In my personal and professional life, I’ve taken environmental responsibility to heart, and it was inspired by my world travels. I’ll never forget that river cruise I did in Hoi An where, once outside of the harbour it looked like the entire place was built on plastic waste. Or the road in Panama lined with garbage – bags of it – simply thrown out the window as people drove along. Or the mall in Chiang Mai where the garbage cans were literally overflowing with plastic bubble tea cups by lunchtime. Seeing these things, I promised myself I would not further contribute to the problem. In this article I will introduce you to some unconventional eco friendly travel products that go beyond the norm; things you can use at home and abroad to reduce your footprint. In so doing I’ll show you the filter through which I process all my buying decisions – including for everyday items.
See also: My Zero Waste Kit for Travel (and Home)
Disclosure: I have included affiliate links to some of the products in this post. This means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will get a small commission. Thank you in advance for supporting The Professional Hobo.
Traveling is one of the primary joys in life for many. You get to experience other cultures, discover peculiar places, talk to new people, and maybe even become a different – ideally better – version of yourself.
On the not-so-bright-side, traveling can also be a time when you generate a lot of trash and where your eco friendly best of intentions take a hit. Think long flights, ready-to-eat meals, plastic bottles, travel-size shampoos, and the like.
But traveling doesn’t have to be waste and plastic-intensive. Below we’ll explore some everyday travel essentials that are a better choice for the planet and its creatures, and that you may not have necessarily considered.
To be clear, I’m not blaming anyone for their habits. Those experiences in Vietnam, Panama, and Thailand? They could have been common practices dating back to a time when garbage was biodegradable and thus litter wasn’t an issue. When education and infrastructure is lacking, people don’t know better, until it’s an evident problem, as it now is. And as travelers, it’s our responsibility to minimize our impact and not contribute further to existing problems.
The Most Eco Friendly Travel Products are What You Have at Home
Beyond the ecological dilemma of whether or not to travel (which is beyond the scope of this article), there are concrete choices you can make that will significantly enhance your eco-score. The first one is to look inside your home.
When thinking about going abroad, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the options, products, and in-case-of items. And for many people, the knee-jerk reaction is often to buy new (specially tailored) products to prepare for their trip.
Buying new products isn’t the problem as such, especially if you are certain that you don’t own an acceptable alternative. But buying mindlessly something you don’t necessarily need is not the best eco-friendly practice.
The smarter option to make your travel habits more earth-friendly is to use what you already have and use it for as long as you can. In the same logic, borrowing and buying second-hand are great habits too.
The bottom line is to become more conscious about your consumption needs and how you can help the environment by lessening your generation of (unnecessary) waste.
Remember: one of the fundamental principles of going green is your approach regarding waste:
- Refuse what you don’t need (and thus, avoid buying new if possible),
- Reduce your consumption/quantities (pack light, with versatile items),
- Reuse as much as possible (for example, by borrowing from friends).
This being said, if you do need to add something new to your repertoire, here are some suggestions that allow you to make more eco-conscious choices when it comes to travel.
Low Waste Makeup
Conventional makeup products usually have plastic packaging and casings that are either tough to recycle or not recyclable at all. Not to mention the number of ingredients that have questionable origins and are not necessarily healthy for your body and skin.
Eco-friendly makeup is slowly becoming more accessible, as a growing number of brands are taking responsibility for their products; making packaging more sustainable, their products cleaner, and more.
When looking for eco-friendly makeup products, consider three things:
- What it’s made of,
- How it’s made,
- How it gets to you.
The most eco-friendly makeup products are those with clean ingredients, sustainably sourced and ethically made. Look for brands using reusable containers such as glass jars, and/or come in easily recyclable or compostable cartons and containers.
Shipping-wise, opt for brands that have a sustainable and earth friendly policy in place; for example, by compensating and offsetting their carbon footprint, or by sourcing/distributing as locally as possible.
Look for products that are naturally derived or plant-based. Avoid buying items that use nonrenewable energy sources such as petroleum. Another ingredient to avoid is palm oil, the production of which is causing massive environmental issues from deforestation and dwindling animal habitat to the displacement of indigenous communities.
Zero waste champion River Organics offers a wide range of clean, trustworthy makeup products. Use coupon code PROFESSIONALHOBO for 15% off!
Sunglasses are a traveling must to protect your eyes, especially in tropical or high-altitude destinations.
But did you know that you can take your sunglasses game up a notch by buying sustainable and eco-friendly ones? While traditional sunglasses are often made of plastic, many brands are now coming out with eco-friendly options such as plant-based acetate or bamboo.
Thus, look for sunglasses that use bamboo, recycled, or plant-based materials. Those are usually the ones that will leave the least amount of environmental footprint. Be on the lookout for brands that openly share information on their supply chain and manufacturing practices.
Reef Safe and Eco-Friendly Sunscreen
Speaking of sun protection, conventional sunscreen has many issues. For one, lots of sunscreens like the one at your local drugstore are not reef-safe. Concretely, this means that they contain ingredients that harm precious coral reefs and marine life.
