For the eco-conscious traveler, sustainability is a lifestyle that drives all day-to-day choices. And packing for a holiday is no exception. Here are some suggestions for what to pack, and what not to pack, to ensure that you’re traveling with environmental and cultural sensitivity in mind. If done right, you can not only minimize your carbon footprint and waste, but you can even benefit local communities and have a positive impact!

What not to pack

Eco-conscious travelers leave heavy stuff behind

Do you REALLY need 4 pairs of jeans and a hand-knit woolen sweater? Don’t get us wrong, usually we’re all for knitwear, but on holiday it’s probably not the most practical choice. Once you’ve touched down in your destination and have to make the journey to your hotel or hostel, do you really want to lug around a ton of stuff when you could be skipping off on an adventure?

Less is more when it come to eco-conscious packing.

Plus, in terms of the environment and your carbon footprint, the weight of your luggage really does matter – a heavy suitcase can send your carbon emissions sky-high, especially if you’re flying to your destination. Imagine how heavy the plane would be if everyone packed their favorite knit sweater.

Don’t pack chemical products

If you take inorganic, chemical products like non-bio detergents, shampoos and beauty products on holiday with you, the environmental consequences can be disastrous. In places like the Amazon rainforest, chemicals often end up seeping out and causing pollution to delicate jungle ecosystems.

Leave the chemical products behind if you want to be an eco-conscious traveler.

Many jungle and rainforest lodges only use organic products. Take Chaa Creek Lodge in the Caribbean rainforest of Belize: At its onsite spa, the only products used are herbal and natural, relying on carefully chosen botanicals to provide environmental spa treatments that don’t damage the surrounding ecosystems. Follow that lead, and ensure that you only pack natural products that won’t cause any pollution. And, what’s more, consider whether all of the products you would usually use are even necessary! When in the jungle, it may be better to go au natural.

Plan to use book exchanges

Sure, if you’re going away for any extended period of time, you’ll likely  want to read something along the way. However, as we’ve seen from the knitwear scenario, heavy luggage is far from ideal in terms of the environment – and books are notoriously heavy. Instead, why not get involved in a book swap at your hotel, hostel, or at a local coffee shop? Pack just one book, and you’re ready to get swapping. Eco-conscious travelers find this can be a great way to discover totally new reading material, and it saves on precious space in the backpack.

Sharing books is a great way to lighten the load.

Instead of packing those heavy books, why not save a bit of space in your luggage for some school supplies that can be donated to local schools at your destination? Many lodges operate schemes like this, encouraging travelers to bring pens, pencils and other supplies with them, and then helping to distribute these supplies where they are most needed. It’s best not to distribute things yourselves, as you might inadvertently encourage begging – your lodge or tour operator will be in the best position to know what to do with the supplies you’ve brought along.

Pack supplies to distribute to needy students.

What to pack

Lightweight, quick-drying clothing

Water and energy are precious resources, and spending a lot of time washing and drying clothes can use up a lot of both. Help to conserve energy and minimize your water usage on holiday by packing lightweight items of clothing that are easy to wash and quick to dry. Start compiling a “traveler’s wardrobe,” made up of packable, versatile, quick-drying clothing. Try merino wool, a natural fiber that’s renowned as a traveler’s favorite!

Quick-dry clothing essential for the eco-conscious traveler.

Opt for a re-usable water bottle

Plastic waste is a serious environmental issue. Many type of plastics never biodegrade, and generally end up polluting the world’s oceans and wreaking havoc with marine ecosystems. Instead of buying bottled water every day on your holidays, take a reusable container with you. This will help to cut back on plastic waste, and also makes you look like an experienced traveler. If you are worried about the purity of the water you will be drinking, consider doubling down and packing a Katadyn BeFree compact travel water filtration system for the ultimate in reusable water containers.

Therese using the Katadyn BeFree water filter to get water from a stream.

Multi-purpose items

Heading to a beach holiday? Journeying deep into the jungle? Whatever your adventure, be creative with your packing so you can get the most from each item you pack. For the ladies, a sarong can double as a bedsheet, a towel, a skirt, a scarf, a beach blanket – the list goes on! Similarly, a packable fabric shopping bag can not only be used for shopping, but can also act as a handy beach bag or even an around-town tote. Plus, taking a fabric bag means that you can minimize the amount of plastic waste you use when you turn down bags in the stores.

How not to blend in.

Culturally appropriate clothing

One important aspect of enjoying an ecotourism experience is learning about and respecting new cultures. In many mass tourist resorts, travelers are often guilty of flouting local customs, choosing to wear what they want, and act how they want. Don’t be that person. Do some research on your destination country before you travel, to find out the “dos and don’ts.” This will then allow you to pack appropriately, so when you arrive you can dress in a way that respects the culture of the people you’ll meet. The rule of thumb is that you should aim to blend in, not stand out, both out of cultural respect and for your own safety (Read this article from HITravelTales.com, How to blend in when traveling for more tips).

Carry along tote for eco-conscious travelers.

In many churches or other places of worship all over the world, or even just out and about on the streets, it is expected that female travelers should not have their shoulders on show or, in some places, the leg above the knee. Again, your multi-purpose scarf/sarong will come in handy here – drape it over your shoulders for a quick cover-up. In the Middle East, for instance, dressing relatively conservatively can help you  blend in rather than draw attention to yourself as a tourist. Dressing respectfully and respecting local customs can also allow you to have more meaningful cultural exchanges.

Blending in while traveling in JordanThat’s it – you’re good to go! While of course this isn’t an extensive list, hopefully it gives you some idea about the do’s and don’ts of packing an eco-friendly suitcase for your next trip. With a little extra thought, it’s possible to pack a bag or suitcase that will meet your practical needs, minimize your carbon footprint, and ensure that you leave a positive rather than negative impact on your travels. Which is a large part of what being an eco-conscious traveler is all about..

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Editor-in-chief at Eco Companion
Tazine Bogue, editor-in-chief of Eco Companion, is a big fan of words and sloths (amongst other things...) Passionate about all things travel, you can find her on Instagram at tazinebogue, or Twitter @TazineBogue.
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