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After looking up and seeing the ocean choked with plastic bags, diapers, utensils and cups while surfacing from a dive in Ambon, Indonesia, my husband and I committed to identifying sustainable travel essentials to minimize single use plastics. I hope some of my favorite eco friendly travel products resonate with you, perhaps sparking gift ideas for friends and family.
Shockingly, we learned the local ferry dumped all of its garbage overboard three times a day, littering the ocean and our dive resort’s beach in plastic. In addition to being horrifying and alarming, we both contracted throbbing ear infections from it. Unfortunately, this is a common theme throughout the world. As avid scuba divers, we’ve been fortunate to explore remote islands in Palau, Micronesia; Raja Ampat, Indonesia; and Anilao, Philippines. We’ve been shocked by the plastic bits littering these uninhabited places.
Given that less than 25% of plastics are recycled in the United States, the statistics are far lower in other parts of the world. Most countries don’t have the resources or infrastructure to deal with all the debris created from disposable items. By making small changes as travelers and shifting to sustainable travel products, we can help minimize the burden at home and abroad.
Identifying eco-friendly travel toiletries can be a challenge. While small travel sizes are convenient, they create a lot of waste. After discovering LUSH’s solid shampoos, conditioners and body lotion bars, I swear by them. They offer a variety of fantastic scents.
Not only will you save on weight, space and not have to worry about leaking containers, but you’ll also not leave any packaging or debris behind wherever you travel.
After experimenting with a variety of options, my favorites are:
Eco friendly shampoo bar
Jason and the Argan oil – a luscious Rose Jam scent and Moroccan Argan oil will keep your hair silky and smelling divine. The shampoo bars provide 80 washes!
Eco friendly conditioner bar
Sugar Daddy-O – a relaxing combination of violet, rose and bergamot with linseed oil, shea butter and Argan oil that softens and detangles your hair.
Eco friendly moisturizer bar
Therapy massage bar – a lovely orange, neroli and lavender scent combined with fair trade cocoa butter and Shea butter is a great moisturizer.
TIP: Buy the tins for $3.95 to store/transport the solid bars. To maximize life, tilt them on an angle in the container to dry overnight. Otherwise, they get mushy and stick to the bottom of the tins.
LUSH doesn’t use palm oil, which lurks in many everyday products. Given the widespread demand and use, landowners chop down rainforests to plant palm oil, displacing orangutans and other vulnerable wildlife in Asia.
TIP: When reading labels, avoid products that contain the following as these are other names for palm oil:
- Sodium Laureth
- Lauryl Sulphate
- Palm Kernel Oil
- Glycerel Sterate
If you do buy anything that has palm oil, look for this sustainably sourced palm oil logo on the label.
Other sustainable travel essentials
Using one of these bars saves the equivalent of three full shampoo bottles! In addition to using compostable packaging, their products are vegan and palm oil free.
Since I love the tingly feeling associated with peppermint, I recommend their Mintasy shampoo bar (previously known as Damage Control). The coconut oil and cocoa butter in it also serve to moisturize.Their Guardian conditioner bar, which saves five conditioner bottles, is great for moisturizing your hair, which is always key for me after I’ve been hiking, scuba diving or swimming in the ocean.
In addition to plastic waste, deodorants and anti-perspirants can expose us to unwanted chemicals. While natural deodorants didn’t work for me in the past, the Ethique Botanica deodorant is a great zero waste alternative. Rather than using aluminum, it uses magnesium hydroxide, zinc oxide and bamboo to keep you dry. And, the lavender and vanilla provides a pleasant, but not overpowering scent. After using it for heavy cardiovascular workouts, I can attest it works well.
Eco friendly toothpaste
Bite toothpaste bits are a convenient plastic-free option to decrease the number of toothpaste tubes that enter landfills each year – currently 1 billion! Not only does Bite package the toothpaste bits in a glass bottle, but they also send refills via compostable packaging. To minimize their carbon footprint, all Bite shipping is via ground. This is one of my favorite sustainable travel toiletries!
TIP: I prefer the Fresh Mint flavor. They periodically offer limited release flavors such as pumpkin or lavender lemon, which are worth trying.
