In the lead up to our long-term trip I've been searching for some eco-friendly travel accessories to help reduce our impact on the planet as we head off to explore it!
As we get older and more independent we've started to think more carefully about the products we use and food we buy. Back when I was a poor student organic food was always in the 'too expensive' basket and I didn't think twice about cleaning products and toiletries as long as they left me with enough money for beer. Don't get me wrong, I've always been a big fan of recycling and second-hand clothes make up a large percentage of my wardrobe. But it's really in the last couple of years that I've become more concerned about the environment and have started consciously making more eco-friendly decisions.
Being eco-friendly while travelling is not always easy. Especially in countries that don't have an awareness of environmentally friendly actions. We've had a pretty hard time seeing the build up of rubbish around rivers, lakes and beaches here in the Balkans and also get some very strange looks bringing our own bags to the supermarket.
So here is a list of some pretty great and actually useful eco-friendly travel products that we'll be packing!
Soap Nuts for eco-friendly washing
Ok this is a hard sell because I was so sceptical of these before we tried them. They simply sounded too good to be true. You buy a bag of these 'nuts' (a natural product grown in Asia), pop 4-5 in a small bag and throw them in with your washing. No powder required. Each nut lasts around 30 washes and a kg (around 300 washes) only costs €10.
The best part is, they really work! We washed two identical sports shirts, one with powder one with the nuts, and couldn't work out which was which. They don't smell like flowers or anything but the smell is completely neutral. And because they are a natural product there are zero harmful chemicals in the water!
We are planning on hand washing most of the time to save water and also because we will be living in a van. As an effective way to do this we've bought a waterproof washing bag. There are expensive ones on the market with scrubbers inside and a drainage system. But the ever-budget-minded traveller in me opted for the €8 bag which can hold around 20L. Throw in the clothes and some soap nuts and voila!
Another item that the sceptic in me is weary of but we were recommended it by a friend who is a scientist and they're always right! We used our steripen for two weeks in Kazakhstan and seem to be still alive. Basically when the 'pen' comes in contact with water it shines a U.V light for around 1 minute which kills all the bacteria in the water. It can be recharged using a phone charger and lasts for 5000L of purifying. That's a lot of plastic bottles!
Aluminium Drink Bottle
This goes with our steripen and saves us having to buy plastic bottles anywhere we go. It's light and durable and has a wide neck which so we can fit the steripen in. I'm sceptical about all the health risks of drinking out of plastic bottles but this eliminates those issues too.
Or you can check out some fold-up water bottles for travel.
REUSEABLE SHOPPING BAGS
We've always used linen bags at home but I recently bought a small fold-up one to keep in my backpack. I've already used at least 50 times and would never travel without it now! Always useful for extra purchases, an emergency rain cover or something to sit on. And it saves the world from a few more of those dreaded plastic bags!
FRUIT AND VEGETABLE BAGS
Along the same line are reusable fruit and vegetable bags for shopping at supermarkets and markets. We plan to do this a lot on our adventure so the less of those little plastic bags we can use the better!
*Update* We use these eco-friendly bags almost daily. We get a lot of strange looks but it gives peace of mind.
Having minimised my shower products down to just shampoo and soap I make sure to choose eco-friendly varieties. This is especially important while we are living in the van and will be showering outdoors or maybe even washing in rivers! I've also switched to bar soap instead of shower gel to reduce plastic bottles and it lasts longer.
There is a great range of organic soaps available here in Germany (and I'm sure in the rest of the world). I'm also addicted to LUSH cosmetics shampoo. Their products tick all the boxes as they are natural, handmade with minimal and recyclable packaging and not tested on animals.
I'd never really thought about toothbrushes but of course, they are more plastic waste. I now own an eco-friendly travel toothbrush which has replaceable heads rather than throwing the whole handle away every time. Another great option is a bamboo toothbrush but the price of these is still a factor for me. At around €5 a pop I wouldn't want to replace my toothbrush all that often!
We bought a knife, fork and spoon all in one. It's relatively flat and easy to slip into the front pocket of the backpack. Again, more useful for van and budget travel. We plan to use them for supermarket food picnics and turning down plastic utensils at street food stalls.
Ok males and family members you can tune out for this part! I've started using a menstrual cup in order to reduce the amount of tampons both in landfills and in my backpack. I don't want to go into too much detail but it's definitely a good cost-effective and eco-friendly option. There are lots of different varieties so do your research and give yourself some time to get used to it!
This will be useful when we park the van somewhere for a few days and have no electricity. Also good for on the go when your phones dead and you forgot to save the address at your next destination. We've all been there!
Other ideas for eco-friendly travel
- Shop local- go to markets and local restaurants.
- Pack less- lighter planes mean less fuel. Here are some ways to save space in your backpack.
- Look out for recycling bins - lots of cities are introducing separate rubbish bins for recyclable items.
- Invest in good quality clothing and shoes that will last your whole trip.
- Travel overland - hitchhiking is a great way to reduce carbon emissions but just about any overland transport is better than a plane!
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