6 Zero Waste Travel Tips

A Drop in the Ocean Sustainable Living Zero Waste Plastic Free Blog 6 Zero Waste Travel Tips

Tis the season for travel!  School breaks, family vacations, holiday visits - the works.  I don’t fly frequently, but I fly enough to have a few tricks up my sleeve that keep the trips low waste and low stress.  I hope that these 6 tips help you keep your holiday travel as zero waste as possible as well.

1. BYO Water Bottle

This one is actually applicable in pretty much every life situation.  Leaving the house? Do you have your phone, keys, wallet, and water bottle?  It’s always better to be prepared.

When it comes to air travel, though, I get this question a lot.  With all of the regulations around what can and can’t be brought on a plane, the 3 oz rule for toiletries, and the “dump your liquids here” bins, many of us are under the impression that we cannot bring a water bottle with us.  I’m here today to debunk this myth! Yes, you CAN bring a water bottle on an airplane. You just can’t bring water (or any other liquid) from the outside world.

As long as your bottle is empty by the time you get to security, you’re free to take it with you.  Then, once you’ve cleared security, you’ll likely run into a water fountain pretty darn quickly. Most water fountains now even have water bottle refill stations attached to them.

You’re also not limited to one bottle.  Got a loooong flight ahead of you? Take two!  Or three! By coming prepared with your own bottle, there’s no need to accept small plastic cups of water poured from a plastic bottle of water once you’re on the flight.  Especially on those long flights, the plastic adds up!

A Drop in the Ocean - Zero Waste Travel Tips

2. BYO Coffee/Tea Travel Mug

Bonus points if your water bottle can double as a travel mug (or vice versa)!  Mason jars can work wonders here. I have this amazing travel mug that keeps my coffee hot for hours.  On my last trip, I discovered that it also keeps water cold for hours. What a concept, right?! It was awesome to be able to just take this one beverage container with me, and use it all throughout the trip for morning coffee runs and afternoon hydration breaks.

The concerns with this are similar to those for water bottles, so I won’t spend much time on it.  But again, yes you can take your own travel mug!

What’s the first thing you usually see once you’re through security?  Most likely Starbucks. I love taking stupid early flights when I’m traveling somewhere, so I can maximize my time at my destination.  But this also means I’m often caffeine-less and cranky. Starbucks has its own sustainability issues in some regards, but if it’s 6am and I’m running on no caffeine and I’m about to be on a flight for 5 hours, you better believe I’m stopping there first.  (I also just not-so-secretly love Peppermint Mochas…)

I’ve also asked flight attendants to pour the complimentary flight coffee directly into my travel mug, and I’ve yet to be turned down.

3. BYO Utensils

This is another one of those things I just always have with me.  I keep a set of utensils in my bag at all times, so I never have to think about it and am never caught needing a disposable fork.  Now, you can’t take a steak knife in your carry-on. But you can take a set of bamboo utensils. If you’re on a flight long enough for a meal, say “no thanks!” to the plastic-wrapped fork, spoon, knife, straw, and napkin, and revel in the fact that you’re not only saving some plastic, but also actually able to eat your meal without your utensils bending in half.

4. Plastic-Free Toiletries

I’ve noticed that as I’ve been moving through this zero waste journey, my toiletries have become more and more airline-friendly.  I use bar soap instead of liquid body wash, I either make my own toothpaste or use toothpaste tablets, my face wash is a solid bar, and my moisturizer is in a 2oz jar.

Even my shampoo and conditioner are zero waste, travel-friendly solid bars.

No more 3oz rules to worry about here!

A Drop in the Ocean Online Zero Waste Store Package Free Conditioner Bars

Traveling with your own toiletries means you can skip the tiny hotel soaps and lotions completely, and know that your beauty and personal care routine doesn’t have to change just because your location does.

Be sure to review our guide for keeping your soaps in tip-top shape while you're on the go, too!

5. Be flexible.

This may be the most important tip I can offer here.  We can plan our trips down to the last minute, but inevitably, something will stray from our plan.  Do what you can to prepare for your trip and keep it as low waste as possible, but don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t go as planned.

Here we can see my unplanned waste from my Paraguay trip.  I had my utensils, but that’s about the only zero waste part of this photo.  But you know what? I was okay with it. I was traveling for 24 hours. All I wanted was a shower, a bed, and food.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people.

A Drop in the Ocean - Zero Waste Travel Tips

What’s more, at the airport on my way back from Paraguay, I filled up my water bottle past security, and then was met with surprise when I had to go through security AGAIN at the gate, and had to dump my water.

I’ll tell ya...best laid plans…

Although I wasn’t able to hydrate completely zero waste on this leg of the flight, the flight attendant was willing to pour water directly into my bottle. It may have come from a plastic bottle, but I at least saved a plastic up.  #miniwin

6. Purchase Carbon Offsets

We all know flying is not an environmentally-friendly way to travel.  But here’s the thing - I’m not giving up traveling. Traveling opens our minds and our hearts to so much more than we could ever amass staying in our tiny bubbles at home, wherever home may be.  So I won’t be stopping any time soon.

What I can do, though, is purchase carbon offsets, or plant trees.

Terrapass is super easy to use.  They even have a handy calculator so you know exactly how much of an impact your travel has on the planet, and then you can purchase a carbon offset for exactly that amount.  The money goes towards renewable energy projects that focus on reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Another option is planting trees.  One tree can offset about one metric ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.  Using a simple footprint calculator, I know that a flight from Columbus to Seattle (one way) produces out half of a metric ton of carbon dioxide.  So, if I plant one tree, that tree will offset my total flight over the course of its lifetime.

My favorite tree-planting organization is Trees for the Future.  What I love about this organization is their focus on helping communities and people, which in turn helps the environment.  I mentioned the importance of this model in a previous post, and it’s going to make an appearance soon again because I feel so strongly in it.  Trees for the Future also has a carbon offset program, or you can simply choose an amount to donate.  I love this organization, and I’ll be supporting them through the shop once it is up and running as well.

If you want a deeper dive into what exactly carbon offsets are and how to use them, check out our full blog post on the topic!

A Drop in the Ocean - Zero Waste Travel Tips

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful, and that your holiday travel will be a little more low waste as a result.  What are some of your best low waste travel tips?


  • Krystina

    Aunt Karen – You’re absolutely right! I always make sure to have a cloth napkin on me. They’re great for so many things!

  • Karen Garner

    I would only add to carry a cloth napkin. Not only does it negate the need for paper ones, but it can come in very handy if there is turbulence or you are jostled. Spills happen!

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