Eco friendly bamboo toothbrush
To keep our teeth clean and healthy, we need to discard our toothbrushes every three months, which leads to a lot of unnecessary garbage. Did you know 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are disposed of worldwide each year?!
Switching to a bamboo alternative is a sustainable and biodegradable option. Personally, I like the Wowe 4-pack toothbrush set as it covers my husband and me for six months.
TIP: Remove the bristles before composting the brush as the nylon bristles are not biodegradable.
Eco friendly floss
Looking for a zero waste floss to decrease the daily trash that accumulates with standard floss? Look no further than Dental Lace floss. This compostable, silk floss comes in a stylish, refillable glass container. Refills are shipped in compostable bags and shipping boxes are made from 100% recycled material. I personally love the various designs and colors they offer for their refillable vials and value not discarding numerous plastic floss containers per year.
Reusable make up wipes
While I don’t typically bring or wear much makeup while traveling, these reusable make up wipes are great to have on hand while on the road or at home. They come with a convenient mesh laundry bag for washing. Given these are made from bamboo, they are a great eco-friendly alternative to cotton rounds.
TIP: Since they come with 3 colors in the set (pink, blue, white), allocate different sets for eye make up, face cleansing and nail polish removal.
As a scuba diver, the thought of a tiny sea horse clinging to a plastic Q-tip floating in our oceans breaks my heart. These eco-friendly cotton buds are made from biodegradable bamboo and shipped in a recycled cardboard box. Cleaning our ears or removing makeup with this sustainable alternative is a great solution.
Reef safe sunscreen
With coral reefs around the world facing challenges from rising water temperatures as a result of global warming, I’ve sought out reef safe sunscreens to use when kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling and diving.
Environmentally safe sunscreens use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and exclude ingredients like octinoxate or oxybenzone. I commend all the places around the world now requiring visitors use reef safe sunscreen including Hawaii and Palau, Micronesia. Think Sport is one of my favorite brands for both face and body. Learn more about my favorite reef safe sunscreens and sun protection products here. My one wish is that it came in an eco-friendly container.
Eco friendly accessories
Finding reliable eco friendly accesories to pack both toiletries and clothing expedites TSA airport screening and improves packing and unpacking efficiency.
After using Ziploc plastic bags for years, I converted to this TSA-approved, quart-sized bag for my carry on toiletries in 2014. In addition to easily ripping, Ziploc bags are not environmentally friendly. With Flanabags’ gusseted bottom (6.5” x 8” plus 1” gusset), I can fit more since I don’t have to worry about ripping this stylish and sturdy bag. The wrist strap also makes it convenient to grab from the TSA bin after screening.
TIP: They come in a variety of designs and make great gifts/stocking stuffers. I recommended them to my in-laws for a Japan trip and they love them as well.
I’ve been using the same one for six years now!
After accidentally leaving two Kindles in seat back pockets, I now bring my Flanabags Clear Pack Gallon, an eco friendly travel accessory, on every flight. It fits all of my carry-on essentials that I bring on the plane –( my neck pillow, eye mask, Kindle, Bose travel headphones, essential oil, No jet lag and compression socks). You can also use this for sporting events that require clear bags. The wrist strap makes it easy to carry.
Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Packing Cubes
While my husband initially mocked my organizational tendencies when I suggested packing cubes, he now uses them for both business and personal travel. We have found these eco-friendly packing cubes tremendously helpful for dive trips too. Unloading all of our dive gear on the main deck and carrying only four cubes to our room is super easy! Another bonus is I’ve found I haven’t accidentally left any clothes behind in drawers/closets after converting over to these. I’ve been using my same packing Eagle Creek packing cubes for 13 years and they are still good as new.
A great starter set is:Two Pack-It Clean Dirty Cubes Medium– use for pants, tops, dresses
Two Pack-It Tube Cubes Slim– use one for underwear and one for socks
One Pack-It Quarter cube – use for medications that you carry-on
TIP: Buying different colors for each family member allows to you to easily distribute cubes.
