Do you care about the environment but like traveling? Enter: the best eco-friendly travel gear, to the rescue!
Unfortunately, conventional travel tends to accumulate a lot of waste.
The plastic water bottles. The plastic grocery and shopping bags. The takeaway containers and coffee cups. You try to make coffee wherever you’re staying but then have to buy filters because there’s never any.
What’s an eco-conscious traveler to do?
With some sustainable and eco-friendly travel gear, you can quickly and easily reduce your environmental impact while traveling and at home. While we normally don’t condone buying lots of stuff, all of the things listed here are things that we use to avoid the accumulation of other stuff. (Modern society is quite the catch-22, isn’t it?)
Here are our sustainable travel products and eco-friendly travel gear (all vegan as well, of course)! Since we travel via house sitting, you’ll see that our recommendations are most suited to travelers staying in hostels, Airbnb, or hotels. For outdoor adventure travel, check out this guide to eco friendly camping.
Also! You’ll notice that we’ve include links to Amazon and to Earth Hero, an eco-friendly Amazon-esque site. Read more about why to avoid Amazon + other alternatives in our article: Best Ethical Alternatives to Amazon.
Table of Contents
Eco-Friendly Travel in Your Earbuds:
An eco-friendly packing list is just one of our sustainable travel tips! Check out our blog post, 20 Sustainable Travel Tips, and our podcast episode:
And now, onto the blog post!
Reusable Containers for Eating on the Go
It’s no secret that we love food. What we don’t love is how much waste eating out can accumulate if you’re not careful. We always carry the following items to reduce container waste on the go.
Nomader is a collapsible water bottle that is recent and very welcome addition to our eco-friendly travel gear. We’ve been actually wondering if something like Nomader existed for a long time when the answer landed in our inbox one day!
We’ve been using Vapur water bottles, but they have a few fatal flaws (see below). Happily, the Nomader bottle has improved upon these with a great reusable, collapsible bottle.
The Nomader bottle is made out of BPA free silicone, comes with an easy carry-strap, folds up when not in use, and is leak-proof with a screw cap so that it doesn’t accidentally leak in your bag (not that that has ever happened to us before…).
They also have a lifetime warranty and offer bottles in tons of fun colors. We’ve got purple and green. What’s not to love?!
Click here to pick out your Nomader water bottle. Read more about Nomader and why to avoid plastic water bottles in our Instagram post below:
We carry these everywhere, whether we are traveling or at home in Madrid. Apparently, staying hydrated is a very American thing, but we don’t care if drinking water marks us as a foreigner.
The Vapur bottles come in a variety of colors and two sizes. When they are empty, they roll up and take up a quarter of the space that a metal bottle does (and weigh much less). The clip even allows you to take them without a bag – just attach to a belt loop or pocket.
While we still like and use the Vapur water bottle, there are a few drawbacks. First, it isn’t the sturdiest. All that folding eventually causes weak points in the bottle. One of ours became scraped and developed a hole. To be fair, this was after a few years of solid use.
The other drawback is that these don’t stand up on their own when not full of water. Doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but it can lead to flopping all over the place or blowing around if you want to set it on a table or something.
Whether you’re caffeinating yourself in a train station, bus station, airport, or cafe, all those takeaway cups add up.
Enter this silicone reusable and collapsible cup! Boom – no more takeaway cups. Saving the environment while drinking coffee – Sam’s a big fan. An added benefit is that this cup is way more secure than a takeaway cup. Veren has literally ran with it (lid on) to catch a train and didn’t spill a drop.
Many coffee shops have also begun giving discounts for bringing your own cup. So eventually this cup pays for itself! Btw, if you’re not into the silicone collapsible kind, Keep Cup has a range of colors and sizes. Click here to see more information on Keep Cup.
Combine it with the reusable steel filter below for an even more budget-friendly cup of joe.
We’ve already mentioned this in our mobile travel kitchen kit, but it’s just that useful. Tiny, durable, can be stuffed with anything to pack more tightly and reduces filter waste tremendously.
We’ve been using it (heavily) for almost two years and it’s still going strong. We usually wash it by hand, but every 6 months or so throw it in a dishwasher for an extra cleaning.
Just buy a bag of coffee grounds and make several cups of coffee for the cost of one out. Our reusable basket was just $7. Click to check current prices.
Reusable bags are super handy to have packed neatly into your backpack at all times. Our favorite ones stuff into themselves in order to reduce to the size of a big baby fist.
Perfect for groceries, small purchases on the go, using as a laundry bag, etc. You never know when you might need one, so always take it with you – the habit is key. They come in a variety of different colors and sizes too!
We don’t have as much of a need for reusable utensils as we either eat at home or sit down for a meal at a restaurant. We pretty much never get meals takeaway and it’s not really a thing here in Spain (though it’s catching on).
Still, in places like the U.S. and U.K. where takeaway and plastic utensils are the norm, reusable utensils are key for reducing waste while traveling.
This bamboo utensil set is durable, lightweight, and the carrying case is made from recycled plastic in a variety of different colors. The set comes with a fork, knife, spoon, and chopsticks for fellow chopstick lovers (is there anything better to eat rice or noodles with?!).
And now, onto the blog post!
We're all about backpacks. Sure, you can drag something on wheels, but we prefer to keep our backs strong and retain agility in busy city streets. How often have you found yourself stuck behind wheelin' and dealin' luggage draggers? More often than we'd like.
The iconic Scandinavian school backpack turned cult favorite goes recycled! Each Re-Kanken Recyclable Pack is made from 11 plastic bottles and is made using methods that reduce water usage.
We started using packing cubes a couple of years ago and now we don’t know how we ever lived without them. No more rifling through everything and ending up sitting helplessly surrounded by the entire contents of your backpack on the floor.
