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I felt inspired to write this post on sustainable travel essentials after a trip to attend my cousin’s wedding. One word: disposables.
Both hotels we stayed used disposables for their breakfast-ware. The plates were styrofoam (of all materials!), and the cups were either styrofoam, plastic, or the paper-lined-with-plastic and plastic lids for hot beverages. The utensils were plastic. I did not bring my little fork and spoon because I didn’t think they were allowed through airport security because they are metal. (Turns out: you can!)
Luckily at the first hotel, I snooped and found reusable plates and bowls under the counter. Since our hotel room had a kitchen, I ran upstairs and grabbed some spoons and forks so we could avoid the plastic. By then, we had already grabbed drinks. I opted for the plastic cup since it could be recycled, but my husband opted for the paper-lined-with-plastic because it wasn’t fully plastic. I saved my cup and recycled it later.
At the second hotel, we were out of luck. I chose to grab muffins in a napkin, a banana, and a yogurt. My husband made a waffle which we shared on the styrofoam plate. We also shared a single spoon for our yogurts and a single styrofoam cup for juice. Can I just say how gross it is to drink out of styrofoam? It feels so weird against my mouth/teeth. Afterward, I took the yogurt containers, washed them, and recycled them.
But this trip left us both frustrated.
So I decided to create a packing list to help avoid waste while on vacation. After all, it’s vacation; you should be relaxing not stressing over which cup material is best.
Note: these tips are based on TSA guidelines so your country may have different rules.
1. Reusable water bottle and/or coffee cup
First on my list of sustainable travel essentials are water bottles and coffee cups. Our Nalgene water bottles come everywhere with us. We even have a small 14 oz one that’s easier to bring along. As long as they are empty, you can bring them through airport security. You can then refuse your complimentary in-flight drink and avoid the napkin and cup that comes with it.
When at your destination, you won’t need to purchase drinks like bottled water. You can find water fountains around to fill up your water bottle, and sinks work just as well. In hindsight, we should have not gotten juice when we had no reusable cups, but we can’t change the past.
You can also pack your reusable coffee tumbler to hold hot beverages. You can ask coffee shops to make your ordered drink directly in your cup. They may even give you a small discount for doing so!
Avoid the freebie airline snacks or expensive convenient store snacks by bringing your own. You can bring food through airport security. “Gel-like” foods like peanut butter and hummus must be treated as a liquid (3 oz or less in the 1 quart baggie). Bring along granola, fresh fruit and veggies, chips, or whatever you like to munch on in a jar, reusable bag (we use (Re)zip bags that work great), or other reusable container.
Don’t run into the breakfast problems we had. Bring your own plate and/or container. I don’t mean your ceramic plate from home though. There are lots of travel plate options like this 2-pack thanks to the campers and hikers out there so you can find something simple and durable to bring along. For storage containers, check out this snack container with divider and 2-tier tiffin.
Despite what I thought, it appears you can bring metal eating utensils through security. Of course, you can bring bamboo utensils through security as well, but I do not have any. Be sure to keep them stored together so you don’t lose them along the way. Some utensil kits come with their own holder/wrap, but you can easily sew your own, use a rubber band around a reusable napkin, or keep them stored in a food container or bag.
Speaking of reusable napkins… Keeping a reusable napkin has multiple benefits. First it replaces paper napkins. Second you can use it as a towel or wash rag if there is an unexpected spill or to dry something/yourself off quickly. And third you can use it to hold and wrap foods to avoid disposable packaging or plates. Check out this colorful set!
If you are going to do any shopping on you trip, don’t forget to pack your reusable shopping bags. I love the small collapsible ChicoBags that can fit in the palm of your hand because they are especially good for saving space in your luggage. If you don’t bring your own bags, try to go without when making purchases.
7. Liquid Storage
There are many TSA-approved reusable quart-size storage bags for toiletries on the market. These will always be plastic to contain spills and be see-through for TSA. You can also just keep using the same plastic Ziploc bag for years and years like I have.
8. Personal Care
Now that you have liquid storage taken care of, let’s fill up that bag. Bringing your own personal care items such as soap, shampoo, and toothpaste/tabs will prevent you from using the freebies in the hotel room. I only take freebies when they offer bars of soap in little paperboard boxes. I don’t use them on the trip, but instead I take them home for use there. Store your personal care products in reusable and refillable containers like this silicone 4-pack instead of buying travel size bottles and tossing them when they’re empty. I have been refilling the same travel bottles for years.
Unfortunately safety razors with blades can only fly in checked luggage. If you aren’t checking a bag, you have two options: you can either keep a disposable razor specifically for travel or you can forego shaving during your trip. If you bring a disposable razor, check out Preserve’s razor with a 100% recycled plastic handle.
I added this at the end of my sustainable travel essentials list specifically because it isn’t a tangible product to pack. But by doing a tiny bit of research, you can greatly reduce the impact of your trip. What grocery stores or farmers markets are at your destination? Are there any zero waste shops? What public transport options are available and how do you use it? What tourist attractions are the most sustainable? Answering these questions can help you plan a more environmentally friendly vacation.
Together these sustainable travel essentials will reduce your trip’s total impact on the environment so you can rest easy on your vacation. What reusable items do you pack? How else can we prepare for a sustainable vacation?
Also check out my post on Sustainable Living Essentials!