How to be a Savvy Sustainable Packer on Your Next Vacation

Conservation, Travel Inspiration, Travel Tips

Packing with purpose, aka sustainable packing, can really help the environment. It can even help your pocket. Being considerate of what you pack, and how you pack, is the first step to becoming a more eco-conscious traveller.

Here are our top tips for environmentally friendly packing on your next break.

Sustainable packing tip 1 – Pack light

It’s far easier to lug around a lighter bag than a heavy one. If you keep in mind that the more weight a plane carries, the more carbon emissions it produces, then you have an extra incentive to pack as light as possible. If you’re particularly efficient with packing, you may even fit everything into a carry-on.

So how do I pack light?

Think “Capsule Wardrobe”

Never heard of it? A capsule wardrobe is highly selective clothing, suitable for mixing and matching for any occasion. You can dress it up and dress it down, so the pieces can work through the daytime and into the evening. Opt for timeless key items that you can use to create a variety of looks. Plain, neutral-colour pieces are the easiest to work with and, of course, organic cotton and linens are not only eco-friendly, but they tend to be higher quality and last longer.

According to the very stylish fashion designer, Misha Nonoo, you really can get away with a few chic items: a button-down shirt, tailored trousers that fit flawlessly, the perfect tee in a few different colours, and a favourite denim. Layer for warmth at cooler destinations and ladies, consider a couple of dresses that can be worn to the beach or into the evening. 

Tip: merino wool is a superb sustainable choice. It’s from a renewable source, durable, compostable and doesn’t need to be washed as often (since it’s odour-neutralising and stain-resistant), using less water over its lifecycle. 

Organic muslin or cotton sarongs are a firm favourite for any female traveller. You can also use them as shawls, scarves, beach blankets, towels, headscarves and more.

Don’t forget to pack a mini sewing kit for any unforeseeable snags or tears. Mending your damaged clothing is far better for the environment than throwing textiles away.

Shoes can be a bit trickier

If you’re planning to take part in activities like hiking or long walks in the forest, then comfortable closed shoes are a must. Deck shoes and espadrilles can work great, since they’re very comfortable and you can walk fair distances in them. Bonus – they’re usually lightweight. Extra tip: stuff your socks into your shoes when packing to save on space.

For beach vacations, flip-flops are essential. Although you can get away with barefoot much of the time, sand and decks can get intensely hot in peak sun, and your bare soles won’t thank you for leaving them exposed. You can also pack in a stylish pair of sandals (or slip-ons for cooler environments) that are comfortable enough for daytime wanders, but also work with pants or a dress for sundowners or dinner.

What about toiletries?

There are so many options out there for eco-friendly toiletries. Here is our list of essential travel items:

Solid shampoo bars

Why? Not only will you find many sensational options of shampoo bars, but they usually take up much less space than a bottle, with the added bonus of being plastic-free and zero waste. With 550 million empty shampoo bottles thrown away every year, just in the United States (enough to fill 1,164 football fields), that’s a good reason to switch to solid.

Side note: many of the Unfound properties across Africa provide guests with luscious, all-natural amenities that are harmless to the environment and your skin.

Reef-safe sunscreen

Why? All responsible travellers should be aware of how to minimise their effect on the environment. This includes during participation in ocean activities. Some ingredients in sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, can bleach and kill coral, and we want our magnificent corals to thrive. Be very wary of sunscreens marked reef-safe without checking the ingredients list first. Sadly, some brands are green-washing, by only excluding oxybenzone and octinoxate from their sunscreens, but keeping nasty chemicals like octocrylene, avobenzone, homosalate and parabens that can be harmful to marine life. Make sure you opt for sunscreens that only list zinc oxide or titanium dioxide under the “active ingredients”.

Bamboo toothbrush

Why? We do love bamboo. It grows rapidly, offering a sustainable wood source that biodegrades within a few months when disposed of. Plastic is likely infinite. Scientists still don’t know the extent of how long it would take for plastic to entirely biodegrade, if at all, but it’s certainly at least hundreds of years. So that plastic toothbrush you threw away last month may still be around in your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great children’s life. Now there’s an alarming thought.

