10 Eco-Unfriendly Travel Products You Need to Ditch

We say we want to ‘leave only footprints behind when we travel’ yet we continue to pack our gear in plastic bags, buy disposable water bottles in countries that don’t recycle them and stuff a wet-wipe packet in every bag. So what gives?

Little tweaks in your travelling repertoire can have huge beneficial impacts on the environment whilst barely registering any major disruption to your normal routine. This collection of 10 Eco-Unfriendly Travel Products You Need to Ditch is by no means exhaustive but, hopefully, it’ll help you hone in on your environmentally-friendly radars so you can swiftly see what else you could ditch or change.

Travel is one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences anyone could ever have. But surely our planet need not be worse off because of it?

Here are just a few tips of dodgy gear you should ditch.

1.       Plastic Bags

In case you haven’t heard, plastic is the bane of our planet and the absolute easiest way to drastically cut back on your own personal plastic-use is to ditch those plastic bags when you travel. Sure, you can use them for weeks and even months on end but if the stellar alternative can last you years, what’s not to ditch? Meet the Packing Cube, the most eco-friendly and convenient packing system that makes your packing (and unpacking) a breeze and that’ll continue to fly high for many years to come. This little guy has the potential to be your favourite travel companion and If you’d rather hike the Inca Trail than create your own plastic trail, use a few to pack your gear in your suitcase. Ditching plastic bags when travelling is particularly important because unless you choose an equally-developed destination country as your own, chances that adequate recycling systems are in place are close to zilch. Check out Amazon.com for packing cube ideas.

Packing Cubes

Packing Cubes are an excellent alternative to plastic bags. 

2.       Single-use water bottles

Every single minute, of every single day, over one million single-use plastic water bottles are bought the world over. The numbers are mind-boggling and totally inconceivable but it seems to be the hard truth. Plastic is suffocating our planet and the seemingly innocuous 500ml water bottle is among the biggest culprits. Although it’s highly likely that you are already using a reusable water bottle at home, it’s just as likely you’re not contemplating taking it abroad. But why not? Abroad is precisely where you should be taking it! Use it to store your underwear and socks on the way over and back and it’ll add hardly any weight to your luggage whilst taking up no extra room. Once there, either ask your hotel to fill with drinking water or buy a large 5lt bottle to share with your travel group. Every little bit helps. Every bottle saved is a little win.

3.       A brand-new suitcase or daypack

There’s nothing quite as exciting as that shopping trip you take to buy some cool new gear for your upcoming trip. But what if you leave the excitement for when you’re shopping at your destination instead and borrow what you can from family and friends? Suitcases and day-packs are particularly great items to borrow (you know, instead of underwear!) Every second household has a few sets which only get used once a year (if that) and, if that’s not your house, it means you wouldn’t get much use of one either. This is especially true of daypacks: unless you’re 16 years old, you’ll only ever consider a daypack when travelling so either buy a cross-over travel bag which you know you’ll use at home…or borrow one instead. Every time you borrow something, rather than buy it, the environment smiles.

4.       Real books

This one was a personally painful one to give up but it’s been six years since I’ve gone digital and although I still find myself sniffing old books like some kind of reformed drug addict, I’d never go back. The planet has no space for old-school sentimentality. Taking your travel books in e-form means you save space and weight – thus reducing your travel emissions – and saves tons of poor trees who don’t much care for travel literature anyhow. As a baby step, why not resolve to only take, read and buy second-hand books instead? Moreover, you can fight the urge to hoard your beloved books (like I used to!) and pay it forward by loaning it to someone else or recycling it. As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out as to whether using an electronic gadget (which uses resources to be produced and electricity to charge) is, indeed, more environmentally friendly than printing a book, once. Nevertheless, the potential is that electronic gadgetry will be eco-friendlier than logging in years to come so leaning towards that industry may just be the best, long-term option.

