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  • Writer's pictureLily Carlson

Top 7 Zero Waste Travel Essentials | Packing Guide

I truly believe that travel has the power to change the world. But, it should not come at the expense of our planet and its people.

One of the hardest things about travelling responsibly and sustainably is the amount of single-use, disposable items and plastic waste that can add up as a result of being on-the-go. Minimizing our waste is one way we can help to care for our planet and local communities when we travel. That being said, zero waste travel is not easy...

But, it's also not impossible! The goal here is not to be perfect. The goal is to reduce our waste as much as possible through planning ahead and being prepared.

That's why I've put together this packing guide, including my top 7 zero waste travel essentials that will be perfect for your next trip to help reduce waste and single-use plastic.

Piña Coladas in Mexico with a stainless steel reusable straw

Reusable Bags

Whether it's picking up groceries or shopping at the local market, reusable bags are one of the most common items I reach for during a trip. Reusable bags have also come in handy for day trips, as beach bags, and even when purchasing duty-free on the way home. Plus, there are a ton of lightweight options that pack up small, making them easy and convenient to transport.

I love these ones from 4ocean that are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Not only do they fold up into a compact pouch, but they can also be easily attached to your keychain or stored on your backpack so you always remember them.

Mesh bags are another great lightweight option.

Reusable water bottle and mesh bag at the beach

Reusable Water Bottle

While you have to make sure your water bottle is empty before going through security, some airports have water stations to fill up on the other side. If not, you can always ask a flight attendant on your flight to fill your bottle for you. This will help to reduce the use of plastic cups on board.

During your trip, always make sure your water bottle is filled before you leave for the day to avoid purchasing unnecessary bottles of water while you're out.

Tip: If you're travelling somewhere with limited clean drinking water, check out an option that has a built-in water filter, like this one from Grayl.

Travel Mug

Travel mugs are another way to avoid unnecessary single-use cups, especially for things like coffee or tea. Although many paper cups appear to be recyclable, they're lined with polyethylene, a plastic that functions as a moisture barrier between the paper outside and the liquid inside. This lining must be separated from the cup before the paper can be recycled. If you're staying at an Airbnb or hotel, try to make your own coffee before heading out.

I've travelled with this lightweight collapsable coffee cup from stojo and a glass one from KeepCup.

Coffee to-go in my KeepCup while wandering NYC

Cutlery & Food Containers

Whether it's snacking on the plane or grabbing a bite on the go, packing your own cutlery and food in reusable containers can help reduce a lot of single-use cutlery and plastic packaging.

I love having an assortment of snacks on hand and find beeswax wrap and Stasherbags to be amazing options for storing food and keeping it fresh.

Bonus: Stasherbags are also good for freezing, oven cooking, microwaving, and boiling!

Packing your own snacks can also help to avoid unnecessary fast food stops and waste (both food and plastic).

When it comes to cutlery, you can always pull together your own set of cutlery at home to carry during your travels, just remember they will likely have to be stored in your checked luggage (if you plan to bring a knife). I like to travel with this bamboo set because it's super lightweight and easy to pack in a carry-on. Plus, it includes a straw, cleaning brush, and set of chopsticks in addition to a knife, fork, and spoon.

Chic & Tonic reusable straws and bamboo cutlery travel set

Reusable Straw

Coconuts on the beach, drinks at the bar, your morning smoothie -- this item may come in handy more than you think! I recommend mentioning that you have your own straw when you first place your order. If there is a language barrier, point to your straw and try to learn the name for it in the local language.

Stainless steel reusable straw for my fresh piña colada

There are many options out there for reusable straws. I've tried sugarcane, bamboo, copper, and stainless steel... but my favourite is this silicone set from Chic and Tonic. Lightweight, pliable, dishwasher safe, and easy on the teeth, they're my go-to option for reusable straws.

Zero Waste Toiletries and Reusable Containers

When it comes to toiletries, it can be super wasteful to pack the mini individual plastic bottles from the drugstore. Instead, try packing the shampoo and conditioner you already have at home by filling reusable containers. I like to use these Humangear GoToobs. An even better option is to pack shampoo, conditioner, and soap bars. Not only are these a zero waste option but they also don't count toward the liquids limit in your carry-on. My favourite shampoo and conditioner bars are from Pure Anada, a family-run Canadian business based out of Manitoba.

Zero waste soap bars

If you're someone who will be menstruating during your travels, try using a menstrual cup like the Diva Cup. If you have not previously tried a menstrual cup, I recommend testing it for a few cycles leading up to your trip in order to get comfortable with insertion and wearing. It takes some practice, but it totally beats the alternative of pads and tampons! Another great zero waste option is period underwear. My favourite are these ones from Knix. Depending on the style, one pair of period underwear can absorb between 3-8 tsps of blood, pee, or sweat.

Zero waste period underwear from Knix

When travelling, we don't typically have access to the amenities we're used to having at home, so things like plastic water bottles and bags, or single-use cutlery can add up quickly. By planning ahead and packing lightweight and reusable items, we can be better prepared and limit our waste and negative impact on the environment.

Note: Being prepared helps, but like at home, doesn't mean you'll be perfect. Be kind to yourself when things don't go according to plan and focus on doing the best you can with the things you have access to. 💚

Zero Waste Travel Packing List:

☐ Reusable bag(s)

☐ Reusable water bottle

☐ Travel mug

☐ Cutlery

☐ Reusable food containers & snacks

☐ Reusable straw

☐ Zero waste toiletries (shampoo & conditioner bars, soap bar, menstrual cup, period underwear...)

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