If you are an eco-conscious person who loves to travel, it can sometimes be difficult to balance the guilt of the jet fuel it takes to get to a destination with your desire to see the world. Caring about the environment doesn’t mean that you can’t travel. Instead, it means that you are a conscious traveler who focuses on making the best decisions possible in each situation to best protect our precious planet. You can’t always avoid flying on a plane or riding long distances in a car, but you can make simple swaps in your luggage that are better for the environment and produce less waste. These zero-waste travel essentials for your travel kit are designed to eliminate waste wherever possible so that you don’t have to worry about adding to the ever-growing landfills while you travel.
Each item is recommended and personally used by a regular traveler so you know that they are useful, eco-conscious items.
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1. Solid Shampoo, Conditioners, and Soaps
One of the absolute best zero-waste travel essentials is solid shampoo. Instead of relying on small, “Travel-sized” shampoo and conditioner bottles, these solid products are the perfect swap. The little bottles are a complete waste of plastic, especially when you take into account the fact that you may only get a few showers’ worth of use from them!
With the solid versions, you can eliminate the use of “only a few use” plastic and get significantly more value from your hair and soap products as they last for months on end. There are solid versions of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, face wash, face serum, and body wash out there. In addition to being a zero-waste travel essential, they are also economically friendly due to their long-term usage and do not count toward your limited liquids quota for flying on planes! You can also get a carrying box for them that is a much better option than storing them in Ziploc bags, and it will allow them to dry quicker.
2. Reusable Ziplock Bags
Using silicone bags instead of single-use Ziplocs is another zero-waste travel essential that is a game-changer. I can’t remember the last time I used single-zip lock bags or traditional plastic bags and containers. These ziplock bags are made of food-grade silicone, meaning they don’t produce toxic chemicals when exposed to heat or whenever it’s being washed.
I bought the higher quality ones, which means they are a little heavier, thicker, and more durable. I place different items in these ziplock bags. From passports and important documents, toiletries, snacks, and even wet swimsuits after visiting the beach. They come in various sizes, when not traveling, I can use them at home to store leftover food. When on the road, I take four with me, one for my passport, a first aid kid, for bathroom items, and an extra one for emergencies.
If you want to use a completely plastic-free container, you can get the ziplock bags that don’t have a zipper (which is made of plastic) instead, they are the ones that simply snap with each other to shut the container off.
Contributed by Mary of Remaineco.com
3. Reusable Straws
Another great zero-waste swap is switching to reusable straws. If you want to switch from using plastic straws for something that is more eco-friendly, make sure to choose natural products instead of plastic ones if possible. Bamboo straws are 100% organic, lightweight, and easy to take with you on any travel journey.
Those affordable straws are perfect to use with many drinks such as teas or smoothies. If you want to be even more eco-friendly, combine them with one of the best reusable water bottles. You will never have to worry about a bad smell because bamboo straws are tasteless.
This zero-waste travel essential is a great way to help reduce plastic consumption. Some of the companies that sell those products quite often donate a small percentage from the purchase to charities. For instance, if you want to support turtles and become a conscious traveler, choose bamboo straws.
Alternatively, you can buy stainless steel or glass straws, which are also a great replacement for plastic. However, bamboo straws are really beautiful and look amazing in any travel photos.
Contributed by Paulina from UK Every Day
4. Scrubba Wash Bag
Doing laundry at home can be a chore, and it’s even more cumbersome when traveling. The Scrubba Wash Bag is my favorite sustainable travel product because it allows you to do laundry with any water source in a sanitary and low-waste way.
Instead of taking your laundry to a laundry service (expensive), a laundromat (time-consuming), or hand-washing them in the sink of your accommodation (dirty), you can wash them with a packable wash bag.
To use, put your clothes and water in the Scrubba Wash Bag. Add soap (my favorite is the pocket laundry tabs from Trek And Travel) and scrub clothes by hand on the flexible washboard inside the bag. Rinse and repeat until the water runs clear!
This is a favorite amongst backpackers and hikers because it’s usable in the backcountry, but as an avid hostel-hopper, I think this is a necessity for every traveler.
You never know when you’ll have a spill and need to wash your clothes; it makes you much more self-sufficient as a traveler and reduces the carbon footprint of your experience massively over time. It’s perfect for every trip, from small city trips to long-term workations.
