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Guide to Travelling Without Plastic

How many of you have been on a plane recently? We just took a long-haul flight to the UK and were pretty shocked at the amount of waste that was produced. I mean, I expected to see SOME waste but I felt like this time it was so much worse than usual. Maybe I’m just so much more aware of plastic waste these days. Anyway, I thought it would be helpful to go through our experience and share some hints and tips to help you avoid as much plastic as possible. 


Preparation really is key when it comes to low waste living, and travelling is no exception.

What we take with us really does depend on where we are going, the type of travel (vacation or business) or how long we are staying. That said, we almost always carry with us a reusable water bottle, kids straw, beeswax wrap, bamboo bento box, a set of bamboo cutlery and some sort of reusable tote.

Taking our water bottle with us means that we can fill it up at the airport and it usually lasts us the whole flight. The amount of times I’ve seen people just throw their plastic bottle of water into the bin and then buy another one once they are through security is incredibly frustrating! I’d love to see all airports have sinks available so that people can easily pour away any water (rather than have to go to the toilets which we have done many times) and water stations at the other side to refill.

Once through security, if we need to eat, we choose a ‘dine in’ restaurant rather than the fast food chains that typically serve their food on plastic plates with plastic cutlery.  Sometimes there is no other option so we at least bring with us our bamboo cutlery.

It’s also worth noting that we try, wherever possible, to get electronic boarding passes onto our phone as the tickets that airlines print out are typically not recyclable. Most airlines do allow you to use your iPhone these days.

On the Plane

If we are travelling long haul, or with kids (that are hungry every 2 minutes!) then we always make a point of packing our own snacks in a bento box. This means that we can refuse a lot of the plastic that gets offered to us on the plane. To highlight the problem, I made a list of all the plastic that I saw offered on the plane (this doesn’t include cans or other ‘non plastic’ items either)!

  • Packet containing earphones
  • Pretzels, cookies, crisps, etc
  • Bottles of water, wine, miniature liquor, etc
  • Plastic cups
  • Refreshing towel / wet wipes
  • Meal (4 different plastic boxes with starter, main, salad and desert) – in one of the boxes was a cheese stick and crackers, both in plastic wrappers
  • Plastic cutlery in a plastic wrapper
  • Kids juice boxes with plastic straw
  • Candies and other snacks

Quite the list isn’t it? The meal is a difficult one to get around as the only realistic option is to refuse the meal completely – even then, I suspect that if the tray makes it on to the plane it will likely end up in the trash anyway. We did refuse all the rest though; drinks (we used our own water bottle), snacks (we had our own), refreshing towel, headphones (brought our own) and plastic utensils (used our bamboo ones).

We even once saw one of the attendants hand a plastic cup to an upset child to try and calm her down – I mean their intentions were good but it just highlights how little awareness there is around waste on planes. Some airlines do make an effort to at least try to recycle the plastic cups, but the vast majority I have flown with, just throw everything into a big plastic bag so presumably is does not get recycled.

Upon Arrival

Hotels are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to plastic waste. In the bathroom alone there is usually a minimum of 2-3 plastic bottles filled with body wash and hair products, a soap bar, shower cap and usually a few others.

A great tip from Bea Johnson’s book ‘Zero Waste Home’ is to call the hotel prior to arriving and let them know that you don’t need any products in your room. If you haven’t called ahead then you can always call housekeeping upon arrival and ask for them to remove them (if you don’t get them removed then typically they can’t risk that you might have used them and they will end up in the bin anyway).

Here is our list of plastic free bathroom products that we take with us when travelling: 

Travel Essentials (Andrew):

  •   Deodorant
  •   Soap bar
  •   Safety razor with blades and brush
  •   Shave soap
  •   Toothpaste
  •   Bamboo toothbrush with case
  •   Sunscreen 

    Travel Essentials (Susie)


    Soap bars are light weight and easy to transport but you do want to make sure they are protected. Our favorite method is to use a tin.

    Out and About

    Take your reusable water bottles out with you on your day trips. Also if you love to grab a takeout coffee, don’t forget your coffee travel mug too.

    If you are at all likely to pick up any groceries then pack a few produce bags in your bag along with a tote (they fold up small and don’t weigh a lot). Great for picking up a few croissants for breakfast!

    Have restaurant left overs? Take your bento box and ask them to use it instead of a plastic container. 

    At the end of the day, like all these things, just try to do what you can. Travel can be stressful at the best of times (particularly with kids) so preparation a few days ahead really does help things go much smoother. I’d love to hear any other travel tips that you have that help reduce waste – please share in the comments below!

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