What you pack might have a lesser impact on the environment than say the type of transportation you use, but it makes an impact nonetheless. And you know what they say about small steps (they turn into miles, people!). From the weight of your bag to the stuff you take with you, there are big and small ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint just by putting a little bit more thought into what you’re packing.
First things first, whatever mode of transportation, the weight of your bag will have an impact on said transportation’s efficiency. So packing light is one of the first steps to reducing your impact.
To illustrate this a little bit, the folks over at Eco Traveller Guide did some math for us. A typical flight between New York and London has 300-400 passengers. If every passenger brings a checked bag, that means baggage is responsible for 70,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per flight. And with about 1.2 million passengers flying this route every year, it would create over 220 million pounds of carbon emissions per year…for a single route. If everybody reduced what they brought to just a carry-on bag, think of the difference it could make.
And I totally get it, you need your stuff. But, if you’re anything like me, you probably also come home from a vacation and have a good amount of stuff that you didn’t use or didn’t wear. The challenge here is to be real with yo’ self. Think about what you really need, what you will actually use and then eliminate the unnecessary items. A good general rule of thumb is that if you’re not absolutely sure you’ll need something, you probably shouldn’t take it. No, you don’t actually need to bring that avant garde dress that you haven’t worn for the two years you’ve owned it, but just might on the week long vacation. And no, you don’t need to bring Jenga, and I don’t care how fun it is.
Another way to pack lighter is to pack light weight items (go figure). Think of some of the heaviest, bulkiest things you’re taking and then see if there’s a lighter weight option. Unless you’re going to be doing some serious hiking, you probably don’t need to take those heavy hiking boots, opt for a lightweight pair of sneakers that can also work for a workout and longs days of walking around and exploring your destination city (like the Adidas Ultraboost X Parley Shoes). Need to take a pretty heavy duty jacket to keep you warm and protect you from the wind and rain? Try Patagonia’s Nano Puff Hoody that weighs a mere 10.8 oz. and is super, super compact. If you must take a towel (although, I will say these are provided at a lot of places), try Coyuchi’s version of the super absorbent, super lightweight Turkish Towel in the Coyuchi Mediterranean Beach Towel. You can also lighten your load by using lightweight luggage — try something like Patagonia’s Black Hole™ Wheeled Duffel Bag 40L, that is carry-on approved, weatherproof, has precision handling and comes in at 6 lbs, 14.4 oz.
You can also think about doing laundry on the road. Pack a 3 oz. container of liquid soap, like Dr. Bronner’s, so that even a small amount can pack a big punch. You can either do a load of laundry (if you have the facilities) or wash the outfit you just wore in your next shower and then hang it up to dry.
So, I think it goes without saying that packing light requires you to also pack smart. You really want to be thinking efficiency here — pack items that are multipurpose, versatile, durable and reusable.
Now, I’m not necessarily talking multi-purpose like convertible pants — you know the ones from the 90s that zipped into shorts (although, if you can find a cute pair of those, let me know). No, similar to the shoe example above, I’m talking about finding pieces of clothing that can be worn in several situations (i.e. try not to bring a bunch of separate clothing for hiking, lounging, exploring the city and going out at night). Think a pair of men’s swim trunks that are quick drying and are nice enough that they can be worn wandering around the city on a warm day, like the Riz Braunton Swim Shorts. Or a tee or tank that can be worn as a base layer, by itself on a scorcher or as a workout or sleep shirt, like the Everlane Racerback Tank.
You’ll also want the material that your clothes are made of to do some double duty. Think fabrics like merino wool — keeps you warm when it’s cold, keeps you cool when it’s hot, helps insulate when wet, dries quickly and is naturally odor resistant. Something like this Smartwool Women’s Basic Merino 150 Dress has all the benefits of merino wool, plus it can take you from day to night with just a change of shoes and accessories.
I also like to keep my wardrobe neutral when I travel so everything can pair together for maximum wardrobe efficiency.
Same thing applies outside of your wardrobe. Instead of taking three books, a couple magazines, a camera, maps and a guidebook, take your smartphone or a tablet. Instead of packing a thousand batteries for your electronics (I actually hope you’re not taking that many electronics because that’s not what vacations are all about, but that’s besides the point), try taking rechargeable batteries or find electronics that can use the same type of charger.
Besides packing light, you should also be thinking about the things you’re packing (or aren’t packing) and what that impact will be once you get to your destination. Think about bringing reusable items that can reduce the amount of waste you produce while travelling.
Water Bottles — I talk about our plastic pollution a lot. But, if we’re being honest, in the past I have had a tendacy to go through a lot of plastic water bottles when I travelled. Instead of bringing Big Blue (my trusty reusable water bottle), I would buy plastic bottles when I travelled. But bringing your own water bottle and refilling it while you’re travelling can make a huge difference. Worried about drinking from the tap? Check out Just The Flight’s handy dandy infographic to see what countries you can safely drink the tap water and which countries that actually might be dangerous. If you are headed to one of the countries deemed dangerous, you can buy large jugs of water at the closest grocery store and keep them in your car or hotel room to refill a reusable water bottle, or you can buy a filtration water bottle like the ones from LifeStraw that will filtrate water from the faucet, or from a river or stream.
Reusable Shopping Bags — Similar story with my reusable shopping bags. When I’m at home, my reusable shopping bag and I are pretty much attached at the hip — I have a few in my purse, a few in my workbag, and about a few hundred lying around my house for heavy duty shopping days. But, one place I often forget to take those puppies? On vacation. Well, no more, I tell you! Not only will bringing my own reusable bag prevent evil plastic from wreaking havoc and tricking sea turtles into eating them (damn you, plastic bags!), but I’m thinking they’ll also come in pretty darn handy — hello, filling my bag with goodies from local farmer’s markets and cool street fairs! I like Baggu’s reusable bags because they’re compact and they come in super cute prints and patterns (I mean, who doesn’t love an alpaca conversation print).
Personal Products — I’ve mentioned sunscreen before, but think about everything we put on our bodies, from lotion, to deodorant, to makeup, to perfume, to hair product. Number 1 — try to just not wear as many products when you’re on vacation (you’ll be surprised how liberating it can be). Number 2 — if you insist, try to find products that aren’t packed with chemicals that you’re gonna unload in waterways when you go swimming (Credo Beauty and Sagekat are great resources to find said products). And same story here as above — the more beauty products that you can find that do double duty (i.e. W3LL People’s Nudist Multi-Use Cream that works for eyes, cheeks and lips), the better.
So there you have it. A whirlwind guide to packing better for your next trip. What packing tips and tricks do you use to reduce your impact when travelling?