Packing cubes are of course reusable and come in a variety of colors and sizes. We recommend getting a set with various sizes so that you can play Tetris fitting them in.
Upgrade your eco-friendliness by getting some packing cubes made from recycled polyester. Wish we had known about these when we got our cubes! Check them out here (don't forget to use code ALTERNATIVETRAVELERS for 10% off).
Getting caught without a towel is something no traveler wants to experience (Sam's been there). Normal towels are massive and take up a lot of space.
We each have a micro towel and always travel with them. Practical and eco-friendly. There are tons of different sizes and colors - click here to check them out.
Eco-Friendly Travel Toiletries
These eco-friendly toiletries will help reduce your plastic use AND save you money. Just what we like to hear.
Ladies! If you don’t have a menstrual cup yet, you’re in for a life-changing experience (Sam can attest!). It takes a little getting used to at first, but the benefits far outweigh the transition period (pun intended).
Not only do you avoid making all that messy monthly tampon/pad waste, but using a cup is more hygienic, and lasts up to 10 hours. It saves you money in the long run and you never have to worry about getting caught without a tampon or pad again. Click here to read all about traveling with a menstrual cup!
Unfortunately, many menstrual cups are tested on animals (including kitties). Luckily, vegan Youtuber Rehana Jomeen has done extensive research and shares her findings in her video on 7 vegan menstrual cups. Sam has and recommends the Moon Cup (mainly available in the UK). The Diva Cup - arguably the most popular menstrual cup in the U.S. - is also vegan.
For more information about menstrual cups and how to choose the best one, head to this extensive guide on Menstrual Cup Site. Just make sure to get the right size (depends on whether you've had children or not).
Why bamboo toothbrushes? Because unlike traditional plastic toothbrushes which end up sitting in landfills, bamboo toothbrushes are biodegradable. Read more about why bamboo toothbrushes are awesome here.
This pack of toothbrushes is a year’s supply for one person, comes in recyclable packaging, and is completely BPA free.
We make our own toothpaste from coconut oil, baking soda, and sea salt using this recipe from Paredown Home.
Reef Friendly Sunscreen
Sadly most typical drugstore sunscreens (like Coppertone or Banana Boat) are very bad for the environment. They contain a chemical, oxybenzone, which poisons and damages coral reefs - even in minuscule quantities. Read more in The Guardian here.
Luckily, there are many reef friendly and vegan sunscreens available. Unfortunately most of the affordable natural sunscreens that we found still come in plastic, so if you prefer DIY, check out this mineral sunscreen recipe by Going Zero Waste.
Lush is a favorite in the vegan and eco-conscious crowd. 80% of their products are vegan (some contain honey, milk or eggs) - you can read more in their FAQ. They have everything from solid shampoo (perfect for traveling), solid perfume, toothpaste tablets, and more.
Lush also uses as little packaging as possible - if you buy their products in a store, you can buy many things “naked” aka, without any packaging at all. They contribute to carbon offset programs, don’t use palm oil, work to reduce their energy consumption, and more. Read about their Green Policy here.
The one downside of Lush is that their products are more expensive than typical “drugstore” cosmetic and toiletries, but this reflects the true cost of sustainable business practices.
Related Reading: Last Object Review: Last Swab and Other Zero Waste Toiletries!
Staying connected is a must for many travelers, especially those of the digital nomad variety, who work while they travel.
The following are our essentials. Read this article for more of the best digital nomad gear.
While we love physical books, living abroad and traveling frequently means we can’t accumulate them. Even if you live in one place, books can quickly turn into clutter that you'll never read again. We both have Kindle Paperwhites and having them skyrocketed our reading.
They’re also great for language learning as you download a dictionary and when you highlight a word, the translation comes up, along with some examples of the word used in sentences. These words are stored in a vocabulary list on the Kindle that you can then access later.
We got both of our Kindles on sale. Click here to check current prices and get more information on the Kindle Paperwhite.
While smartphones get their fair share of hate because of selfie-sticks and people who never look up from their phones, smartphones are extremely useful for the modern traveler.
Google Maps, HappyCow, and FourSquare help us find delicious vegan restaurants around the world. We rent bikes via apps to explore new cities and we connect and meet up with other like-minded travelers on Instagram and Couchsurfing. We navigate in different languages using Google Translate.
Unfortunately, most smartphone companies are notoriously unethical due to human rights violations, environmental impact, usage of conflict minerals, and more. Fairphone is the world's first ethical smartphone, but the demand has been so high that all orders are currently on hold. Buying a secondhand phone on Amazon reduces demand and reuses products that would otherwise end up polluting the earth in a landfill.
HTC and Huawei score best on The Good Shopping Guide's comparison list on the ethics of various smartphones and mobile providers (spoiler alert: iPhones and Samsung score the worst).
Naturally, having a charged phone is an essential part of any traveler’s modern toolkit. Just make sure you'll have enough sun if you want to use a solar powered charger! Grab one here.
Memberships for Sustainable Long-Term Travel
No surprises here that we recommend getting a house sitting membership, as we are huge advocates for house sitting as a sustainable and alternative way to travel.
With house sitting, you cut out the middleman of (usually not eco-friendly) hotels and have a unique experience staying in a local’s home. Plus, pet cuddles! Check out our guide on how to get started as a house sitter.
On the flip side, house sitting is great for pet owners that want to travel but don't want to or can't afford to leave their pets in a kennel or cattery. For more details, check our guide to getting started using house sitters for homeowners.
Damn right that's artisan vegan cheese - the cat is in disbelief too.If you’re looking for even more ways to be eco-friendly, here’s one more: EAT fewer ANIMAL PRODUCTS. ;)