Now that the days are getting shorter and colder it is almost time for my favorite time of the year: Holiday Season! Time for cozy sweaters, twinkling lights and sappy Hallmark movies. Ever since I was a little girl, Christmas has been my favorite holiday. Our German family hosts a three-day feast of comfort food and presents.
But as I’ve been getting more interested in sustainability and educating myself on the negative effects of overconsumption, gift giving has gotten a bit more complicated. How can I surprise my loved ones with thoughtful gifts without damaging the planet and people? Preferably with something better than a pair of socks.
Thankfully, there are lots of great sustainable gift options! So I decided to help you pick the right gift for your travel obsessed friends, family member or partner. This eco-friendly and zero waste travel gift guide is filled with fun ideas for sustainable gifts. Whether it is for the holidays, a birthday or “just because”.
Remember that the most sustainable way to shop is to buy second-hand instead of new. If you do decide to buy something new, pick something from a sustainable brand. It is always best to avoid big online stores like Amazon and support a local store or small artisan instead. After all, Jeff Bezos doesn’t need your money, but small business owners do. I love shopping for gifts on Etsy, because you can find unique items and filter for local sellers so it doesn’t need to be shipped far. And use the TreeClicks extension to plant trees while online shopping.
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. That means I make a bit of commission on every sale through this post, at no additional cost to you!
There are 30 gift ideas on this list, organized by type of gift to help you search:
Sustainable Food & Drink Gifts
For me, food is one of the most important aspects of travel. You can learn so much about a place and a culture through their cuisine! These gadgets will allow you buy, enjoy and transport food and drinks more sustainably.
- Reusable water bottle with filter
- Reusable cutlery & straw
- Reusable container & cup
- Reusable produce & shopping bags
- Beeswax wraps
- Food and drinks from abroad
1. Reusable water bottle with filter
I think by now we all know about the negative environmental impact of single use plastic, especially water bottles. While they may be cheap and convenient, the cost for the planet is high. And avoiding bottled water is super easy! All you need is a reusable bottle and fill it up with tap water or filtered water. It’s not only better for the environment, but also saves you the money and effort of buying bottled water.
If you’re traveling to places where the tap water isn’t safe to drink, it is worth investing in a reusable bottle with a built-in filter. This allows you to filter water on the go, wherever you are. I have three different bottles that I use when traveling: a Lifestraw Go, a Lifestraw Flex and a Grayl. The Lifestraw Flex and Grayl are especially practical for hiking and camping trips, while the Lifestraw Go is great for city trips. I’ve also heard good things about Water To Go, but haven’t had a chance to try it out for myself.
All three of these filter out 99.9% of all bacteria, viruses and contaminants to provide you with safe drinking water. I’ve used them to drink tap water in Southeast Asia and North Africa and lake water in the US, Europe and Canada and have never gotten sick.
Filter bottles like these usually cost around 40-50 euro, so they make for a great gift for any conscious traveler or outdoor enthusiast.
2. Reusable cutlery & straw
The single use waste problem also extents to plastic cutlery and straws. So as an eco-friendly traveler, I always carry reusable cutlery and a straw. That way I can eat and drink on the go without creating unnecessary waste.
There are lots of cute versions of these. I personally love a bamboo cutlery set and straw, but some people prefer steel or glass straws. These are not just a fun gift for travelers, but anyone who loves to eat out.
3. Reusable container & cup
Speaking of eating out, let’s get rid of those awful styrofoam and plastic containers shall we? If you’re someone who loves to grab food or coffee to go or always takes home the leftovers, it is worth investing in a reusable container.
Many coffee shops like Starbucks already have an incentive program, giving a discount to customers who bring their own cup. And more and more fast food and fast-casual restaurants now allow you to bring your own containers. A great gift for everyday use and travel.
As a budget traveler, I often cook my own meals while traveling. And a reusable container, like a jar or a Tupperware box is great for storing snacks or a packed lunch.
4. Reusable produce & shopping bags
I love to visit markets when I travel and buy local produce to cook with. It’s a great way to explore new flavors and try unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. And fresh fruit makes for a great healthy snack on the go!
To avoid using plastic shopping bags, bring your own reusable bags on your next trip. I have a few fun canvas bags that are practical and cute, and they make for a great personalized gift. Reusable produce bags are also very versatile and can double up as storage of any kind.
5. Beeswax wraps
Do you go through lots of cling film/saran wrap/plastic film? Then beeswax wraps are a great sustainable alternative. They’re not as airtight, so not suitable for liquids, but great for extending the shelf life of our leftovers and keep them from drying out and smelling up your fridge.