In case of doubts when scrutinizing a label, have a look at the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory (HEL); their certification guarantees the absence of harmful environmental pollutants. Some HEL-certified sunscreens include Stream2Sea and Sunblocz.
If you are located in Europe, Suntribe’s sunscreens are certified coral safe, free of synthetic chemicals, and contain a high proportion of organic ingredients.
Lastly, as mentioned above in the makeup section, the extra points are attributed to sunscreen products with reusable, recyclable, or even compostable packaging. Sunscreen brands that use recycled plastic for their packaging are also better alternatives.
Shampoo and Conditioner Bars
Liquid shampoos and conditioners usually come packaged in plastic bottles that are not easily recycled and thus often end up polluting our soils and oceans. When you’re traveling, you’re likely to buy travel-sized versions of everything, especially considering the carry-on restrictions on liquids.
A great workaround is opting for shampoo and conditioner bars. You can cut up a bar and take just what you need for your trip (a great tip for carry-on and one bag travel). There are no packaging or liquid restrictions to worry about.
And if you’re balking at the price, don’t: they last way longer! I’ve been a fan of LUSH’s shampoo bars for years (they’ve been a consistent staple in my packing list), and one bar lasts me (and my long hair) a minimum of six months.
Whatever bar-looking product you buy in bulk or online, make sure it lists ALL the ingredients. For example, vegans should avoid beeswax and other animal-derived components. Similarly, soap and shampoo (whether liquid or bar) mentioning ‘fragrance’ in the list is a typical way to ‘hide’ questionable ingredients.
Soap Saver Bags
For years I shied away from shampoo bars and bar soaps because if you don’t have the time or ability to let them dry properly, they become a gooey mess. But just like liquid shampoo, liquid soap isn’t particularly eco-friendly, and it doesn’t pack gracefully especially if you’re traveling long-term and/or with carry-on luggage.
There are two steps to effectively using bar soaps and/or shampoos: one is a soap saver bag, which is like a natural loofah that your soap goes inside of and allows you to use every bit of soap (instead of having to abandon it when it’s too small to handle). And, at the end of your shower, you can hang it up and the water will drain out allowing the soap to quickly dry so it doesn’t end up a mushy mess.
But what happens when you need to shower and pack right away and your soap bar is still wet? Even if you you put it into a (large and unwieldy) soap case or plastic bag, it still comes out slimy at your destination if not given a chance to air dry.
Enter: The FlatPak Soap Bar Case. Put your wet soap into this case and it (magically??) dries on its own.
Curious about the different soap savers options and their benefits? Take a look at this article on Puratium, where they go into detail about everything you should know.
Reusable Cotton Swabs and Rounds
Cotton rounds and swabs are useful for hygienic purposes and for removing makeup. Keeping a couple of cotton rounds handy when traveling always has its benefits. However, these products are wasteful given their single-use nature. The plastic part of conventional cotton swabs in particular is difficult to work around and recycle properly.
A great eco-alternative to move away from these single-use items are Last Object’s washable products. They designed reusable cotton swabs made of silicone that you can reuse up to 1000 times! The Danish brand also created reusable cotton rounds and tissues.
All in all, Last Object’s brilliant ideas are an easy swap for you to make if you want to decrease waste (and its harmful consequences) at home, and also when traveling.
Pacsafe Recycled Backpacks, Luggage, Purses, and More
I’ve been a Pacsafe girl for years now, because of their thoughtfully designed bags with anti-theft features and more. If I didn’t already have enough reasons to love their stuff, they’re now leading way making eco-friendly bags.
Browse through their collections, and you’ll see green recycling signs next to increasing numbers of their products. This means those bags are being made with ECONYL material, which is made from recycled fishing nets and other plastic waste.
Pacsafe is on a mission to reduce ocean plastic, and in addition to all their new bags being made from recycled plastic, they are converting their existing collection too. In 2020, 35% of all their bags were made from recycled material, and in 2021 they are increasing that to 75% of the entire Pacsafe collection.
They’ve also switched out their packaging and tags to recycled cards and they’re working with suppliers to eliminate plastic from shipping materials. By 2025 they aim to eliminate all virgin plastic from their entire supply chain.
I currently own a few of their ECONYL products (specifically the Citysafe CX Anti-Theft Backpack – which is my stylish multi-use daypack for travel, and the Daysafe Anti-Theft Tech Crossbody – which is my new passport/valuables carry case on travel days and my hands-free out-on-the-town-with-just-a-few-things bag while at my destination). The material feels great, and is equal – if not superior – in quality to Pacsafe’s older products.
Aviator 100% Merino Wool Shirts and Hoodies
After reading that certain kinds of polyester may be responsible for the majority of micro-plastic pollution in the Arctic (it comes out when you wash it), I learned the importance of choosing eco-friendly fabrics.
