Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Travel & Culture

Travelling Abroad and Packing Sustainably

June 17th 2022

Tagged: Ethical Volunteering, Sustainable Travel, Travel, Volunteering Abroad

When it comes to travelling, there are countless hacks out there designed to help you on your way. These range from how to nab the cheapest tickets to how to fold your socks in the most space-efficient way. As the world starts to open its eyes to climate change and the importance of sustainability, we have compiled a list of sustainable packing hacks to help you travel the world in the most eco-friendly way that travel allows. For the most sustainable modes of transport, see our previous blog post.

As we find ourselves in 2022, you may be surprised at just how many sustainable alternatives there are out there. This means there is little excuse not to opt for the more eco-friendly travel essentials.

Lotions and Potions:

Amazon shower facilitiesAmazon Conservation | Volunteer Peru | Working AbroadShampoo and Conditioner Bars

Shampoo and Conditioner bars have seen a huge rise in popularity over the last few years and are a perfect sustainable travel companion. Their small size means that they not only take up less space than the traditional plastic bottles, but they are also lighter and more compact. These bars also last longer than bottled shampoo, often stretching their lifetime to 3 months or so. This makes them a cheaper, more practical, smaller and more sustainable alternative to plastic bottle brands. What’s more, is that you can buy them from almost anywhere and most businesses that sell them are striving towards a more eco-friendly future.

Homemade Dry Shampoo

As my mission to become more eco-friendly has progressed, I have found myself venturing into the realm of homemade dry shampoo. I have found it faster, cheaper, more sustainable and more effective than shop-bought aerosol cans. With homemade dry shampoo, you can add ingredients to match your hair colour. The best thing is, it’s the most simple thing in the world! You just combine cornstarch with another natural ingredient that matches your colouring. I have auburn-brown hair and mix cinnamon and a touch of cacao powder with my corn starch. If you have darker hair, you can use cocoa powder, or for blonde hair, you can use arrowroot. Sometimes, if I’m feeling frivolous, I might add some essential oil too, though I am yet to find one that complements the cinnamon. Homemade dry shampoo is a fantastic sustainable alternative to streaky spray shampoo and an essential travel item. It’s light, long-lasting, entirely natural and, if you use a glass or reusable container, is completely plastic-free.

Natural and Biodegradable Soap bars

Biodegradable soap bars are a necessary travel item on the sustainable packing list. They are plastic-free and are made solely of natural ingredients. Natural bars may not always biodegrade so make sure you research this before buying, but biodegradable bars are perfect for keeping both you and the environment clean throughout your travels. This is particularly important for wild campers and those striving to live at one with nature, who must ensure they leave no trace of having invaded the natural environment.

Biodegradable Suncream

Sunset Playa GanaditoVolunteer in Costa Rica | WorkingAbroad

This may come as a surprise but a most suncream is extremely damaging to the environment. Most popular high-street suncream brands contain the chemical ingredient oxybenzone, a harsh chemical filter that helps to filter out UV rays. Whilst it is safe for humans, oxybenzone makes coral reefs more susceptible to bleaching, often leaving them dead or diseased. Given that all drains flow into the ocean, you cannot prevent this chemical from damaging the reefs simply by avoiding swimming in the sea; even showering will carry the washed off suncream back to the coral reefs. As such, the best way to avoid further ocean damage is to switch to non-oxybenzone, biodegradable suncream, or at least avoid those that contain harmful ingredients. Other chemicals to be avoided include octinoxate, benzophenone-1, benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-methyl benzylidene camphor, 3-benzylidene camphor and octocrylene.

Here are a few suggestions:

alt tagDesert Elephant Conservation | WorkingAbroadNatural Deodorant

As the quest for sustainable alternatives continues, there has been a huge increase in the market for a natural deodorant. These alternatives largely offer natural, aluminium free deodorants with compostable refills and plastic-free, reusable cases. They tend to be smaller, lighter and more long-lasting than the average spray, chemical-heavy deodorant, making them a perfect addition to the essential sustainable packing list.

Here are a few suggestions:

As well as switching to more sustainable lotions and potions, you can make eco-friendly changes to your everyday items to maximise the sustainability of your packing list.

Everyday Items:

Reusable Cutlery

Cutlery is an essential travel item for when you’re eating on the go or getting something to take away. Although wooden and biodegradable cutlery is on the rise, bringing your own is the best way to avoid excess waste and ensure no accidental use of plastic. This is also the case with straws. Popping a metal straw in your bag when you’re travelling will ensure you avoid single-use plastic or paper straws, and investing in a metal fork/spoon and straw is one of the best and easiest replacements to make to live a more sustainable lifestyle. They are light, long-lasting, always handy to have on you and are very effective in decreasing plastic usage.

Plastic bottleWorkingAbroadReusable Bottles 

As with cutlery and straws, carrying a reusable water bottle and mug/flask around will make a huge difference to your travels. If you no longer have to buy single-use plastic bottles of water or coffee with plastic lids, your plastic usage will decrease dramatically.  These sustainable items are also more economical – you can refill your water bottle from taps rather than buying more and many cafés offer discounts on hot drinks if you bring your own reusable mug or ‘keep cup’.

Reusable Toiletries

Plastic alternatives benefit most areas of the household, but the bathroom in particular. Products such as toothbrushes and hairbrushes are now being made from bamboo or biodegradable materials to reduce plastic usage. Opting for these products instead of plastic equivalents is such an easy step to take to make your packing list even more sustainable at no detriment to your wallet or your luggage space.


There is a big expectation that a new holiday means new clothes, especially in the summer. But as we now know, fast fashion is one of the most environmentally damaging industries out there and should be avoided wherever possible. This is not to say, however, that we can’t buy nice new clothes for a holiday. Charity shops, Depop, Vinted and eBay are all great ways to find new summer clothes without contributing to fast fashion. Alternatively, you can try to limit your shopping to eco-friendly brands that use recycled or natural materials, such as bamboo socks. This is a perfect compromise to vamping up your wardrobe in a sustainable way.

For those adventurous travellers looking to go on a camping, hiking or skiing holiday but who don’t have all the necessary equipment and clothing, the same applies. Rather than buying everything new and using it only a handful of times, ask around to see if you can borrow tents, salopettes or waterproof jackets from friends and family. Some of the second-hand clothes websites also have these so it is worth having a look at them, too.

Peru local produce marketVolunteer in Peru | WorkingAbroadReusable Shopping Bags

Ever since the UK introduced a charge, single-use plastic bags have plummeted and shoppers have got into the habit of taking tote or reusable bags everywhere they go. This is a good practice to take travelling. By packing one or two fabric bags you can avoid unnecessarily using single-use plastic. This not only allows for spontaneous shopping trips but also makes your trip more sustainable.

Making the switch from a plastic-heavy packing list to a more sustainable one requires minimal effort with considerable gain. Almost all items on an essential travel packing list can be replaced with more eco and environmentally friendly alternatives. The only thing it requires is a willing traveller who wants to preserve the world they are exploring. Switching to these alternatives is almost always mutually beneficial: the planet benefits from lower levels of harmful chemicals and C02; the traveller benefits from more natural and chemical-free lotions and potions; and your bank account benefits from the more infrequent purchases of these long-lasting alternatives. It’s a win, win-win!

Here are a few more eco shops to help get you started:

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Gemma Howard-Vyse

About the Author

WorkingAbroad Projects

Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.