Beeswax wraps are reusable (just clean them with cold water and let them dry) and come in all shapes and sizes. A good gift for home cooks and budget travelers. I use them to wrap vegetables, cheese, bread and open containers, and as sandwich bags.
6. Food & drinks from abroad
One of my favorite things was unpacking the Christmas box my parents would get from their work. It was always packed with fancy food items and snacks. You can easily recreate that experience by ordering a box with typical local products from your favorite destinations. That way you can still taste the flavors without traveling.
Or assemble your own box with delicious goodies from local producers and send them to friends and family abroad. I’m sure they’ll love trying all your favorite snacks, drinks and products.
Sustainable Electronic Travel Gadgets
While nothing can beat the feeling of a paper map in my mind, technology has made travel a lot easier and more accessible. It seems like every year, hundreds of new gadgets hit the market, branded as the next “must-have travel item”. Most of which, you definitely don’t need. But there are a few tech gadgets that have made my trips more enjoyable without being too damaging to the environment.
- Solar powered charger & USB researchable batteries
- Solar-powered speaker
- Hand crank flashlight
- Recycled plastic phone case
I have always been an avid reader. I actually read a lot more when I travel than when I’m at home, because there’s a lot more free time. Whenever I’m waiting for a bus, train, airplane etc., in transit or relaxing on the beach, I crack open a book. Or I used to, before I had an e-reader.
As a girl, half my suitcase would always be filled with books when we went on vacation. But as a backpacker, it’s just not an option to lug around a full library. That’s why I love my e-reader. It allows to bring a hundred books, for the weight and size of one thin paperback.
An e-reader of course does have an environmental cost: the materials used to make it, the use of internet and electricity to charge it. But that’s offset by the paper saved and the fuel from transporting the weight of books.
For those saying that there is nothing like the feel of a real book: I agree. An e-reader will never have the same romantic feel as paper. But it is a great sustainable alternative when traveling. I do always bring one paper book as well btw, which I then trade in hostels along the way.
8. Solar-powered charger & rechargeable batteries
Of course, you’ll need a more sustainable way to charge your e-book and other electronics. A solar-powered charger is a great way to do that. Instead of plugging it in, you can use the power of the sun to charge all your appliances. And get some USB rechargeable batteries for those appliances that still need batteries.
9. Solar-powered speaker
Instead of charging your speaker through your solar-powered charger, you can also cut out the middle man with a solar-powered speaker. A speaker isn’t a strict necessity for your travels of course, but it is an easy way to make your trip a little more fun.
I can’t tell you how many hostel nights and lazy beach days have been greatly improved because someone brought a speaker. Music can turn even the loneliest hotel nights into a party for one!
This one is a particularly good gift for the happy campers and outdoor adventurous. A flashlight is a must for anyone exploring the great outdoors. Instead of a battery run flashlight, an old school hand crank flashlight is a more sustainable mobile lighting solution. It is a bit tedious, and not always very practical, but at least it includes a free arm workout!
11. Recycled plastic phone case
If you’re like me, your phone is your most used travel gadget. I use my phone (a refurbished, second-hand iPhone) as a map, camera, notepad, trip planner, music player, TV, and of course, a communication device. But from being dropped on the ground to bumpy roads, our phones have quite a lot to endure when we travel.
That’s why your most important travel gadget deserves a good case. I got a Wilma phone case for my birthday this year and I absolutely love it. Not only is does it have a cute color and design, it is made from recycled ocean plastic. So I can feel good about myself whenever I pull out my phone, even if I accidentally switch to front facing camera and get a full screen of double chin 😉
Our toiletries is one of the first places where we can switch to more sustainable options. In recent years, there has been a boom in the development of eco-friendly personal hygiene items. Find a local producer and support them by buying these practical zero waste gifts.
- Bamboo toothbrush & toothpaste tablets
- Solid shampoo, soap & conditioner
- Reef safe sunscreen
- Steel razor
- Reusable pads & menstrual Cup
- Eco-friendly deodorant
- Make-up remover cloth
12. Bamboo toothbrush & toothpaste tablets
Plastic toothbrushes are so 2018. Any eco-friendly traveler needs the sustainable alternative: a bamboo toothbrush. These brushes are completely biodegradable and bamboo is a fast-growing plant that requires little water and space. There are lots of different bamboo toothbrushes on the market.
