8 eco ‘must haves’ for your travel bag

Guest blogger Erin Steiner gives us her checklist of eco-friendly travel bag essentials

1. Water Bottle with Filter

Carry a reusable water bottle that has a filter in it. You won’t be able to fill it up until after you get through security, but that’s okay—pack it empty. This bottle keeps you from having to buy a bottle of water while you wait for your flight. It also makes it easy for you to get (free) drinkable water pretty much anywhere you go, saving you money and keeping quite a few beverage containers out of landfills. (One of our personal favourites is the Bobble, but even with a filter, please be aware that tap water may not be safe to drink in the country you’re travelling in – Editor)

2. Travel Blanket and Pillow

Make sure these are constructed from organic materials like bamboo. They’ll keep you warm on your flight, and you won’t have to worry about using a pillow that hundreds of other people have coughed on!

Make use of solar power as you travel
Make use of solar power as you travel

3. Solar Charger

Solar chargers are smaller now and incredibly useful while travelling, especially internationally. With a solar charger, you don’t have to worry about whether or not your chargers will fit into the outlets wherever you are, and you can use it even if you don’t have access to A/C power. (Nigel’s Eco Store sells a good range of solar chargers for travel -Ed)

4. Snacks

Airplane food is notoriously expensive and sometimes just bad. You can make your own snack packs at home for a fraction of the price and can even use herbs and salads you’ve grown yourself. Save the plastic bags to use for snack packs to make before you fly home (and to keep them out of landfills).

5. Water Alarm Clock

You want to have a reliable alarm clock with you. Sure, there’s an alarm on your phone, but what if you don’t hear it or if your phone dies? The water alarm clock is exactly what it sounds like: an alarm clock that runs on water. One fill keeps the clock running for six months (which is way better for the environment than a clock that requires batteries), but make sure it’s empty before you go through security!

6. Sanitising Wipes

Germs are bad. You don’t want to get sick on your trip (or as soon as you get back)! Look for wipes created by green companies like Seventh Generation.

7. Change of Clothes

A company called Revolution Apparel makes clothing that is travel-ready and has almost no carbon footprint (organic and sustainable materials, fair labour manufacturing). Just a few items can be combined and turned into a bunch of different looks. This way, even if the rest of your luggage gets lost, you’ll have enough variety in your hand luggage to last for your entire vacation. If you’ve got room you may want to also take some compression socks, a sleep aid… but when space is limited, though, stick with what you absolutely need. Remember, you still need to be able to carry the bag you’re packing.

8. Eco-Friendly Personal Care Products

Tom’s toothpaste (travel-sized of course) and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps (the kind of bars that double as body soap and shampoo) are a must-have in any travel bag. This will keep you from having to buy the products when you get there and can give you a quick “freshen up” in the airport (or even plane) bathroom. They’re environmentally friendly, so you won’t have to worry about using products provided by hotels or hosts who aren’t as green as you are.

About the author: Erin Steiner is a freelance writer and blogger from Portland, Oregon, who writes about a variety of topics including business, being environmentally-friendly, and the price of gold and silver.


Costa Rica: Volunteering in the ‘Happiest place on Earth’

Jenny Collins, of NGO Frontier, gives us the lowdown on volunteering in Costa Rica – once voted the ‘happiest place in the world’!

Costa Rica’s stunning landscapes of cloud forests and volcanoes, plus the friendly Costa Ricans themselves, offers a big clue as to why this country was once voted the happiest country in the world on the Happy Planet Index. But if you’d rather give something back to the country as you explore it then there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. Costa Rica sits just above the equator in Central America and benefits from a tropical climate which plays a part in encouraging the high levels of biodiversity in the country, and this is where helpful travellers come in…

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The Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation project allows volunteers to monitor these important species in their own environment. Volunteers live in the middle of the rainforest in the Corcovado National Park (one of the most remote parts of the country) so really get the opportunity to be at one with the wildlife.

