Tips on Reducing Plastic Use While Traveling

Plastic is so ubiquitous that until we consciously start to pay attention to it, it can often feel like just part of our surroundings. Look around any given room, and you may notice plastic items that you didn’t even realize were plastic before: plastic shampoo bottles, plastic trash cans, plastic dry cleaning bags. As we’ve written about before, all that plastic is accumulating on land and at sea, wreaking devastation on marine life and the ecosystem at large.

Plus, a recent study showed just how prevalent human consumption of microplastics is—all study participants had microplastics in their feces. And just one other piece of anti-plastic evidence: Plastics could be reducing sperm counts. (This article is seriously a must-read.)

So, we know plastic is terrible for life forms and the planet at large. What can we do about it? There’s a lot you can do, actually, from bringing reusable bags to the grocery store to using sustainable water bottles to nixing plastic straws in favor of stainless steel ones. Every person who cuts back on plastic use contributes to planetary health, and collectively we send a signal to plastic producers that we need change.

Some of the most challenging situations for low-plastic lifestylers occur when traveling. Your choices are often more limited, and you’re likely to encounter instances when single-use plastic seems like your only option. But that isn’t necessarily the case, and just a bit of planning can reduce your plastic use significantly. Here are some tips on reducing plastic use while traveling. The following plastic alternatives are lightweight and have a minimal footprint, so you won’t be cramping your travel style even as you do Earth a solid!

Organize smartly. While packing, swap out plastic baggies for a packing organizer that keeps everything in good order, without the need for single-use plastics. Options include this travel toiletry bag and these compression travel bags. If you’re planning to do any longer activities on your trip, such as a day-long hike, pack some lay-flat silicone food storage bags.

Pack a sustainable water bottle. One of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce plastic use is if you never need to buy a plastic water bottle, because you already have a water container handy. Bring at least one reusable water bottle in your luggage—or more, if you’re planning to do intensive physical activity and will be far from water sources for a significant period of time. It’s important to stay hydrated while traveling, but you don’t have to sacrifice planet health for your own health to do so. (If you’re in the market for a large travel water bottle, we have a 40-oz mega stein that’s great for long trips.)

Bring reusable utensils and straws with you. Along those lines, pack a stainless steel straw that you can easily slip into your purse when you head out for dinner or drinks. So many bars only offer plastic straws; bring an alternative option with you. (If you forget your stainless steel straw at the hotel or Airbnb, let the bartender know that you don’t need a straw with your drink.)

You can also pack reusable utensils like these ones recommended by The Kitchn. They’re better for the environment than disposable utensils, and a nice bonus is that they’re super fun—collapsible chopsticks and sporks and creative all-in-one gadgets!

Turn your carry-on into a grocery bag. Consider bringing a reusable bag on the plane with you as a carry-on, which can then have plenty of other multipurpose roles, from beach bag to shopping tote and more. Or you can pack a lightweight reusable bag in your luggage, if you have a different flying MO. A canvas bag or tote will do the trick. You don’t have to sacrifice style—there are some cute reusable totes out there at a range of price points. (We’re partial to the delightful totes at Anthropologie and J. Crew.)

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Forgo the hotel toiletries. All those little shampoo, conditioner, and lotion bottles at hotels add up. Some hotels get major props for their moves toward plastic reduction, but many still offer plentiful plastics. Instead of using them, bring your toiletries with you, packing them in reusable containers like these ones from Matador. And if you visit a hotel with a plastic problem, politely let the concierge know that you’re a huge fan of reuse policies!

During your trip, eat mindfully. Look for foods that aren’t packaged in lots of plastic, such as fresh fruits and vegetables instead of packaged snacks. Whole foods are often recommended over processed foods, so choosing items like fresh fruits over more processed foods in plastic packaging may have benefits to both you and the environment.