you how much of an ingenious and versatile essential this is. You can wrap it around you to keep warm, throw it over you like a blanket during long journeys or use it to create a bit of privacy if you’re staying in a hostel. You ideally want to find a lightweight one as it will be much easier to carry around.
Sleeping mask: If you’re the kind of person who needs to have complete darkness when you sleep then a sleeping mask is a must.
Travel pillow: Handy for when you’re trying to sleep upright on long journeys.
PacSafe Bag Protector: Being a target of theft is a big worry when you’re travelling. I invested in PacSafe’s wire mesh bag protector early on and although I don’t use it all the time, it’s given me extra peace of mind. If you’re staying somewhere where you don’t feel like your valuables will be safe, throw your scarf over your bag, pull the protector over it and padlock it to a secure point in the room. No one is getting through it unless they have wire clippers!
Also, check out my list of ethical travel gifts for some more packing inspiration!
Photo credit: lucas wesney
The best-case scenario is that you won’t ever need to use it. The worst case is that you take a risk and don’t have enough money to pay hospital bills. It’s always a good idea to cover your back just in case.
My go-to is World First because it’s reasonably affordable for what you get. To find the best plan that suits your needs, think about the sort of trip you’re hoping to have. Will it be action-packed? Are you going skiing or scuba diving?
You don’t want to limit yourself but at the same time if you’re afraid of heights then you don’t necessarily need to get insurance that covers hot air ballooning!
Photo credit: Juan Rojas
I hope you find this list of essentials useful for making your travel packing list more sustainable. Being eco-friendly on the road starts with what you take with you and it’s surprisingly pretty easy. You just need to plan it out a bit more.
This list should cover the basics for you and even help you to pack lighter. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment below or drop me an email.
If you would like more packing tips you can find my guide to reducing plastic while travelling and the secret to packing a carry-on for anywhere in the world. Feel free to sign up to my email to get a downloadable packing list and a quick guide to sustainable travel too!
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