The work: Volunteers carry out extensive biodiversity surveys. Work includes walking primate transects to spot the white-faced capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, Jeffries spider monkey and mantled howler monkey which thrive in these biologically rich forests.  Volunteers also survey populations of exotic birds, insects and amphibians, patrolling turtle nesting beaches (except between December and April when there are no turtles in this region), or track big cats.

Accommodation: This varies from tents to hammocks on a handmade deck, made from locally sourced materials. The camp is a 20-minute walk from Playa Piro, where the beach stretches for over 15 miles.

Part of camp life will involve cooking on a rotational basis. Costa Rican food is simple but delicious, with a focus on rice, beans and good quality fruit and vegetables. You could learn to make Gallo Pinto, the staple food of the nation, which is fried rice and black beans. Other favourites include light and crispy tortillas, most often stuffed with delicious cheeses and vegetables.

Much good work has already been carried out by volunteers on the project and new research projects are often set up on location. Recently the volunteers identified deforested locations that have been abandoned in recent decades and which were once used as land for plantations. These areas are missing many of the important species native to the area so Frontier are collaborating with the local Osa Conservation group to initiate a re-vegetation programme. Native species are being used and seeds taken from local areas to establish seedlings within the nursery. In the long-term, it is hoped that the re-establishment of native plant species will encourage more wildlife to return to the area.

Recommended for… Wildlife lovers and anyone who fancies getting back to nature and helping to conserve important areas of biodiversity.

Be aware that… Living in a forest can be tough as well as a great experience and it’s always good to be prepared for all eventualities so that there are no nasty surprises during your time on camp.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • The project supports the local economy by sourcing much of the supplies, including all of the food, from the local community
  • Helping to conserve the local areas will ensure the Costa Rican people can continue to create a sustainable income from tourism


About the author: Jenny Collins works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Find out more about Frontier’s volunteer projects, ethical adventure trails and gap year planning.

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Volunteer diary (Part 2) – wildlife monitoring in Makalali

Guest blogger James Bailey shares the second and final part of his diary – this time volunteering with Siyafunda Wildlife and Conservation in South Africa’s Makalali game reserve (read part one here)

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Monday 12th November
Week one in Africa has come and gone and it was now time to leave Lapolosa Wilderness. We were up, loaded and on our way by 06.00. The destination was to Hoedspruit where were picked up by Rangers from Siyafunda Wildlife and Conservation, a volunteer organisation that runs research on the Makalali game reserve.

There was an orientation and briefing before settling into the well-equipped camp. Had the opportunity to get to meet the other volunteers, some of whom had been there for at least a week, others much longer. The ID books came out when a small snake slithered across the porch… A good torch was handy to get from dinner back to the bedroom. This wasn’t to avoid stubbing your toe but to shine into the long grass to make sure you weren’t being watched.

Tuesday 13th November
Up at 05.30 for  06.00 drive: one of my duties for the week was to check the Nissan was road/bush worthy. When it comes to cars I know nothing so I had to pay particular attention when I was being briefed by Ranger Tamsyn. As part of the monitoring services that Siyafunda provides for the reserve we did a set route drive. Another responsibility of mine was to record all sightings and behaviour of pachyderms. Luckily this didn’t include warthogs (who technically fall into the category) there are far too many of them and I was busy enough announcing the GPS coordinates of the general game.

The great thing about having an open camp was that anything can walk through. During the afternoon we had plenty of nyala and warthogs grazing on the fresh growth created by the lawnmower.

For the general game drive that evening I set off in the trackers seat. The drive was very productive from a pachyderm perspective; a herd of ten elephants and three rhino were noted. The rhino came right at the end of the drive and blocked our road. We had to sit there in the dark until these gentle giants decided to move on.

Wednesday 14th November

Lion cubs in South Africa (c) James Bailey

Up at 05.15 for our rhino walk and headed to the northeast of the reserve in the Landcruiser. On finding some tracks (12 hours old) we

set off on foot looking for them. We tracked the rhino for about 2km before losing it in thick bush. We did a big loop around and headed back to the Landcruiser. The whole trip was about five hours, no major game to report, but we did see a boomslang in a tree.