5.       Be mindful of your souvenir shopping

Products and consumerism go hand in hand, so I’m including ‘shopping in general’ to this list. First of all, pack a few of those shopping bags you store in the boot of your car for those great shopping stints abroad and then be mindful of what it is you actually buy. Will you actually use it? Will it serve a purpose (looking pretty on your mantlepiece can also be a purpose) or will it just end up in a drawer? Buy loose tea leaves packets rather than tea bags, buy locally made arts and crafts (or fantastic Alpaca-wool clothing) and skip those cheap and nasty souvenirs that seem to be more resource-wasters rather than anything else. A few good quality, hand-made souvenirs are worth much more than 100 cheapy ones and will arguably enjoy a much longer shelf-life too.

Handcrafted souvenirs

Buying handcrafted souvenirs are a great example of sustainable shopping on holiday. Credit: Shutterstock.

6.       Travel-size toiletry bottles

Yep, these little bottles are super handy and we love them to bits BUT – and this is the big caveat – only if you keep them and reuse them for years. There are a lot of resources and plastic that goes into the making of tiny bottles which are, in reality, meant to be ditched within days. What a (literal) waste! Pack them by all means if you love them but do be mindful of refilling them from larger bottles which, once again, can be shared with your travel group.

7.       Wet Ones

Travel toiletries are prime targets for ditching as they are, by their very essence, supposed to be disposable. You’ve probably heard the news about the catastrophic effects of disposable wet wipes, even those which were advertised as biodegradable – turns out, they aren’t. Being a wet wipe fanatic, I immediately went in search of an alternative and found it in the form of highly hygienic microfibre cloths. Just a bit of water and a swipe of soap and it does the trick, only better. Wash your cloth regularly to prevent bacterial build up and the planet will be ever so grateful.

8.       Non-biodegradable sunscreen

Yes, you need to protect yourself from the harmful UV rays of the sun…but what’s protecting those crystal-clear rivers and oceans from your toxic sunscreen ingredients? Play an active role in helping protect our planet’s reefs and marine life by only buying biodegradable, reef-friendly sunscreen and you can slip, slop and slap with peace of mind. A quick Google search should reveal the best brands to buy locally. Here’s a great article for our Australian readers.

9.       Tampons

Sorry ladies, but this one needs to be included. Every single woman will use thousands of tampons in her lifetime, clogging up rubbish dumps with non-biodegradable waste all over the world. The alternative? The wonderful menstruation cup, of course. Read my review of this ingenious invention right here and after a few trials (and a few errors, no diubt), you may also wonder where this dream product has been all your life. Incidentally, this is the single-most beloved travel hack I’ve discovered in the last decade, most especially as tampons are hard to find in some of Latin America’s most remote destinations. No more landfill addition, no more UTIs and no more wasting money on eco-unfriendly travel products.

10.   Disposable take-away containers

I used to get a few weird looks at local food stands in South America when I took out my stainless-steel travel food container and matching cutlery. But if there’s one thing that can really bring me to tears is seeing the sheer number of disposable containers and cutlery that are still widely used in so many countries. From the empanada stand to the local chifa Chinese take-away and my faaavourite dulce de leche cake shop in Buenos Aires: chances you’ll enjoy some street food and take-away dinners and sweets are quite high when you travel, anywhere in the world. Take your own wee containers along and that’s at least a few sets of plastic tubs not going to a landfill. Much like the reusable water bottle, use them to store small items during travel, ask your friendly hotel staff to give it a good wash and you’re (food container) set to go.

Reusable take-away containers

Reusable take-away containers are a great way of avoiding a waste of plastic when you travel. You can order them on Amazon Credit: Shutterstock.

Travelling responsibly is not just a duty we all share but also a very rewarding way to experience the world. Keen to adopt some of these eco-friendly travel hacks when visiting Latin America? Then ditch that plastic, borrow that bag that’s already travelled around the world a few times and visit our Latin America and Antarctica tour pages for fantastic travel inspiration.

Author: Laura Pattara

“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”