Are you struggling to find the perfect sustainable gift for the travel lover in your life? Gift-giving can be just as stressful as it is fun. We want to surprise our loved ones with something personal, something fun, something they’d enjoy. Well, I’m here to help.
Backpacking in and of itself is one of the most sustainable ways to travel. Backpackers are generally pretty eco-conscious and their low-budget, adventurous travel style has a low carbon footprint and keeps more money in the local community. But there’s always more to be done. So if you’re looking for a gift for someone who loves to travel on a budget and cares about the environment, I have the perfect goodies to help them become a more sustainable traveler.
Sustainable gift giving sounds a bit like an oxymoron. After all, over consumerism has put a big strain on the planet. We keep accumulating more stuff that we don’t need. But what if you could give someone a gift that is actually good for the planet? Something useful that won’t be sitting on a shelf collecting dust, but instead help them while they travel the world. Sounds too good to be true?
Nope, I have the best sustainable travel gifts for backpackers right here. This 2022 update includes even more great planet-proof travel gift ideas!
Of course, nothing is as eco-friendly as buying second hand. So consider thrifting your sustainable travel gifts!
Online shopping? Plant trees with every purchase through Treeclicks!
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Bag or backpack
What’s a backpacker without a bag? A good backpack is a worthwhile investment, and a great sustainable travel gift. A high-quality bag will last a life-time, which means less waste! These days, many companies are also working to make their products more eco-friendly, by recycling fabric and offsetting emissions.
Solgaard makes bags from recycled ocean plastic with practical compartments like a built-in closet.
Patagonia is one of the most sustainable travel brands and committed to social and environmental justice. Their casual and technical backpacks get rave reviews, and this is definitely a company worth supporting!
Cotopaxi and their Gear for Good campaign are on a similar mission to make the world a better place, while selling top-quality travel products. With fun colors and a cute lama logo!
I have an Osprey Fairview 40L, and it’s my favorite bag. Small enough for carry-on, big enough for long trips. Their products are made to last, and they’ll send you spare parts if you need them.
Aside from a big backpack, a day pack is very useful for day trips and excursions. Fjallraven makes very cute and sustainable bags for everyday use, as well as big hiking packs. I love my Vaude Wizard, it is the perfect size for day hikes and overnight hikes and Vaude is commited to sustainability goals.
If you’re shopping for a hiker, I can also highly recommend the Vaude Skomer Tour bag. It’s the hiking bag I used while hiking the Portuguese Camino and love dearly. And it’s made from eco-friendly recycled material!
Sustainable and solar powered electronics
I don’t know about you, but I use my phone for basically everything. Taking pictures, navigating, translating, booking trips. I wouldn’t be able to travel the way I do without it. Even smartphones are something you can buy second-hand. My last few have all been refurbished, and worked just as well as a brand new one. Smartphones contain a lot of precious metals and buying second-hand is a lot more sustainable than new. And get a cute case from recycled plastic, while you’re at it!
That’s why having a charger and a power bank is so essential for travelers. You don’t want to run out of juice at a critical moment.
But instead of just plugging your charger in anywhere, you can get clean, free energy from the sun! A solar-powered charger and power bank will keep you on the grid without relying on a power grid.
For even more fun in the sun, get them solar-powered speakers. The perfect sustainable travel gift for on the beach or to turn any dorm room into a party zone!
Sometimes you just want to listen to your favorite tunes by yourself. And those long bus and train rides can get pretty boring without your favorite music or podcast. A good pair of eco-friendly headphones or earbuds will make every trip better.
Water purifier bottle
Water is life. But while we’re traveling, we don’t always have easy access to clean drinking water, and bacteria from foreign tap water can do a real number on your gut!
That’s why many travelers rely on single use water bottles. But that’s a lot of plastic waste and money you’re throwing away. There’s a better way!
I started using reusable water bottles with built-in filter and purification systems. These purifier bottles mean that you can safely drink water from any source, as long as it isn’t salt water. They filter out waterborne pathogens, chemicals, and dirt. Bottles like these don’t just save plastic, but also money. We all know that backpackers like to be budget friendly, and that’s why these make ideal sustainable travel gifts.
