The sustainable packing list every traveller needs!

Sustainable packing list backpacking

By now, we’re aware of the environmental impact travelling has. When you’re on the road without home comforts, in countries where being eco-friendly isn’t so easy, single-use plastic is often the norm. Tourist attractions full of discarded packaging, beaches covered in rubbish, not to mention how much waste half-eaten plane food creates…

While we have to respect different cultures, the places you explore might not always share the same climate concerns. But, that doesn’t mean we still can’t do our bit to make more sustainable choices. After all, we need to preserve and care for the planet in order to keep adventuring it!

The secret to being an eco-friendly explorer? Preparation. It’s not hard, and in fact you’ll probably save some dollar in the long run. We’ve put together a sustainable packing list to help you produce as little waste as possible. Backpacks at the ready.


Make a packing checklist

sustainable packing list

📷 @luizabcaminada

Tip one might seem simple, but it has to be mentioned. There’s nothing worse than arriving at your hostel and realising you’ve forgotten something important. We’re looking at you, toothbrush. No but honestly, why create more waste before your trip has even began? Making sure you’ve got everything you need stops you buying things you already own.

Sustainable packing tip:  check the weather conditions of wherever you’re going. Rain forecast? Get that umbrella or raincoat in your bag. Take only what you need, but take everything you need!


Pack clothes you already have

One of the first steps for anyone who wants to travel more sustainably is to be a conscious consumer. Capitalism tells us to buy new things when we don’t really need them, but I challenge you to travel only with things you already own. Get creative with the clothes you’re bored of wearing, and embrace becoming an outfit repeater. When you’re visiting places you’ve never been, no one has seen you wear it before.

Appreciate what you already have, avoid consuming unnecessarily and save your pennies. It’s a win-win-win.

Sustainable packing tip: while you’re looking at your wardrobe, check the labels of the clothes you’re planning to pack. Chances are, you’ll be using local laundrettes so don’t bring clothes that will shrink, dye, or rip easily. This way you’ll avoid having to replace them.

…But what if I need to take something I don’t have yet?


Borrow clothes and gear you don’t have

A great way to save money and unnecessary waste is to borrow things you don’t have. This tip is especially helpful for those who’re travelling in colder climates and need warm clothes or hiking gear. Instead of spending money on jackets and accessories you may never use again, borrow from a friend or relative. It’s also worth borrowing if you need a backpack, yoga mat, boots, camera – the list is endless. If you don’t know anyone who has what you need, buying second hand is always a more sustainable option.


Assemble your zero-waste kit

sustainable packing list

📷 @luizabcaminada

Okay, this is the most important tip on my sustainable packing list. Take a zero-junk kit with you on every trip and don’t let it leave your bag! It should include:

  • Reusable water bottle
  • Water neutralising tablets
  • Reusable coffee cup
  • Cutlery
  • Straws
  • Foldable Tupperware
  • Microfibre towel
  • Face towel / reusable cotton pads

And anything else that replaces disposables. Do you know how much waste this will stop you generating?

Employ tips number 2 and 3 here: use what you already have or borrow from someone. You don’t have to buy the trendy retractable glass or bamboo cutlery kit just because it’s cute. Take cutlery from home, that mug you got for your birthday, and so on.

Unfortunately, producing rubbish is unavoidable sometimes, but being prepared is a total waste-saver. You can use your own cutlery rather than grabbing plastic when you eat street food, and many cities have free drinking fountains on the streets to encourage refilling. Most hostels offer guests free water, so always fill your bottle before heading out. Having these things to hand makes travelling easier and is more sustainable

Always carry an eco-bag with you

sustainable packing list

📷 @luizabcaminada

Even in everyday life, having an eco-friendly shopping bag is essential for being more sustainable. Rather than using plastic bags when browsing local markets or nipping to the pharmacy, make use of that tote bag you got from that museum that time and never touched. They’re also handy in other ways – carrying toiletries to the hostel bathroom, using them as laundry bags, or to carry snacks.

After I started using cloth bags, I never went back to plastic. The ones in the photo were made of scraps that would go to waste, which is a good idea if you’ve got a crafty streak!


Invest in environmentally-friendly toiletries

sustainable packing list

📷 @luizabcaminada

If you don’t already use these products, invest in eco-friendly shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes and solid deodorants. The great advantage is not just that they’re not packed in plastic (though that is a big bonus), but also that they’re solid and you can bring them freely in your carry-on bag.

They’re organic, natural and great for both your health and the health of the planet. And on top of all this, usually these products are several in one – a soap alone can serve as shampoo, conditioner, body wash and wash your laundry! Great, right?

Here’s a quick list:

  • Eco-friendly shampoo, conditioner and soap
  • Solid deodorants
  • Aloe vera and tiger balm are made from organic materials and multi-use
  • Reef-safe sunscreen
  • Natural mosquito repellent – like lemon eucalyptus
  • A tube of Savlon instead of plasters
  • For the ladies – consider a mooncup instead of disposable sanitary products
  • Organic lip balm


Peel more, package less

This tip is for life, not just for travel. Make sure your meals produce as little waste as possible. How? Peel more, package less 😉. What I mean by that is, avoid buying fruit and veg that’s wrapped in layers of unnecessary plastic – they’ve already got their own skin. Besides, peeling fruit is better for keeping traveller diarrhoea at bay…

I know sometimes travel gets hectic and there’s no time to cook or worry about our waste, but a simple way to avoid excessive garbage production is to buy everything at a local grocery store or market, rather than a supermarket, and prepare your own meals in the hostel kitchen from time to time. It’s both eco and budget friendly. Make sandwiches, pack peelable fruit, put it all in a tote bag and be a conscious traveller!

But when you can’t avoid consuming pre-packaged products…


Recycle, recycle, recycle

All the above tips should help you to be more conscious about the waste you produce during your trip. Believe me, the most effective way to stop your garbage affecting the environment is for you to stop producing it.


I know from experience that we cannot always produce zero waste, especially if we’re exploring all day and funds are limited. Sometimes, counting on the recycling services wherever you’re travelling is your only option.

Lots of places have separate recycling bins scattered around the city, but if you don’t find one, keep your waste with you until you return to the hostel. But let it be clear that recycling should not be an excuse for you to produce waste wherever you go. It should be your last resort.

I believe you’ll agree with me when I say travel is the best thing there is! It’s so good to visit a whole new place, with a different culture and a different climate than you’re used to… not to mention the incredible landscapes that exist in this big world. So, speaking free spirit to free spirit, I invite you to consider these tips and to try to travel more sustainably. We have the power to make this world a better place and we have an obligation to take care of it, so do everything in your power. Have a good trip!



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About the author:

Luiza is an Oceanographer and Sustainable Consultant at Ecofriends Consultoria. She and two other friends share with people all kinds of tips on how to do the things we like most in a sustainable way – like travelling! You can see her posts on sustainability on her professional Instagram, or her selfies on her personal Instagram.


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