If you’re up for it, you can also make the switch to toothpaste in tablet or powder form. Regular toothpaste comes in single use plastic tubes, not exactly eco-friendly. Tabs and powder come in a glass container and as a bonus, they don’t count towards your liquids allowance.
13. Solid shampoo, soap & conditioner Bar
I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first, but I have completely converted to shampoo bars for travel. Not only are they more sustainable than liquids, but they’re made from natural products, last longer, take up less space and can go in your hand luggage!
I also often buy soaps as a souvenir or gift while traveling. There’s something so lovely and luxurious about a handmade soap from local ingredients. The smell will instantly take you back whenever you use it.
Another personal hygiene product that has a sustainable alternative is deodorant. I find a good deodorant is essential when traveling as long bus/train/plane rides can leave you feeling less than ~fresh~.
By now, you’re probably aware of the issues with traditional deodorant, especially spray cans. Aside from the plastic packaging, they also use harmful chemicals. A zero waste deodorant stick or crème, made with natural ingredients is a great alternative! Most are vegan, palm-oil free and cruelty-free for some added feelgood vibes.
15. Reef safe sunscreen
Being eco-friendly goes beyond limiting your waste and plastic use. It is also about using products that aren’t harmful to the environment.
Worldwide, coral reefs are suffering from the chemicals in sunscreen and soaps that wash into the water when we go swimming. Which is the last thing you want when your snorkeling somewhere beautiful!
So as a gift for the avid diver or snorkeler, buy them a bottle of sunscreen that protects their skin and the reefs!
16. Steel razor
Another culprit on the list of single use plastic are disposable razors. Not only are they awful to shave with (hello razor burn and cuts), but they’re also unnecessary waste.
Reusable plastic razors are a step up, but if you want to go all the way, invest in a quality steel razor. They’re perfect for any traveler that chooses to remove their body and/or facial hair. Steel razors provide a very close shave and last forever.
Remember to add a bar of shaving soap as well!
17. Reusable pads, period underwear & menstrual cup
As if menstruating wasn’t bothersome enough, feminine hygiene products produce a lot of waste. From plastic wrappers to bleached cotton. But luckily, also in this department there are better options than good old tampons and pads.
The menstrual cup like Diva have become a huge thing for those trying to live a low waste lifestyle or simply looking for an alternative to tampons. I personally have never used one, but I’ve heard good things. Apparently it can take a few tries to find the perfect fit, so this might be better suited as a gift to yourself 😉
Another option is reusable pads and period underwear. These absorb the blood and can be reused after washing. These are obviously less practical if you’re traveling somewhere without access to laundry, but can be helpful to get you through a few days of ~heavy flow~.
18. Make-up remover cloth & reusable pads
I never wear make-up when I travel (or otherwise). I find it just sweats off and my skin prefers to breath. However, if you do enjoy wearing make-up, it is worth switching from disposable cotton pads to a zero waste version.
If you have seen the ads, you’ll know that make-up remover cloths work like magic. They let you take off your make-up with nothing but water! Reusable pads work the same way as single use cotton pads, but you can toss them in the laundry to clean them.
DIY Tip: reusable make-up remover pads are a fun DIY gift! Upcycle some soft flannel, cotton or jersey fabric (like an old t-shirt) and turn them into pads as a fun gift. Don’t feel like they need to be round though, rectangular pads are just as nice to use and much easier to make.
Sustainable Packing Solutions
Now that we have all those great eco-friendly items, we need something to keep them in. These packing solutions are all made from recycled or sustainable materials that allow you to pack smart and responsible.
- recycled plastic dry bag
- packing cubes
- toiletry bag
- luggage tags
19. Dry bag
A dry bag is a must for adventurous travelers and water rats. Dry bags are designed to keep your stuff safe and dry while you’re on the water. They are perfect for boat trips, kayaking, sailing, snorkeling and diving trips or rainy weather. This particular dry bag is made from recycled plastic bottles, giving all that pesky PET a new purpose.
20. Packing cubes
Packing cubes are one my favorite travel gadgets. Especially as a backpacker, they’ve made my life much easier. Packing cubes don’t only help you fit more into your backpack or suitcase, but they also keep it organized. No more unloading your whole backpacking looking for one sock and repacking becomes a breeze.
Honestly, if you’re going to get any travel gadget, it should be packing cubes. Unfortunately most are made from synthetic fiber and plastic and although they’re long-lasting, they’re not eco-friendly. These beauties are made with organic cotton, a much better solution!
