Whatever our reasons for making a particular trip, there is a natural tendency to concentrate on where we are going and what we might bring back, but what we take with us can be just as important – and says a lot about the sort of people we really are. This often largely overlooked aspect of travel can offer surprising opportunities to make a difference to the impact of your journey and wise decisions about what ends up in your luggage can pay environmental dividends both while you are away, but also at home too.
Of course, much of what you pack depends on the nature of the trip, the destination and when you go, but even so, there are a few general guidelines to eco-friendly packing, no matter if you are off on the ultimate eco-holiday, taking a fortnight in the sun, or travelling on business.
Travel LightThe first thing to be aware of is that the heavier your bags, the more fuel motorised transport – be that car, bus or plane – has to expend to get you to your destination, so try travelling light. If you plan to walk or cycle, you can carry as much about your person as you wish with a clear conscience, but otherwise if you are an “everything-and-the-the-kitchen-sink” type of packer; it is probably a good idea to take a long hard look at your packing list. Excess packaging and disposable goods are high on the list of things to avoid. In many developing countries waste disposal, especially, often presents major practical and economic difficulties – and there is little point in contributing to the problem. Remove all extraneous packaging before setting off for the remoter parts of the world – and recycle whatever you can of it at home.
Staying Fresh and CleanWhen it comes to personal hygiene – particularly if you plan to trek away from civilisation – bear in mind that the water you will be washing in may very likely be someone else’s drinking water downstream and avoid using conventional soaps or detergents. There is a selection of biodegradable and eco-friendly cleaning agents and soaps available from a number of shops and online outlets which help get over this problem. Soapnuts, for example, contain a natural cleaning agent – saponin – making mild suds on contact with water and providing a natural, sustainably harvested alternative to soap, detergents and shampoos. Having washed, a wide range of eco-friendly deodorants are available to keep you fresh throughout the rigours of the day, which are reported to be highly effective.
ClothingThe kind of clothes you need to take will, inevitably, be dictated by the destination and the season, so it is worth taking some time to plan your dress to ensure your comfort. In many parts of the world, cultural sensitivities must also be taken into account – a careful selection will avoid giving offence and the effort you have taken will be noticed and respected. Particularly in the more isolated communities, many people will be as interested in you and your country as you are in them and theirs – a few picture postcards from home in your bags to give out as presents can work wonders at making friends and dissolving barriers.
Packing the suitcases can sometimes seem an almost incidental part of going away – a necessary evil. For the eco-traveller, however, even this piece of the experience offers food for thought and the chance to do something concrete, however small, to lessen the environmental cost of the trip.