On our return, a leopard relocation team had arrived to trap a leopard that had become too familiar with the camp – it had already taken the resident tabby! They set up a trap behind the common room next to the volley ball court and baited it with an impala caracas.

A great game drive this evening, we spent one and a half hours watching a lioness and her four cubs. Afterwards I played my part in cooking dinner. The whole African experience is having such a profound effect on me, it’s simply making me very happy.

Thursday 15th November
Up at 06.00 and we were taken out to clear a road, I got the tracker seat which is such a great experience, it certainly wakes you up first thing in the morning. We spent the best part of three and a half hours chopping down trees and bushes, lots of knob thorn which made the job particularly hard and painful.

The evening game drive featured only general game. That was until we came across a lioness walking up the road with purpose. She was definitely heading to camp with the not-so-discreet smell of the dead impala guiding her in.

When she reached the clearing she saw the grazing giraffe, wildebeest and zebra – a sight you’d expect on a documentary. She watched them for a good ten minutes before stealthly moving into the thick bush. The game headed from the clearing into the bush but then suddenly came thundering back out having wandered into the path of the lion! Five minutes later all hell broke loose with the lioness launching into the mixed herd. With the hunt right behind the camp it made it very real that were living amongst wild and dangerous animals.

Friday 15th November
Headed off a 06.00 for our morning game drive to monitor buffalo which we located using telemetry. We watched them, and warthogs,

Warthogs in South Africa (c) James Bailey

in the dam for a while before driving on, during which we saw a rhino and calf as well as some good sightings of kudo.

The evening game drive was pretty uneventful but we did see a bull elephant. I spent the whole drive in the trackers seat which was a bit over-the-top for a 3.5 hour stint.

The first group had arrived at our make shift camp site about an hour before us and had got a couple of fires going. They’d chosen a dry sandy river bed. We were given our instructions – go to the toilet in pairs and we’d each have to do two hours sentry duty. However, it never got to that: after our dinner there was a big thunderstorm, one load went home early as with no tents they didn’t fancy getting a good soaking. We followed them about thirty minutes later with the lightning getting very close.

Saturday 16th November
Up at 06.00 – which was a lie-in. Today we were working close to camp on erosion control. This involved shifting trees and bushes that had been cut down to create a clearing to attract plains animals such as white rhino and cheetah. This was all moved down the road to bush pack an area that had previously been eroded. The day was hot, perhaps our hottest at 37 degrees centigrade. I spent most of the day in shady spots around camp chatting and trying to recover from the early morning dehydration and too much sun.

We went out for a short game drive in the evening, under three hours. Didn’t see any high profile game, certainly none that I needed to write up. One highlight of the drive was taking a look around a delapitated lodge which meant I spent the rest of the drive day-dreaming about restoring it to its former glory. A quick change when we got back and then off to a neighbouring reserve, Mahalla, where they run a bar every Saturday night if they’re not too busy with guests.

Sunday 17th  November
Adam took a group into town to visit the reptile park, on the way out, about 100m from the gate there were two female lions sitting alongside their wildebeast kill.

On our return we stopped at the kill, the lions looked stuffed, the two of them were big bellied and panting. Arrived back at basecamp but very jealous of those we’d left behind – they had two bull elephants visit the garden!

That night I stayed up into the early hours talking in the dark and listening to the night. We had a lion roaring to the left and a hyena to the right. Awesome listening to them but the lion was definitely getting closer. With the dead impala stinking in the leopard trap we thought there was a good chance that the lion was making a bee-line straight for us. We made a controlled but not very dignified exit back to our rooms.

Monday 19th November
Accommodation on safari (c) James BaileyUp at about 06.30 desperate not to waste any of the last day in bed. We sat around drinking tea and eating rusks until it was time to go. We passed the kill spot but nothing left from yesterday, the whole carcasse was gone in less than 24 hours.