Aluminium & mineral oil-free deodorant

Why? Aluminium is a key element in deodorants and antiperspirants, and alas it is a pollutant that can damage ecosystems and aquatic life. On top of that, the process of mining aluminium requires intense energy. Mineral oil is equally harmful, emitting carbon and other hazardous pollutants that can damage the environment. Both aluminium and mineral oil enters the ocean through sewage systems when you shower or bath. Oh, and dare we mention that aluminium is seriously bad for your health? Aluminium’s neurotoxic effects in humans have been proven, causing an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Make your own! Here’s a recipe for a 3-ingredient homemade deodorant:

Mix ½ cup baking soda, ½ cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch and 5 tablespoon coconut oil together and voila! – you have a deodorant that actually works. Scent it with some peppermint, grapefruit or tea tree essential oil… bonus… as well as smelling sublime, they have antibacterial properties.

DEET-free insect repellent

Why? DEET is one of the most common chemical contaminants found in our water supplies. It also adheres to soil and can remain in the atmosphere for a period of time. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared DEET may be slightly toxic to birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates. There are plenty of biodegradable insect repellent options that are not only far safer for the environment, but are equally as effective as repellents containing up to 25% DEET.

Another side note: many of our properties have beautiful muslin mosquito nets over all the beds.

Menstrual cup

Why? According to a Harvard study, the average woman uses over 11,000 tampons over her lifetime and a year’s worth of a typical feminine hygiene product leaves a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2 equivalents. Bloody Norah! That’s a lot going into our landfills. Menstrual cups are a fantastic zero-waste alternative in that they save you money, are chemical-free and provide better leak protection than other feminine hygiene products.

Any other packing essentials?

Water bottle

Why? According to an article from The World Counts earlier this year, more than 100 million plastic bottles are used globally, every single day. Plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine pollution and around 8 to 10 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our marine environment each year. A recent study by University of Newcastle, Australia, concluded that just opening a plastic bottle can release thousands of microplastics. Did you know that blue whales ingest an average of 10 million microplastic particles every day? And last year, investigators estimated people who eat seafood ingest up to 53,864 tiny pieces of plastic annually.  We can all do our part to reduce this plastic footprint and detrimental impact on our marine life… and ourselves.

To save on space, you can even find foldable or rollable water bottles that you can just fill up at airports, on the plane or at your accommodations.

Coffee cup

Why? We don’t want to startle you with too many facts and figures for this one, so here are the highlights: an estimated 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are discarded around the world annually, that’s a stomach-churning 300,000 every hour. Sadly, only around 1% of these single-use cups are actually recycled. Thankfully, you can find reusable coffee cups in many stores in a variety of delightful designs. AND – reusable coffee cups are the latest fashion accessory for any discerning individual. Choose from vacuum-insulated travel tumblers and bottles that keep your drinks hot for hours, to cute printed bamboo or ceramic cups, to space-saving collapsable ones. There’s a cup to suit everyone’s tastes.

Metal/bamboo straws

Why? Thousands of people have seen the viral video of the poor Olive Ridley turtle getting a straw extracted from its nose. That’s enough to get any philozoic to immediately ditch straws. With an estimated 8.3 billion plastic straws thought to litter the world’s coastlines, and countless more in the ocean, it’s worth taking a moment to ask yourself if you really need that straw for your next cocktail. However, if you really do require one (and we are aware that many need them to combat sensitive teeth issues or due to a disability), then there are some fantastic alternatives. Metal and bamboo straws are the most popular reusable straws. We love silicon foldable straws, that usually come in a little container for easy packing and hygienic storage.

Reusable bag

Why? Although many countries have implemented a full or partial ban on plastic bags (77 according to a United Nations paper and several media reports), there are still around 160,000 plastic bags produced per second, showing that demand hasn’t slowed for this harmful single-use plastic product. When plastic bags enter our waterways, they pose a danger to our aquatic life.

Turtles are especially vulnerable, as they mistake the bags for one of their favourite prey… jellyfish. A study found that about 1,000 sea turtles die each year because they eat plastic. They have a high mortality rate of 22% from consuming even just one piece of plastic according to a CSIRO study. So every time you refuse a plastic bag and instead, opt to use your own reusable bag, there’s a chance you’re saving a turtle’s life! Most reusable bags take up very little space and some can even fold away to a tiny square that you can stuff in your pocket.

So there you have it – our packing tips for sustainable travel. If you want more tips for travelling more mindfully, check out our How Travelling Can Benefit Turtles and Disadvantaged Communities blog.

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