Aviator is known for their jeans, and many claim they make the most travel-friendly jeans out there. I have a pair, and I can attest to the stylish and stretchy (quick-dry) denim, with hidden zipper pockets for travel security.
But Aviator doesn’t just make jeans; they also make 100% merino wool tops. (I stress the 100% because there is a lot of “merino wool clothing” out there that has only a small percentage of merino wool, blended with polyester, which in my mind defeats the purpose.)
They have t-shirts and travel hoodies for men and women, and a snappy looking polo for men as well.
I have looooong been a fan of merino wool. Just in case you haven’t read my various rants extolling the virtues of merino wool clothing, here are a few reasons why it’s my #1 favourite material for travel clothing:
- Antimicrobial (ie: anti-stink; you don’t have to wash it as often)
- Lightweight and packable
- Naturally degrades when disposed of
Aviator’s Travel Hoodie goes the extra mile (travel pun intended) with the following features:
- Two exterior zipper-secure pockets
- Multifunctional cuff can be worn standard, as a fingerless glove, or as a mitten
- Multifunctional hood can be worn standard or as a sleep mask
If all that weren’t enough to get me into a tee and a hoodie (which they kindly sent to me for free and I am constantly wearing), then this little gem on the Aviator site sealed the deal:
“At Aviator, we source our merino wool from New Zealand because they maintain strict laws protecting their sheep and have banned the cruel practice of mulesing. New Zealand Merino’s are treated ethically and are carefully sheered each spring.”
Check out Aviator’s merino wool line up here.
WAMA Hemp Underwear
Hemp is another one of those miracle fabrics. It’s like cotton, except way better. Here’s why:
- Naturally anti-bacterial with anti-odor properties
- Comfy, breathable, and gets softer with every wash
- Organic, sustainably farmed
- Uses 3% of the water conventional cotton uses
- Farming hemp uses 18% less energy than conventional cotton
So why not trade in your tattered tighty-whities for WAMA’s hemp underwear? They have a variety of styles for both men and women. WAMA sent me a selection of undies and a bra, and they’re great. They absolutely do get softer with each wash, and even after working out in them, they remain totally stink-free.
Here are a few more reasons to choose WAMA:
- They are a Green America Certified Business, meaning they show leadership in the green business field and are committed to positive social and environmental change.
- All their packaging and shipping materials are made from sustainably-sourced recycled materials, and are reusable and recyclable, and in some cases naturally biodegradable too.
Something to note: pay heed to the sizing chart and recommendations. At the time of writing, their sizing was such that it was generally advisable to size up. I’m normally a size medium, but large fit me perfectly.
Check out Wama Underwear here.
Encircled: Women’s Sustainable Clothing Champion
I know….I’ve gone down a bit of a eco-friendly travel clothing rabbit hole, but since we’re here, I must round this collection off with Encircled. First off, what makes Encircled travel-friendly? Many of their products can be worn multiple ways, which means one piece of clothing can be dressed up, down, and all around. Their first ever product was the Chrysalis Cardi, which can be worn more than 8 ways!
I’ve been a friend of Encircled since their early days almost 10 years ago. I started off with their signature Chrysalis Cardi, then got their Evolve Top, then their Flipside Leggings, and finally the Revolve Dress. Since then, they’ve changed and expanded their lineup a lot, but one thing remains unchanged: their commitment to sustainability. Here are some highlights:
- They’re a Certified B Corp, which means they’re legally required to consider the impact of every decision on their workers, suppliers, community, environment, and customers.
- They’re Oeko-Tex Standard 100® Certified, which means the majority of all threads, buttons, and accessories have been tested for harmful substances.
- Their sewing studios save all scrap fabric and upcycle it into accessories.
- Their web hosting provider is wind-powered.
- Their studio/warehouse uses eco-friendly paper and cleaning products, and single-use plastic water bottles are banned.
- Packaging is 100% recyclable.
Oh yeah, you probably want to know about their fabrics. This is where it really gets good. Here’s what Encircled makes their clothes from:
- Modal® – One of the softest fabrics in the world, made from sustainable beech wood pulp
- TencelTM Lyocell – Made from sustainably-sourced wood pulp, and the yarn is created through a closed-loop process (ie: no water/chemicals/byproducts are released back into the environment)
- Rayon from Bamboo – Grown without pesticides, naturally regenerates, and is naturally biodegradable
- Organic Cotton – Grown without pesticides or GMOs
- Linen – Made from the resilient flax plant, and is biodegradable
So, feel good about your buying decisions, and check out the extensive sustainable clothing collection at Encircled.
Little changes in your travel (and daily) routine can add up to more conscious and earth-friendly adjustments on a larger scale. Bonus: you can save a lot of money if you’re creative, borrow, and reuse what you already have.
I like to vote with my dollars, so when I do need to buy something, I do my very best to buy from trustworthy brands that are putting ethical and sustainable standards first on their charts.
Check out the web story for this article here.