In 5 Steps to More Sustainable Travel, the first action I mentioned was to reduce, reuse and recycle. That can be extra hard on the road where throwaway, single-use items can be of the utmost convenience. So today I’m giving you a list of tried and true eco-friendly travel products that will help you produce less waste and be a more sustainable traveller.
These are the bare essentials that you should pack for every trip to ensure you minimize waste. There are many more depending on your mode and style of travel, but these will take a good chunk out of your single-use plastic consumption and some even save you money in the long term.
I know, I know. I hate these kinds of lists telling us to purchase and consume more in order to be more eco-friendly, as much as the next environmentalist. I get the irony. However most of the items on this list are things you probably already have at home and I encourage you to use what you have first. I’ve listed my prefered products just in case there is something you need to buy.
Disclosure: I may earn compensation from the purchase of any product linked on this website, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products I use and love, therefore feel comfortable recommending.
1. Reusable water bottle
The World Economic Forum released a study in 2016 estimating that by 2050, there would be more plastic in the ocean than fish. I’m sure you don’t need any more incentive than that, but just in case:
- Bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water.
- According to IBISWorld, approximately 2.7 billion kilos of plastic bottles get thrown away every year in the U.S. alone, and only about 30% of them are recycled.
Take a reusable water bottle and fill up at your hotel restaurant or other trusted water source and you’ll not only save money on buying bottled water but help save single-use plastics from landfill. If using a disposable plastic bottle is necessary, make sure it ends up in a recycle bin.
In places where it may be difficult to find clean drinking water, you might also invest in a sterilising product such as the coveted Steripen. Though unless you do a lot of backcountry hiking or travel frequently to developing countries, it’s probably not necessary – you can get by with my suggestion above.
I use… any half-decent water bottle I have on hand. I tried a few specialty products but in the end, I just went back to my tired, old, sports water bottle and it works just fine.
2. Reusable travel mug
If you love your hot beverages, then you will be horrified to learn that Americans throw away 25 billion coffee cups every year. Australians use 1 billion disposable cups annually and the UK churn through 2.5 billion annually.
I use… the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Mug which is more of a mini thermos than a travel mug, but that’s what I love about it. I can throw it in my bag with confidence and it keeps drinks cold or hot for hours. When not using it for a cup of steaming coffee or tea, I use it as a secondary water bottle. It’s so compact, I can slide it into my handbag. P.S. I first wrote this post in 2017 and in 2023 I’m still using this same insulated mug.
3. Lunchbox or reusable lunch wrap
If you’re the kind of traveller who packs their own lunch to take on adventures, then skip the plastic wrap and zip lock bags, and use a more sustainable, reusable product.
I use… beeswax wrap and a slimline lunchbox to store food when going on day hikes. The Bee’s Wrap Reusable Food Wraps are good for wrapping sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, cheese and bread, whether you’re home or away.
The Monbento Original Bento Box is a compact alternative to those chunky Tupperware containers you took to school as a kid. Monbento is making packed lunches cool again, with their sophisticated French design and quality, made from BPA-free plastics. I now have two of these, because my husband wanted one too!
4. Cutlery, straws and napkins
Plastic cutlery, straws and paper napkins are really hard to dodge. A lot of the time you are given these items without asking for them. Don’t be shy in asking for beverages without staws and napkins, or turning down cutlery (as long as you brought your own of course).
I use… these To-Go Ware Bamboo Travel Utensils. The set includes chopsticks and comes in a compact sleeve with a handy carabiner. The bamboo is permitted in your carry-on unlike metal knives which for security reasons are not allowed. There are a few of these types of sets with straw alternatives out there too.
5. Refillable toiletry containers
Those mini versions of your favourite bathroom products are super convenient. However, they are more expensive (per weight) and the plastic containers/wrapping they come in will likely end up in landfill. For a more sustainable solution, buy your regular size products or bulk containers to use at home and refill reusable containers to take on the road. Make sure you buy high-quality resuable containers, as the cheap ones are just as likely to leak and degrade quickly.
I use… Humangear’s GoToob products, which come in three sizes that comply with carry-on liquid requirements. I’ve had my original set of Humangear GoToob Large (3oz) tubes for close to a decade and they are as good as new. I now have a set of smaller, 1.25oz size tubes as well. The wide opening makes refilling them easy, and I’ve never had a leak. I put almost everything in them: moisturizer, body wash, face wash, sunscreen, coconut oil, shampoo and conditioner.
6. Reusable airline approved plastic bag
Those ziplock bags you use for your carry-on liquids weren’t meant to be used repeatedly, and it shows after just a few trips. A sturdier, airline-approved bag will again cut down on your single-use plastic consumption and are less likely to get a hole in them.
I use… one of these TSA Approved Clear Travel Toiletry Bags with a wide, stand up bottom that makes them a much better design for your toiletries. Also, I often throw it in my handbag on a regular day (not just when travelling) to keep all my little bits and bobs together – so it’s not just a sustainable travel product but an everyday convenience.
7. Plastic toothbrush alternatives
Americans discard approximately 850 million toothbrushes per year and Australians dispose of 30 million. That’s a lot of plastic, and the kicker is that because it takes so long to degrade, every piece of plastic ever made still exists! There are some more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic toothbrushes on the market, though none is perfect – replacing plastic bristles seems to be a technical stumbling block.
I’ve tried the Bamboo Toothbrush by Brush with Bamboo which has plant-based nylon bristles and is good for people who like a hard brush. If you like a soft brush, you may prefer the Preserve Adult Soft Toothbrush with a handle made of recycled yoghurt containers. I use these at home and away.
8. Menstrual cup
Some eco-friendly travel products aren’t just better for the environment, but better all round! It is approximated that each woman will use 12,000-period products in her lifetime. That’s not only a lot of waste, but a lot of money too.
Menstrual cups are fabulous, waste-reducing, money-saving alternatives. They are simple to use and depending on the size of your purchase, have roughly three times the capacity of a tampon. That means you can wear it all day and not have to change tampons/pads in a filthy public bathroom! Cups can be used up to 10 years, which saves tonnes of waste.
9. Reusable shopping bag or tote
There are many reasons you might need an extra bag when travelling: for example, carrying delicious boulangerie lunch to a picturesque Seine-side picnic spot in Paris; buying up amazing artisan products in the markets of Guatemala; or transporting your beach towel and sunscreen down to the pool. Moreover, with many countries such as French Polynesia, banning single-use plastics, you can’t rely on the store to provide a bag if and when you need it.
Carrying your own foldable tote is the answer to using less plastic and having the convenience of a bag at hand whenever you need it.
I use… a simple but sturdy canvas bag, something like these, that was gifted to me. Canvas is strong, durable and easy to throw in the washing machine. You might prefer something more lightweight, like these Baggu nylon ones, or a higher-end classic like the Longchamp Le Pliage.
Replacing disposables doesn’t need to be that hard, you just need a few thoughtfully designed alternatives to take their place. These eco-friendly travel products will dramatically cut down on what you throw away, and on most occasions, will save you money over the long term. Let me know how you go about reducing waste when you travel in the comments below. Also, see 7 Sources to Shop Your Sustainable Travel Wardrobe for more on eco-friendly travel.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,