The long journey home gave me plenty of time to reflect on my trip.  I’ve had a truly great experience in Africa. Whilst I’ve been many times before, this trip has been different. I think it’s the hands on practical experience. It is hard work but I love the daily routine of getting up with the sun at 05.30 and going to bed at 20.00/21.00. The major event of the night being dinner which is an actual social event rather than something spent in front of the telly. The people you’re with are all like-minded and a pleasure to spend time with, they all have their own very distinct personalities and experiences.

I always felt safe in the bush but there are moments when you realise how dangerous things are and you can’t become complacent. Whilst it’s exhilarating you must know the boundaries and respect the animals. Meeting Adam (Australian) and Tamsyn (English) who had both taken a year or two out to study as professional guides has made me think seriously about doing something similar. There’s a very good chance I’ll return to Africa in the not too distant future.

If you missed Part 1 of James Bailey’s volunteer’s diary – read it here

Booking: James’ Siyafunda Wildlife and Conservation project trip was booked via Enkosini, a registered South African trust and a non-profit conservation project of The Lion Foundation. Enkosini works locally and internationally to encourage and promote a positive attitude towards wildlife and to insitute conservation-based employment. They believe that education and collaboration with the local community are keys to conservation.

For booking and further details of all their volunteering projects, visit www.enkosini.com (E: info@enkosini.com, T: +1.206.604.2664)

James Bailey


About the author: A Yorkshireman who lives in London but pines for Africa. Zoo advocate with habitat protection the ultimate, and don’t get me started on climate change nay sayers. Lets off steam through running, cricket and rugby.

Follow James on Twitter via @jhcbailey



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New Mongolian snow leopard trip launched

Responsible travel company Natural Habitat has launched a brand new, and exclusive, wildlife trip with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Intrepid independent travellers can now book an incredible expedition to seek the elusive snow leopard in Mongolia.

Mongolian horse men (c) Mark Johnstad‘In Search of the Snow Leopard’ will depart twice this August (2013) for two weeks of trekking and camping in Mongolia. Each trip is led by highly experienced and knowledgeable WWF scientists as travellers track the beautiful, and sadly highly endangered, snow leopard in the remote Yamaat Valley in Mongolia’s Altai Mountains. Natural Habitat Expeditions (part of Natural Habitat Adventures) is the only company offering a wildlife-focused expedition to both the Yamaat Valley and Jargalant Hairhan – two different ecosystems that are both key snow leopard habitats, each of which is exceptionally remote and rarely visited.

What’s involved:

Several days will involve 4-8hrs of tough trekking across mountainous terrain at altitude – therefore, NHE recommend this expedition for those with a good level of fitness (some prior experience of similar trips may also help). Groups will remain small (around 10) to ensure a comfortable experience with minimised impact on the local environment.

The expedition journeys across several of Mongolia’s national parks and protected areas where the group will be able to observe more incredible wildlife including huge flocks of migratory birds and wild Takhi horses. On the trip, trekkers can also meet the traditional nomadic herders who are community partners with the Snow Leopard Trust, WWF’s conservation partner in the region, and learn firsthand about their lifestyle and customs and how they live in harmony with the snow leopard.Yurt accommodation (c) Jan Wigsten

Accommodation: Groups stay in relatively luxurious camps with two people in each traditional Mongolian yurt. A privacy tent and hot-water mobile camp showers will also be on camp.

Recommended for… Those with a thirst for real, expedition-style adventure, and a love of wildlife

Be aware that… They really do mean it when they recommend this for those in good physical condition only!

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Partnered with and led by WWF to ensure conservation and sensitivity to the local environment, wildlife and community are at the forefront of the trip
  • Parent company, Natural Habitat Adventures, is the world’s first 100% carbon-neutral travel company
  • Guaranteed small groups ensure minimal impact on the local environment


For more information, including departure dates, intinieries and prices, visit www.nathab.com/expeditions

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