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Traveling Consciously: Your Sustainable Packing Guide

Updated: Feb 2

Traveling Consciously: Your Sustainable Packing Guide

Are you looking for ways to lighten your environmental footprint while you travel? Whether you're eager to minimize plastic in your gear or simply hoping to generate less waste abroad, you've landed in the right place. Traveling can be tricky and involves more than just choosing a destination and the best-priced ticket, it's about traveling consciously through sustainable packing. Join us as we dig into the art of responsible travel. 

The amount of waste generated by travel is absurdly large. Airplane travel alone generates millions of tons of waste (not to mention carbon emissions) globally, and unfortunately, the annual number is predicted to rise to 10 million tons of waste by the year 2030 [1]. But taking a peek at how airlines serve their convenience products, it is easy to see how those numbers rack up so high. On top of that, travel-sized products purchased by tourists each year amount to approximately 980.8 tons being dumped annually [2]. There are many contributing factors to this enormous amount of waste, including but not limited to the following: lack of information or resources in other countries/states/cities regarding waste management (trash, recycling, and/or composting), the use of plastic travel-sized toiletries due to TSA regulations (mainly the 3.6 fl. oz. allowed on aircrafts), or the convenience of using single-use items.

Whatever the case may be, our goal is to bring that number down by providing a relatively in-depth guide on how to travel more consciously and allow you to pick through our lists to match what tips work best for you. With these, we hope to make it easy to keep your travel bags low-waste and relatively plastic-free.

Travel Items to Bring vs Buy

Small decisions can go a long way when it comes to being conscious about the products we use. Even just one swap can make a big difference in how much plastic we are introducing into our environment. In this section, we'll offer ideas for items to bring versus buy for your travels.

  1. Bring refillable bottles - Buying bottled water or other beverages can be expensive, especially in tourist areas. Bringing your refillable bottle allows you to refill at water stations or choose a drink like coffee or tea instead without creating waste. We recommend insulated bottles for longer travels.

  2. Pack a snack - Bringing your snacks from home not only reduces environmental impact but also spares you from the inflated costs of items in airport food establishments, which often include additional fees. Here is a food guide for TSA: What Can I Bring? [3]

  3. Bring your own travel utensils - Disposable utensils generate a considerable amount of waste, especially when eating on the go. Metal knives may not be allowed on your flight, so opt for some made from wood or bamboo.

  4. Utilize a bandana - They can be used as a napkin, tissue, hair piece, sweat rag, sun protection, carrying sack, and more.

  5. Bring a tote bag or reusable bag - Carry a tote or reusable bag for versatile use, whether for shopping, groceries, as a carry-on item or to hold toiletries.

  6. Consider laundry supplies - For longer trips, packing your laundry detergent sheets and reusable dryer balls can save money over using laundry services or purchasing detergent. It reduces the consumption of single-use products and minimizes waste.

Sustainable Travel Swaps

Uncover a compelling list of simple switches designed to reduce plastic use on your adventures. Consider these replacements for a greener, more sustainable travel experience.

Swap this...

For this...

Plastic travel toothbrush

Plastic dental floss container

A travel-sized plastic tube of toothpaste

Plastic disposable razor

Metal razor

Generic brand facial rounds and cotton swabs

Plastic chapstick

Compostable tube chapstick or lip balm in a metal container

Plastic case deodorant

DIY deodorant or compostable/low-waste container deodorant

Single-use Tampons

Menstrual cup or washable pad

Single-use plastic snack bags

Single-use plastic utensils

Plastic beverage bottles

Packing Eco-friendly Toiletries

There are many ways to hold your belongings, but I have found that an old toiletry bag does the trick. No need to buy a new toiletries bag or use a plastic container! A tote bag also works and can double as a shopping bag for later in the trip.

Toiletries to include:

  • Bamboo toothbrush

  • Plastic-free dental floss

  • Chewable toothpaste bites

  • Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash (bars or reusable containers work great!)

  • Deodorant (look for sustainable packaging options or make your own)

  • Sunscreen that is reef-safe and biodegradable

  • Don’t forget your skincare, retainers, or any other necessities that are a part of your daily routines!

Sustainable Packing Pointers: Bonus Tips

Before you travel,

  • Eat (or throw in the freezer) the perishables in your fridge/home before leaving so nothing expires/goes to waste

  • Buy secondhand — Instead of buying a brand-new wardrobe for your travels, look through your closet for something to repurpose, go to a secondhand/thrift store, or buy from local/sustainable businesses

  • Roll your clothes to save space in your suitcase — If you’re traveling with kids, rolling outfits together is a great way to save time and ensures you won't forget essential items like socks or underwear for your little ones

  • Pack light and efficiently — If traveling by plane or train, wear heavier clothes so they don’t take up too much room in your bag (it will also keep you warmer if it’s particularly chilly, and you won’t have to use any potential complimentary blanket wrapped in plastic)

  • Plan outfits before the trip — Pack items that can easily mix and match to create a variety of outfits without overpacking

  • Only bring shoes and accessories that you can wear multiple times

During your travel,

  • Use public transportation instead of defaulting to a car rental — Consider using buses, trains, or carpools

  • Walk or bike whenever you can

  • Eat fresh local produce from farmer's markets

  • Road trip if you can — While planes are time-convenient, they are also a huge contributor of carbon emissions

By adopting mindful traveling habits and choosing plastic alternatives, we are making a small yet compounding difference. This requires a collective effort to make a substantial change. As we venture into new landscapes, let us leave a positive impact, respecting local cultures and environments. So, whether you're a seasoned globetrotter or a first-time explorer, remember that the choices you make while traveling can have a significant impact. Are you looking for some eco-friendly must-haves for your travels? Explore Plastic Detox for a selection of sustainable essentials. Safe travels!



[1] Chua, J. M. (2019, July 9). Why some airlines are trying “zero waste” flights. Vox. 

[2] Direct Line Group. (n.d.). Plastic waste: 980 tonnes of travel-sized products are dumped every year. DLG Corporate Corporate Website. 

[3] U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (n.d.). What can I bring?. What Can I Bring? Food | Transportation Security Administration.

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