Eco friendly travel items
Eco friendly travel bottles
Since I’ve converted to eco-friendly facial wash, toner and serums that are in glass bottles, I transfer them to these Go Toob+ bottles when I’m traveling to minimize weight and the chance of any breakage. These eco friendly travel bottles are available in 1.25 oz, 2 oz and 3.4 oz sizes, which are all TSA approved for carry-on. Their flat caps also allow them to stand up in the shower. I value the three colors in the 3-pack, making it easy to discern between my products.
To carry my supplements, vitamins and medications, I use the small 0.4 oz Go Tubbs. Since I’m typically only traveling with a limited amount of various medicines, I don’t need full size bottles. These eco friendly travel containers’ compact size is ideal, allowing me to stack two on top of one another in my Eagle Creek quarter cube. I put one in my Flanabags Clear Pack Gallon for those things I might need to access during the flight (Melatonin, Ibuprofen, etc).
TIP: I love using one of my Go Tubbs to have a teaspoon worth of Vicks Vapo Rub in my pocket. It is great to combat people’s smelly feet or body odor on planes and trains.
By wiping a small amount under your nose, you’ll mask the offending odor. It works like a charm. And, if you get sick or congested while traveling, it’s great to have on hand. I transfer it from my Flanbags to my pocket for easy access throughout the journey. My husband used to make fun of me for this travel hack and now always carries his own to mask undesirable smells.
Zero waste travel kit
Reusable water bottle
Did you know that Americans use 50 BILLION plastic bottles per year?! At most, only 23% are recycled. Simply shifting to a reusable water bottle and refilling at your home/hotel/AirBnB before you head out or at airports’ “hydration stations” after you clear security makes a HUGE difference.
I’m incredibly proud of the fact that San Francisco International Airport (my home airport) eliminated all plastic water bottles in August 2019. Water is only offered in glass, aluminum or paper containers.
Since I use ice to chill my drinks where possible, I prefer wide mouth water bottles for ease of inserting ice and filling. My two favorite brands since they never leak are Nalgene and Hydro Flask. It’s also key for using my SteriPEN (more on that below) to sterilize my water. I love that Hydro Flask keeps my drinks cold for hours, motivating me to drink 64 oz of water every day.
SteriPEN Ultraviolet Water Purifier
A key element of my eco friendly travel practices is sterilizing water with a SteriPEN Ultra UV Water Purifier rather than buying bottled water. The SteriPEN destroys 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Having contracted giardiasis while traveling in Northern China and getting violently ill from supposed “filtered/bottled” water in India and Egypt, I now prefer to sterilize water myself.
TIP: I use the SteriPEN Ultra UV Water Purifier. Since it’s rechargeable, you don’t have to worry about batteries. Each charge allows for 50 water treatments. To use it, make sure you travel with a Nalgene or Hydro Flask wide-mouth water bottle. You won’t be able to get the SteriPEN into a water bottle with a narrow opening.
Carrying your own reusable bamboo cutlery as part of your eco friendly travel kit allows you to decline the plastic utensils offered with takeout food. Whenever we go out to eat in San Francisco, we bring our own reusable takeaway containers to bring leftovers home.
For flights now, whenever possible, I bring my own food, snacks and reusable utensils aboard to avoid the waste caused by all the disposable plastic that’s given to each passenger.
I commend airlines that are shifting away from plastic towards compostable options and hope more follow suit.
Despite the fact that I rarely use straws, I always carry eco-friendly straws with me for smoothies or frozen drinks and offer them to friends as well. While San Francisco has led the way in banning plastic straws and offering compostable alternatives, many parts of the United States and world still automatically put them in drinks. As such, anytime I order a drink, I proactively request “no straw please.” I’m always delighted when the server says they don’t use plastic straws.
I personally love my stainless steel straw set since it includes curved and straight straws. For those that chew on straws or want to avoid stains on your teeth while drinking coffee, you might prefer the biodegradable Silicone Koffie Straw. I also like my bamboo straws. It’s all a matter of personal preference. All the reusable straw sets I’ve bought come with a cleaning brush, which is key for sanitizing inside your straws.
For me, this heartbreaking video of a plastic straw being extracted from a sea turtle’s nose is a great reminder of why it’s important to shift away from plastic straws.
