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Plastic-Free Travel: 21 Easy Ways to Reduce your Plastic Waste while Travelling

Plastic Free Travel Kit - Bamboo Cutlery set against a fern plant background

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We should all aim to reduce our plastic waste every day, not just while we’re travelling.  However, when we travel, destinations which deal with a high number of visitors struggle to manage the waste effectively so plastic-free travel is even more important.  If we apply the same principles of reducing plastic waste when we travel that we do to our everyday lives, we can help the environment and save money by choosing not to use plastic.  Plastic-free travel is achievable and is certainly something to aim for, but even if you can’t do it perfectly here are some easy ways to reduce plastic waste while travelling.

Plastic-Free Travel Essentials

Bring Your Own Refillable Water Bottle

Since the security regulations banned liquids over 100ml, the sales of plastic water bottles in airports are a huge contributor to plastic waste.  Did you know that you can take an empty refillable water bottle through security with you to fill up after security?  I don’t know why this seems to be such a huge secret, perhaps airports don’t want to lose the revenue they make from bottled water sales, but if we all bring a refillable water bottle with us, we would save millions of plastic bottles every year.

Some airports have a water fountain where you can fill up your bottle, but if not, in the UK and most airports around the world you can ask at any food outlet or restaurant to fill up your water bottle.

If the destination you are travelling to doesn’t have potable tap water, buy a reusable water bottle with an in-built filter such as the LifeStraw water bottle or Water2Go bottle which both filter out any nasties and provide you with clean drinking water from virtually any source – except the sea!

Our sister site Tales of a Backpacker recently launched the #BYORB (Bring Your Own Reusable Bottle) Campaign to encourage everyone to refill their own water bottle at the airport instead of buying more plastic and spending more money.  As part of this campaign, I have partnered with Water-to-Go to offer all This Travel Lover readers and #BYORB supporters a 15% discount on the purchase of a Water-to-Go bottle so you can save even more money!  If you are based in the US or Canada, click here to order your bottle now, or if you are in Europe or Australia, click here.  Simply choose the water bottle you want to buy, and put in the code BYORB for a 15% discount on your purchase.

Reusable Water2Go filter bottle
A reusable water bottle with a filter is essential for plastic free travel

Use a Cotton Bag for Shopping

When you’re shopping at the market for food or in shops for souvenirs to take home, bring your own reusable bag so shopkeepers don’t have to give you a plastic bag to carry all your goodies.  Some supermarkets and even whole countries like Thailand have now banned single-use plastic bags, so bringing your own is essential.  Cotton bags are also handy for separating dirty laundry and for taking to the beach too, so I often have a couple with me.  I usually pick up some at travel shows, but you can also look in your local shops or check these out on Amazon.

Plastic-Free Food and Drink

Eat Ice Cream in a Cone

I would never suggest not eating an ice-cream when you’re on holiday, but instead of ordering it in a cup with a (usually plastic) spoon, order an ice-cream in a cone so nothing will go to waste.  Delicious and environmentally friendly!  It’s also a good excuse to try local ice cream specialities like gelato in Italy too – forget the pre-packaged branded ice creams and enjoy a scoop or two of real gelato!

Ice Cream is just as delicious in a cone without the plastic - Ice Cream Cone
Ice Cream is just as delicious in a cone without the plastic

Say No to Plastic Straws

While some restaurants and bars are already reducing their plastic use by not offering straws with their drinks, while others still add them automatically.  Make sure you order your drinks without straws, and if you want to bring your own bamboo or metal straw you can easily find them online.

Eat Local Food

One of the best things about travelling is trying the local cuisine, so eating local is the best way to enjoy the culture and food where you are travelling, without damaging the environment.  Shop in local markets where the fruit and veg aren’t pre-packaged.  Food that is imported from other countries – for example, pasta outside of Italy – often comes packaged in plastic, whereas you can usually buy local staples without the extra packaging.  Don’t forget to use your own bags to carry your goodies home; for fruit, veg and smaller items these reusable bags come in very handy at the market.

Reusable fruit and veg bags with bananas and broccoli in them
Reusable fruit and veg bags are also handy for travel

Get a Reusable Cup

Are you a coffee drinker?  Takeaway coffee cups can’t usually be recycled, and even if coffee cups aren’t plastic then the lids and stirrers are. Getting a reusable coffee cup or flask will not only reduce your waste and save you money.  A lot of coffee shops now offer discounts if you bring your own cup, so it is a win-win for everyone.  Alternatively, take a break and sit down in the café to have your coffee in a ceramic cup.  People watching or chatting with locals is a great way to pass the time while you’re drinking it!

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Tips for Dining Alone as a Solo Traveller

Even if you don’t drink coffee, consider buying a reusable cup for other kinds of drinks.  I usually stick with my water bottle, but single-use plastic glasses for alcohol or slushy drinks are also common so I’m looking into buying one of these re-usable cups too.