21. Toiletry bag
All those zero waste toiletries need a place to go. This cosmetics bag is not only super practical, but it is also made from recycled PET. I have a similar bag and the hanging design is great for travelers. It doesn’t take up valuable counter space and can hang from a hook in the shower or bathroom. Perfect when sharing bathrooms in hostels.
22. Luggage tags
Losing your bag is every travelers’ nightmare, but it does happen from time to time. I once left my backpack on a train and although I got it back, not with its full content. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a luggage tag. That way, your bag is easily identifiable and whoever finds it has a way of contacting you. These luggage tags are really fun and perfect for sustainable travelers.
Sustainable Travel Experiences
The best zero-waste gifts don’t require any packaging at all. Personally, I love giving and receiving experiences rather than material things. Memories last a lifetime, unlike trinkets collecting dust on a back shelf. Here are a few ideas for fun and thoughtful travel themed gifts.
- Airbnb experiences
- Gift cards
- Travel books and movies
- Adopt a piece of land
- Wanderful membership (affiliate link)
23. Airbnb experiences
While I am not a fan of Airbnb as a hosting business, Airbnb experiences are a great way to connect with and support locals. It’s a great way to try something new or get to know a city in a new way. Gift someone a cookies class, guided tour or work-shop for their next trip. Not traveling any time soon? Online experiences allow you to travel the world virtually.
24. Gift cards
While my favorite gift as a traveler is, well, a trip. That’s not an option right now. I’m not booking any flights, buses, hotels or tours and neither are others. The tourism industry, which I am a part of, is struggling. Luckily, there are ways to support them and still socially distance: gift cards!
Travel will be possible again at some point, so buying gift cards is a great way to support your favorite companies until then. A lot of airlines, transportation provides, tour companies etc. offer them now. Or get gift cards from local shops and businesses for a little staycation.
25. Travel books & movies
For me, the second best thing to traveling is watching other people travel. That’s why I love watching travel related movies & tv-shows and reading travel books.
I’m sure the traveler in your life will appreciate getting a wanderlust inspiring book or movie as well. Or a gift card to download some e-books for that new e-reader! Get some ideas from these posts:
Instead of giving someone a physical gift, you can also make a donation in their name. To one of their favorite charities or to an organization that’s working to support sustainable tourism and protecting the environment. So that there will still be plenty of beautiful nature to enjoy in the future.
27. Adopt a piece of land
Another great whimsical gift for the person who already has everything. Buy them a piece of land in their favorite country, so that they can say they truly have a home away from home. Adopt an Acre is a great way to support nature conservation in the US and Canada. You can even become a Lord or Lady in Scotland!
28. Wanderful membership
I’ve been a member of Wanderful since their first European conference. Wanderful is a world-wide community of womxn travelers. It’s honestly one of the most supportive communities I’ve ever had the pleasure of joining. They’ve also been very successful in making the switch to online this year, with lots of interesting online events and meetings. It’s been a very fun way to connect with travel lovers from all over the world.
Waderful is especially great for womxn who work in the travel industry. They provide a valuable network, events and information for content creators, such as myself. The annual Women In Travel Summit that they host, brings together womxn from all parts of the travel industry, from bloggers to travel agents.
I highly recommend becoming a member of Wanderful, especially if you’re a blogger/vlogger/influencer. You can also gift a membership and for every membership that is bought, one is donated for those who cannot afford the fee.
BONUS: COVID-19 Travel Gift
This year has been… crazy. Not in a small part due to the pandemic wreaking havoc across the planet. While travel is still severely limited, you can help those taking a trip during these crazy times stay safe.
- Face mask
- Hand sanetizer
29. Personalized reusable mask
You may have seen the news articles about the frighting amount of disposable masks and PPE that are ending up in the ocean. While we of course should be following the rules and covering nose and mouth in public, disposable masks are hardly the most sustainable way to do it.
A reusable mask is just as effective when cleaned properly, and they look a lot nicer! So why not give someone a gift that’s fun, cute and practical? Find a local artist or get creative yourself to make personalized reusable masks with your favorite prints and embellishments.
30. Natural hand sanitizer
We are going through liters of hand sanitizer. But those harsh chemicals can hurt our skin and the planet. Not to mention all the plastic bottles it comes in. Instead, purchase a natural hand sanitizer in eco-friendly packaging.
Well, you’ve made it to the end of this sustainable travel gift guide. It turned out a bit longer than I had expected, but there were just too many ideas I wanted to share with you. I hope this has inspired you to find the perfect gift for someone (or yourself). Anything missing? Let me know in the comments what gift you are buying this year.
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