With the holiday season around the corner, we all are feeling the pressure to buy the perfect sustainable gift for our travel-loving family and friends. You most likely landed here, on this post, because you are a person who cares. You care about finding the perfect gift, you care about the environment, you care about the people in the world. You may be a person who is trying their best to lead a sustainable life or care enough about someone who does, and hence you want to get the perfect sustainable gift. In either case, thank you for being here and having a read, I hope I can inspire you to make the best decision.
But before I start dumping a list of the coolest sustainable gift ideas for travellers, or whoever really, let’s remind ourselves what sustainability means. Sustainability is not about purchasing products labelled as “eco” or “organic” but about the positive impact they have in the environment and local communities overall. This impact is measured from the moment the raw materials are harvested until the product is sold in a shop. It is also measured by how well all employees and local communities are treated by each of the companies that help make that product. That’s why being sustainable and wanting to do the right thing entails a lot of research.
Whether you are a sustainable traveller and you are looking for ideas for your personal wish list or you are the one who has to make the purchase, look no further, this list is for you!
WHAT TYPE OF SUSTAINABLE TRAVELLER ARE YOU?
Instead of giving you an endless list of sustainable gifts, I thought it might be easier to break it down depending on the lifestyle or travel choices each person has. Obviously, these are just some ideas, but you can mix and match to meet the needs and taste of each individual.
PERSONAL CARE OBSESSED TRAVELLER
One of the easiest changes one does when switching to a more sustainable life is reducing plastic use. That’s why eco friendly toiletries are a great sustainable gift for someone who is just beginning to introduce new sustainable habits. There are a myriad of products sold in solid form, avoiding the use of a plastic container or wraps. Also, because these products are produced at a small scale and some of them are hand made, the ingredients are much more natural and better for your body overall.
This is a great gift for any sustainable traveller for two reasons: we like to use our personal products so that we don’t create extra waste with hotel amenities, and we can take them in carry on without worrying about liquids!
These are some items you can add to a beautiful zero waste toiletry basket:
Shampoo and conditioner
I started using solid shampoos when I first moved to Mongolia. I came across this brand “La Perla” and they are one of the best solid shampoos I have ever tried. They also happen to be vegan. While I totally recommend this product, they are made in Mongolia where I locally buy them. I recommend that you also find a local or regional brand if you can.
Soap and cream bars
An extra benefit of using soap bars as opposed to shower gel is that you waste less product because it is easier to use only the amount you need. I have recently seen a very cool concept, a soap bar inside a woolen pouch that serves as a sponge. My favourites are from Mongolian brand L’hamour and this local Spanish business.
Natural body cleaners or exfoliators
A natural sponge or loofah are two biodegradable alternatives to synthetic counterparts. Another sustainable option would be reusable cotton cleaning pads or an antibacterial washcloth that you can use as makeup removers, too.
Toothpaste tablets and bamboo toothbrush
I haven’t personally tried toothpaste tablets, but I find them a great sustainable alternative. In regards to toothbrushes, bamboo is known to be the ultimate eco friendly raw material if sourced sustainably.
A brand that I am highly interested in is Bite, a company that sales dental hygiene products. I haven’t tried them personally yet, but their products have very good reviews and their website gives you all the information you need about their sustainability commitment.
Crystal deodorant stone
This is a great zero waste gift when purchased without any packaging. This type of deodorant feels like a roll but without the wet feeling, definitely worth trying.
This gift is a must if you are planning on purchasing solid soaps. When travelling, we need a container, other than a ziplock bag, to carry our zero waste toiletries.
Upcycled or repurposed basket
To top off this highly customisable zero waste gift, pick a repurposed box or basket. I personally like these eco baskets made by EcoGift Mongolia, an association that employs female wheelchair users. They use old newspapers and natural products to create their baskets. If you live in Mongolia you can find their upcycled, eco friendly products at Emart. You can also get custom designs if you contact them directly.
CITY LIFE TRAVELLER
For the city lifestyle traveller who loves coffee to go, eats take away at the park and does lots of walking around.
A good water bottle, thermos or tumbler are very useful gifts. I personally recommend durable, insulated bottles, because you want to keep your coffee and tea hot when you are visiting New York for Christmas or ice cold water when strolling around the Darwin market.
Another great choice is a fancy tote that is always super useful to carry extra things around the city or any unpredictable purchase.
A mildly seasoned sustainable traveller probably already has all of the above. In that case, you can go a step further and help them cut on single plastic items with a reusable straw (metal or bamboo), a bamboo cutlery set or a collapsible food container. Beware that these types of sustainable gifts are for people who are willing to be proactive. This entails being ready to get ahead of the cashier or shopkeeper and ask for no cutlery, no straws…
BEACH BUM TRAVELLER IDEAS
For those sustainable travellers who cannot live without the sea. You may have not thought of this before, but sunscreen is actually quite harmful for marine life. A couple of thoughtful options to give the ocean a break is to use an eco friendly sunscreen, which is significantly less harmful. But if you really want a better option to protect marine life, UPF Swimwear is the way to go. It is useful for snorkeling and other related water sports.