Use Bamboo Cutlery

I bought a set of bamboo cutlery and I love it!  I just need to remember to bring my chopsticks next time too.  Once I got into the habit of carrying it with me it was easy to refuse single-use cutlery and whip out my own.  Most sets come in a cotton carry bag, which is handy to keep them together, but it does get dirty if you don’t have anywhere to clean your cutlery immediately after use.  A cotton hanky to wrap them in if they are dirty does come in handy until you can get to a sink.

Reusable bamboo cutlery - Plastic free travel
Reusable bamboo cutlery – Plastic free travel

Bring Your Own Tupperware Storage Container

I love trying street food all over the world but eating on the go often comes with single-use plastics.  I read a great article about the street markets in Langkawi, where people are starting to bring their own food container instead of using the plastic or polystyrene serving plates that street food stalls usually use, so why not do this to go plastic-free at markets?  If you are staying in hostels or Airbnbs and cooking your own food, foldable Tupperware is also really handy for storing food or taking a packed lunch with you.  Beeswax wraps are also useful for wrapping sandwiches instead of cling film or foil.

Plastic-Free Travel Toiletries

Solid Shampoo & Other Toiletries

Single serving sachets or travel-sized bottles of toiletries are a major contributor to plastic waste, so bring your own refillable toiletry bottles with you, or better still use solid shampoo, conditioner and soap.  Solid toiletries not only reduce waste, but they don’t contribute to your hand luggage liquid allowance which is very useful if you travel light!  If your hotel provides mini bottles of toiletries, leave them there and ask them to consider alternatives like soap dispensers – if we all take action eventually hotels will listen.  I love the Lush shampoo bars and soap, the conditioner isn’t ideal for my long thick hair but it does work.  If you don’t have a Lush near you, you can also find solid shampoo bars on Amazon.

Lush Shampoo and Conditioner Bars - pink bars in square tins with pink flowers next to them
Lush Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

Change your Deodorant

Most antiperspirants come in a spray can or a plastic container with a plastic ball.  However, I’ve just discovered a natural deodorant stick with zero-waste biodegradable packaging.  It’s on one of my favourite waste-free shop in the UK, A Waste Free World who also ship to the US, Canada and most of the rest of the world.  I also just bought a solid deodorant bar from Lush to try out too. Hopefully, you can also find other similar products where you are too!

Eco-Friendly and plastic free deodorant in a pink tube with a pink flower backdrop
Eco-Friendly and plastic free deodorant

Plastic-Free Toothpaste Tabs

I ordered some of these toothpaste tabs from A Waste Free World they take a bit of getting used to but save you a lot of plastic.  They come in a reusable tin and you just pop one in your mouth, chew and brush your teeth as you would do normally.  Plastic-free, vegan, and one less liquid in your travel bag!  You can also find similar products on Amazon.

Plastic free and Vegan friendly toothpaste tabs in a tin
Plastic free and Vegan friendly toothpaste tabs

Bamboo Toothbrush

I haven’t bought one of these yet, as my old toothbrush is still good to use, but when I replace it, I will be looking for a plastic-free alternative.  Bamboo toothbrushes are a great eco-friendly alternative to plastic and look great too.  If you have an electric toothbrush, LiveCoco makes recyclable electric toothbrush heads, so you don’t need to throw away your old toothbrush, just switch out the heads.  Bear in mind though that they can’t be recycled with the usual plastic waste, you will need to send them back to be recycled at the company.

Use A Hanky Instead of Packs of Tissues

Handkerchiefs used to be an essential part of a gentleman’s suit, yet they have gone out fashion of late.  I want to bring them back!  OK so it might feel a bit gross at first to keep a snotty hanky in your bag or pocket, but you can hand wash them every night if needed or bring a couple with you.  My mum bought me some cute Percy Pig hankies from Marks and Spencer for Christmas, as she realised that they don’t seem to be available in many shops, especially not for women.  However, Amazon does stock a variety of hankies, from delicate lace patterns to retro styles so you’re bound to find something you like.

3 Hankies with Percy Pig on, rolled up
Hankies should come back in fashion, they are plastic free and fabulous!

Plastic-Free Reusable Makeup Wipes

Because I want convenience and simplicity when I travel, I always used to use makeup remover wipes.  Unfortunately, these are often made of non-biodegradable plastic fibres and cause havoc when they’re flushed down the toilet.  Reusable make up remover pads are so easy to use and much better for the environment.  They also come with a cotton bag to store them and to use for washing when you pop them in the washing machine with your clothes.  Easy!  I’ve also just bought a solid cleanser bar from Lush to try out, so no more plastic bottles of cleanser either.