Eco friendly travel bag
Did you know that only 1 in 1000 sea turtles make it to adulthood? Given their rarity, we are always enamored when we see them scuba diving. While making a mad dash from their nests to the sea, they must run the gauntlet of crabs and birds preying on them. Once in the sea, sharks, fishing net entanglements and poachers pose threats. And, some mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish, a food source for some.
By traveling with your own sustainable travel bag, you can decline the plastic bags that many shops offer when selling you food, trinkets, etc. I buy these Chico bags as they are made from recycled plastic bottles and stuff into their own sack, packing down to the size of a lemon. I always travel with one of these reusable bags no matter where I go.
Reusable snack bags
Since I’m known for getting hangry, I ALWAYS have snacks with me, typically nuts, fruit slices or homemade energy bites. These silicone Stasher snack bags are perfect for those treats and sandwiches as I can wash and re-use them. And, these reusable snack bags are dishwasher and microwave safe. You can also use them in your freezer or Sous vide at home. A truly multipurpose eco friendly alternative to plastic Ziploc bags.
Reusable coffee cup
Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I do love chai and mint tea. However, I’m like a gremlin. No mint tea or chai allowed after 12pm or I’m up until 3AM. Bringing my reusable coffee mug with me when I travel ensures I can minimize waste wherever I go.
If you prefer something stainless steel and insulated to keep your coffee/tea hot for longer, I highly recommend Contigo products. I adore my spill proof 16 oz stainless steel mug and have used it whenever I indulge in my favorite mint tea at my local Philz Coffee. I’ve been using mine for 6 years and it’s still going strong! It keeps drinks hot for 7 hours and I can attest the spill proof lid works. Since I have mad skills for dropping and spilling things, this lid has saved me MANY times.
If you prefer glass, 12 oz Keep Cups are great as they have a cork band to make sure you don’t burn your hand when holding your hot coffee. Given my propensity for breaking things, glass is not a great option for me.
Other sustainable travel products
Eco friendly wash bag
While I always travel with a sink stopper to wash and hang all my quick dry clothes, sometimes the sinks aren’t conducive to doing laundry in them. In those cases, the Scrubba wash bag is a perfect alternative. This pocket-sized washing machine has an internal, textured wash board. This will be a KEY tool for me during the 30 day Snowman trek, which I hope to do in Bhutan in Fall 2023.
Eco friendly travel wash
I have traveled with Campsuds for 20+ years. Given I typically pack only three sets of pants, shirts, socks and long sleeve shirts. I wear one set, wash one set each night and always have a clean set.
Since Campsuds (a biodegradable, environmentally friendly soap) is very concentrated, you only need a ½ to 1 cap per load. My husband and I typically share a 4 oz bottle on a three-week trip and often come back with soap leftover. This multi-purpose, eco friendly travel wash can be used as shampoo, body wash and dish soap. And, the leak proof Nalgene bottle is key to eliminate any spills in your bag
Another option is the Sea To Summit Pocket Laundry Wash, which comes with 50 soap leaves in each pack.
TIP: Make sure your hands are completely dry before touching these or they will all stick together. I learned the hard way!
My in-laws gifted a pair of Allbirds to my husband before they were all the rage. Now, we both have and LOVE them! It’s pretty much the only shoe I wear. When traveling, I typically travel with three pairs of shoes – my All Birds, hiking boots and flip flops. They are super easy to slip on/off at the airport and aboard long-haul flights.
These eco friendly shoes are made from – wool for the shoe, sugarcane for the soles and a recycled plastic bottle for the laces. And, they ship in boxes made from 90% recycled material.
TIP: Since the Wool Runners Allbirds run small and don’t come in half sizes, size up when ordering. If you typically wear a 6, go to a 7. If you wear a 6.5, you might want to consider a size 8.
Eco friendly towel
If heading to a beach, diving or hiking destination, having an eco friendly travel towel on hand is always a good idea. Nomadix towels are a great option since they are made from recycled plastic bottles. Since places I travel to are often humid, quick-drying products are something I value.
When trekking/hiking in an area where you don’t have access to electricity, a solar charger is helpful. After a few friends raved about their solar chargers, I decided to invest in one. This 25000 mAH portable charger will be KEY for my upcoming Bhutan treks, including the month-long Snowman trek in Bhutan in 2023.
I hope you found some sustainable travel items and accessories to simplify your travels.