This is a perfect gift that can be accompanied by a beach bag or a beach towel made out of recycled materials. I own this Nomadix microfiber towel made out of recycled bottles and I love it because of how versatile it is (really great for yoga).
OUTDOORSY TRAVELLER IDEAS
For hikers and campers alike, most pieces of equipment that will prevent them from leaving trash behind will be super useful. Some sustainable gifts mentioned above are good gifts too, but here are some different and fun ideas.
As someone who hikes, I always make sure to pack everything I need for the perfect day. I find beeswax wraps or reusable bags a great ecofriendly option to store sandwiches or snacks and finally cut off Ziploc bags.
The most original sustainable gift ideas I have seen this year are related to using nature’s bathroom. AKA anywhere behind a bush. One is the Culoclean, a hilarious name for a device that gets attached to a water bottle and imitates those fancy Asian bidets. Another item is the antibacterial pee cloth by Kula. No more leaving toilet paper behind. Genius!
Second hand gear. Have you heard about REI’s garage sale? They have them at least twice a year and they have very decent gear. I myself have purchased hiking shoes there.
It is well known that the clothing industry has very negative impacts in the environment, more so with the fast fashion industry on the rise and our obsession to constantly consume. That’s why I do not really recommend buying any piece of clothing unless it really is a necessity. However, here are some sustainable alternatives:
Thrift shops or second hand markets are a great place to find unique pieces and give them another chance to be used. Clothing brands that upcycle and recycle materials reducing waste in the process. Brands that use sustainable practices and eco raw materials.
Don’t ditch your yoga practice when you are travelling! This was my most recent purchase when I was in lockdown in Spain and didn’t have a proper mat to do yoga. So, with plenty of time in my hands, I researched sustainable, eco-friendly brands that would have yoga mats for the yogi traveller. And I came upon the eKO® Superlite Travel Yoga Mat 1.5mm by Manduka, a sustainable product made in Taiwan from natural tree rubber.
Who doesn’t enjoy a cup of tea after their yoga practice? Hold on… who doesn’t love a cup of tea at any time, any day? I guess I didn’t know where to put tea on the list, so here it goes. Loose leaf tea is better for the environment because it reduces packaging and it avoids the release of microplastics in the water. Find a local tea shop (if you are from the US I would tell you to go to Teavana, but apparently tea wasn’t trendy enough to keep it running…), get some great quality loose leaf tea, and get a tea canister as a beautiful alternative for gift wrap.
Don’t have a tea shop around? Let me recommend online shop Matcha Alternatives, a small tea business ran by Elisabeth and Vientiene. They pride themselves on only working with ethically sourced and ecological tea, which translates to great people giving great quality.
A SUSTAINABLE GIFT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A TANGIBLE OBJECT
Instead of actual gadgets, give away experiences. Objects will ultimately become trash sooner or later. If you are looking to get a gift for a person who basically has everything, consider the gift of a cool experience.
- For a foodie, you can get dinner at a farm to table or eco restaurant, or even a cooking class.
- For the sports person, a kitesurfing lesson, ski lesson… Think of what is available near your area.
- For the nature lover, a weekend getaway near the mountains or beach. You can also adopt a tree in the name of your sustainable friend. In Spain, I found out you can sponsor an olive tree and then you get some olive oil as a thank you token.
- For the animal lover, a responsible nature experience, like visiting a sustainable farm or going to an animal sanctuary.
- For the artsy person, a workshop to learn how to make your own eco-friendly products, an upcycling class, a pottery class…
- In the digital world, there are many subscriptions for premium services that can make great gifts. Some examples are music and movie streaming services, digital book subscriptions like prime reading or audible or learning platforms like Skillshare.
- Is the person you know passionate about a particular cause? Make a donation in their name! Local animal shelters, education funds, red cross, food banks…
SUSTAINABILITY IS NOT ONLY ABOUT THE FINAL PRODUCT
Like I mentioned above,being sustainable is not only about buying trendy eco friendly products, but supporting those businesses who include sustainable practices. Therefore, you can also contribute with the following sustainable gift ideas:
- Locally owned shops. It boosts the local economy and helps small businesses survive. If you avoid shipping you will also be cutting off CO2 emissions.
- Social enterprises or companies that give back to the community. What businesses, big or small, are trying to make a difference where you live? For example, the quilting centre in Ulaanbaatar hires women with mobility difficulties and they give them the chance to work from home with flexible hours while paying them a fair salary.
- Companies who carry out sustainable practices and are transparent about their business practices. Brands like Patagonia, Nike, Adidas or Tropicfeel strive to make business in a sustainable manner.
If you are here to look for the perfect sustainable gift, the person who will receive it will appreciate how mindful you have been to choose something that makes a little difference. On the other hand, if you are a sustainable traveller looking for ideas for your own wish list, don´t be afraid to be very specific or mention the brands that you would like to support to your family and friends.
It is very difficult to find a product that will tick all the sustainability boxes, there are way too many variables to look at and we don’t always have all the information available to us. But as the saying goes, we need a lot of people doing a few sustainable things, rather than a few being perfect. A lot of people doing small actions like this is what will make a difference.
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This post does not contain affiliate links. The opinions on this post and the products recommended are solely based in my personal experiences with such products and my personal beliefs.