Reusable makeup remover pads will save a lot of plastic waste
Reusable makeup remover pads will save a lot of plastic waste

Plastic-Free Periods

Boys you can look away now, but ladies think about how much plastic waste and non-recyclable material we use every month.  I’m working on a separate post just about this, but there are lots of ways to have a more environmentally friendly period.  Menstrual cups, reusable sanitary pads and period panties are all ways we can reduce waste when we’re riding the crimson wave.  Once you’ve got past the ick factor of cleaning them, the planet will thank you for it!

Plastic-Free Plane Travel

Avoid Plane Food, Drink and Freebies

Aeroplanes create masses of plastic waste, most of which will not be recycled.  It is estimated that every passenger on a long haul flight generates over a kilogram of material waste.  Blankets and pillows are usually wrapped in plastic, free headphones are all plastic and the number of plastic cups and amount of waste produced at every mealtime is just shocking.  For long haul flights, it is harder to avoid all of these things, but for short-haul flights, it is much easier.  Some airlines are trialling the use of non-plastic food trays and packaging, so I hope that more will follow suit.  Bring your own earphones and have your own toiletries with you in your hand luggage so you don’t need to use their mini versions to freshen up, and bring your own water bottle and packed lunch to eat.

Plastic waste is a huge issue all over the world - bin overflowing with rubbish
Plastic waste is a huge issue all over the world

Plastic-Free Travel Clothing

Skip Fast Fashion

We’ve all done it; we’ve all bought something specifically for our holidays only to chuck it out at the end of the week so we can fit some souvenirs in our bags.  I don’t have anything against fast fashion brands as long as you keep your purchases to re-use next time you go away, or spend some more money on better quality items that you will definitely want to bring home.  I got some super cheap strappy tops from Primark 3 years ago which I still wear a lot, so only buy things you really love.  You can also go one step further and seek out plastic-free fashion brands, clothing made from recycled plastics, or shop in thrift stores and charity shops so you’re clothes are already pre-loved.

Avoid A Flip Flop Faux Pas

Flimsy flip flops are a traveller’s nemesis.  They break easily, can’t be recycled, and so often end up discarded on the beach or wherever they break.  Again, invest in some good quality sandals which hopefully won’t break, and re-use them the next time you go away.

flip flops on the beach
Don’t leave your flip flops on the beach

Look After Your Sunglasses

Sunglasses are so useful for sunny destinations, but how often have you mislaid them or lost them in the sea?  Plastic sunglasses will last for several years if you look after them, so take care of them and try not to lose them.  Consider getting a colourful string to keep them attached to your body while you’re in the pool or the sea, preferably a plastic-free one!

Plastic-Free Fun

Skip the Inflatable Fun

Novelty inflatable items like flamingos, doughnuts or pizza slices are great fun in the pool, but apparently only 28% of travellers will take their inflatable back home with them.  Either stick with the lounger by the pool or donate yours to another traveller if you really can’t fit it in your suitcase to bring home.  If your kids want an inflatable, tell them they can only have one if they find someone to give it to before they go home – that might help them make friends too!

Inflatables in a swimming pool
Skip the inflatables or reuse them next time! – Plastic free travel tips

Re-use, Re-Purpose, Recycle

Until viable alternatives for all plastic products are widely available, there are times when we just can’t avoid using plastic items, especially while travelling.  However, following the basic principles of re-use, re-purpose, recycle, we can still reduce our waste.  Most of the above suggestions are based on re-using items so you can avoid single-use plastics, but sometimes repurposing or recycling are the only options.

For example, at the airport, we have to put any liquids into a see-through plastic bag to go through security.  Some airports demand that you use the plastic bags that they provide, and I’ve had some perfectly good plastic bags rejected and have been forced to use another plastic bag they gave me.  However, I’ve then kept that bag for my next trip.  And any plastic bag that I used to have for toiletries then gets re-purposed for use to keep my electronics dry or to use for a wet swimsuit.

Try to re-use or re-purpose anything you can, and once you’ve exhausted the possibilities then recycle them.  Be sure to ask locals where or how to recycle items; some countries have different coloured waste bins or different places to recycle so check you are following the local procedure.

Do you have any other ideas for plastic-free travel?  I’d love to hear your tips for reducing plastic waste while travelling so please leave your comments below.

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One thought on “Plastic-Free Travel: 21 Easy Ways to Reduce your Plastic Waste while Travelling

  1. Courtney Fulton says:

    So many great ideas here, thank you for this! I need to get a full bamboo cutlery set for sure. I have some chopsticks which come in handy here in Asia, especially because at many places the chopsticks and spoons are not only disposable, but also come in a plastic wrap. It’s nice to be able to avoid that as much as possible. I have noticed an increase in sustainability in most of the bigger stores and restaurants, but it’s the smaller places that tend to be reliant on the cheapest upfront costs, which unfortunately, is usually not a reusable system.

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