I’ve used my Lifestraw and Grayl to drink tap water in Southeast Asia & North Africa, saving so much money, hassle and plastic waste! They’re also fantastic for outdoor adventures and trips to remote areas, as you don’t have to carry as much water with you. I once drank straight out of the Niagara River!
Reusable container & cutlery
One of the best ways to save money while traveling is by preparing your own meals. Whether it’s bringing snacks on your excursion, cooking in a hostel or having a little picnic in the park. A cute tote and reusable produce bags make shopping at local markets more sustainable and budget-friendly.
For cooking and eating out, a reusable cutlery set from bamboo is eco-friendly, light-weight, and practical. It also means you won’t need single use plastic cutlery when getting take-out. A pocket knife comes in handy as well for all sorts of situation, not just food related!
Sleeping mask, neck pillow & earbuds
One of the skills I required as a backpacker is that I can now sleep anywhere. On buses, train, airplanes, you name it. Even crowded dorm rooms full of snorers can’t keep me awake anymore.
The key? Earbuds. Good quality earbuds that block out the noise.
A sleeping mask helps as well, especially if you’re trying to take a nap during the day. Put one of these over your eyes and you’ll be alseep in no time. Sleeping masks comes in lots of different prints and colors, so it’s a useful and fun gift for travelers.
Night buses and trains are a popular way to travel for backpackers since it saves money. And you can save a lot of CO2 with these sustainable alternatives to flying. But they don’t always provide the most comfortable night of sleep. A travel pillow gives some much-needed neck support, so you wake up fresh and ready for adventure at your destination. You can even DIY one of these for a super sustainable and personal gift idea.
Unlike hotels, budget hostels rarely provide towels. That’s why most backpackers travel with a quick-dry towel. Unfortunately, most of these are made from microfiber material, which leaks microplastic into the water with every wash. Not exactly eco-friendly!
These travel towels made from French flax are quick drying, light weight, and anti-bacterial, making them great sustainable travel gifts for backpackers.
E-reader & books
When was a kid, I would fill half my suitcase with books when we went on vacation. As a backpacker, that’s way too much weight to carry around. That’s why I love my e-reader. I can take a whole library on my trip! Modern e-readers are energy-efficient and don’t require trees to be cut down for paper like regular books. The more you use your e-reader the more sustainable it becomes compared to paper books.
I also still bring at least one paperback that I can trade for a new one in hostels when I finish it. Sometimes you just want the feel of a “real” book in your hand. There are lots of fun travel books out there, like these by female authors.
A Lonely Planet “On a Shoestring” travel guide is also a good gift for any backpacker. These are dubbed the Bible of budget travel, especially the South-East Asia one. They now also come as more eco-friendly e-books.
Most backpackers love exploring off the beaten track activities when they travel. The travel bible for hidden gems Atlas Obscura has just released a beautiful boxset.
Backpackers generally do a lot of walking. Whether it’s to save money on cab fare or to get to remote destinations. A good pair of shoes will get you where you need to go. And it’s the most eco-friendly way to get around!
My go-to travel shoes for warm-weather are the Teva Originals sandals. These are so comfortable, durable and waterproof. Teva is also committed to sustainability by using recycled materials, reducing water use, and packaging. Their products are high-quality and will last you years. So if you’re looking for a comfortable and fashionable sustainable travel gift, I highly recommend these.
Aside from sandals, I usually carry sneakers and hiking boots on my trips. Backpackers are generally dressed for comfort rather than style, so your heels can stay at home.
Shoes that will have to endure a lot of walking, like hiking boots, need to be sturdy and durable. I absolutely love my Lowa Renegades, because they are high-quality, comfortable, and light-weight.
For sneakers, I recommend something hip and comfy. There are lots of sustainable sneaker brands these days, like Veja, which everyone in Europe is wearing.
Backpackers generally pack light, since they have to carry everything around themselves. And no ones feels like lugging a massive backpack filled with items you don’t need or paying extra for excess luggage fees. Packing light is also more sustainable, because less weight = less fuel.
In my ultimate guide to packing light, I note the importance of having clothing that can do double duty. Athleisure wear like leggings from recycled plastic are great for hikes as well as lounging in a hostel, and comfortable enough to sleep in on a plane. A cozy hoodie is also a must for travel in my opinion.
Two-thirds makes high-quality t-shirts and sweaters from organic, biodegradable, and recycled cotton and hemp.
The outdoor wear from Patagonia is worth the splurge for the quality and the company’s commitment to sustainability. Another item worth splurging on is merino wool sweaters and layers. The material is temperature regulating and can be worn for ages without washing, perfect for backpackers.
For breathable and temperature regulating underwear, nothing beats bamboo. Not only is it super soft, it’s also one of the most eco-friendly materials! Bamboo socks are also great for travel.
Toiletry bag & toiletries
One of my top sustainable travel swaps is replacing liquid toiletries with solid versions. Not only is it better for the environment, they last longer, and you can keep them in your carry-on luggage without issue. The options go beyond a simple soap bar. Have you heard of these sustainable toiletry items?
The best way to transport soap bars is in light-weight tin containers. I love sustainable travel gifts that are practical!
Other eco-friendly swaps for your beauty routine include a bamboo toothbrush, reusable cotton swaps, make-up remover cloth, and a steel razor. It might take some getting used to, but swapping out these toiletries is a great first step to zero waste travel.
Of course, you’ll need to put all these in. I recommend getting little tins for your soap and shampoo to store them safely without getting everything wet. Osprey has a great toiletry bag for backpackers that you can hang in any hostel bathroom.
My toiletry bag also includes some first-aid basics. Here is how you build a zero-waste version.
Packing cubes & laundry bag
To help pack all your stuff and keep it organized, packing cubes are a must. They are especially useful for back packers, because they make packing and re-packing your bag a breeze. And trust me, there’s nothing more annoying than trying to stuff everything in your backpack in time for check-out while you’re nursing a hangover. Or having to pull everything out of your bag just to find a single clean sock.
Packing cubes also compress your clothes, so you can fit more into your backpack. A win-win! And you can find sustainable ones made from 100% recycled material.
Because you don’t want to mix your dirty and your clean clothes, a laundry bag helps keep everything fresh. You can also simply drop this bag off at a cleaner, hostel reception, or laundromat to be cleaned without having to sort through all your stuff.
Memberships and gift cards
The most sustainable travel gifts are experiences. Make memories, not trash. True budget backpackers will love a Hosteling International membership that gives a sweet 10% discount at hostels around the world as well as discounts on insurance, car-rental, tours, and more.
Another good travel gift card is the Viator Global Experiences card. This allows the recipient to book tours, adventures, and experiences by Viator all over the world. For real adventurers, I recommend a gift card for Much Better Adventures. Their trips are unique and sustainable. Or get one from Responsible Travel, who organize terrific custom trips around the globe.
Tinggly is a super fun company that sell gift cards that can be redeemed for all kinds of activities and experiences around the world, including eco-friendly ones.
I’m a member of Wanderful, an online community for female travelers. You can gift a membership to Wanderful as well. I absolutely love them, and it’s especially great for travel bloggers and influencers.
Obviously, this list is far from exhaustive. There are so many great sustainable travel gifts for backpackers out there. But this is a good place to start for anyone looking for a gift for travel lovers. And I’ll keep adding to it each year with new finds.
Not only are these items eco-friendly and useful, they’re also fun to give and to get. And isn’t that what the best gifts for travelers should be? Not something that’s going to sit in a closet collecting dust, but something that the recipient will actually use and love. And by buying from companies and small businesses that are dedicated to protecting the environment, your money is going to the right people.
Ultimately, the most environmentally friendly gifts are ones that keep our planet alive and beautiful for us to enjoy for a long time to come.
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