Contributed by Kayla from Writing From Nowhere
5. Laundry Eco-Strips
For travel longer than two weeks, it’s more than likely you are going to need to wash your clothes. While some destinations offer affordable laundry services (such as Thailand and Bali), this isn’t available globally and costs can mount up if you are a family traveling for instance. Whether you’re hand washing in a basin or staying in an Airbnb with a washing machine, you need laundry detergent.
Laundry eco-strips are a smarter way to clean laundry, compared to conventional laundry detergent. These are zero-waste laundry detergent sheets with ultra-concentrated cleaning power that you put into the washing machine with your clothes, or add to water for handwashing.
One strip of 1 inch by 3 inches is enough to clean one load of laundry. I personally find that 2 strips do the best job and recommend Tru Earth Eco-Strips. The packaging is eco-friendly (no plastic waste here) and a packet of 32 strips takes up barely any space in your luggage which makes them an ideal addition to your zero-waste travel essentials kit.
Contributed by Jenny from Explore Essaouira
6. Personal Hand-Drying Towels
Another awesome zero-waste travel essential is personal hand-drying towels. In Asian countries like Japan, it is common to see people with their own personal hand-drying towels. In Japan, there are specific towels used but any small towel will do. The hand drying towels are compact and dry your hands instantly after washing them. There is no need to get extra bacteria on your hands from using restroom blow dryers or wasting paper towels to dry your hands.
Studies show that hand dryers are responsible for spreading 60 times more bacteria than using a paper towel. Paper towels are in fact more sanitary but they can’t be recycled and contribute to 250 million tons of trash. Reusable hand towels are the answer to drying your hands and can stop the spread of bacteria from blow dryers and can decrease the number of paper towels being used.
Reusable hand towels are perfect for travel. It’s best to have a rotation of these zero-waste travel essentials, but they don’t use up a whole lot of space. When traveling, you never know what the restroom situation will be like. It could be that the restrooms don’t have any means to dry your hands, so it is always nice to have a hand-drying towel available.
Contributed by Brandon from Zimmin Around the World
7. Portable Coffee Maker
If you are a daily coffee drinker, one of the best ways to reduce waste on your travels is to carry a portable coffee maker. A coffee maker may not seem like one of the more important zero-waste travel essentials, but regardless of whether you enjoy coffee while camping, road-tripping, backpacking, or touring, takeaway coffee cups are a significant waste issue worldwide.
The problem with takeaway coffee cups is not just the sheer number of them disposed of daily worldwide, but the fact most are not recyclable thanks to the plastic lining inside the cup.
The Covid pandemic has compounded the issue, with many cafes not accepting reusable coffee cups. So when you pair a portable coffee maker with your travel cup you can enjoy a delicious cup of coffee every day on your trip no matter where you are, without contributing to local coffee cup waste.
It is also a great budget travel tip to carry your own coffee maker, as daily café coffees can certainly start to impact your daily travel costs. There are many compact and lightweight coffee makers available. The best options include the Aeropress, Nanopresso for espresso lovers, or a collapsible pour-over filter.
Contributed by Rachel of Creators of Coffee
8. Zero-Waste Toothpaste Tablets
Every year, 1.5 billion toothpaste tubes are thrown away worldwide, usually ending up in landfills or worse, in our oceans. Toothpaste tablets are a great way to avoid contributing to this waste, at home and while traveling. Toothpaste tablets are a form of toothpaste that comes in small, chewable tablets rather than the typical paste. Typically, they come in a reusable container, like a small jar or dissolvable packet.
To use toothpaste tablets, simply pop one in your mouth, chew it a couple of times, and then brush as per normal! Sometimes, running your bamboo brush (a more sustainable choice than plastic brushes) under water for a second before brushing makes for a better experience with toothpaste tablets.
Toothpaste tablets are perfect for bringing on your travels because they are simpler to pack (less liquid), and they’re plastic-free which makes them the perfect addition to your responsible tourism practices and the perfect addition to your zero-waste travel essentials kit. The best part is because each tablet equals one tooth brushing session, you can bring with you on your travels the exact amount of toothpaste that you’ll need for the trip.
Contributed by Erin from Pina Travels
9. Foldable, Reusable Cup
If you love camping, hiking, or simply backpacking around the globe, carrying a reusable foldable drinking cup will help stop you from buying a single-use water bottle. Especially when hiking in the mountains, the water from waterfalls is usually safe enough to drink without filtration. Simply expand your cup and enjoy up to 355 ml capacity. Since it’s foldable, it doesn’t take too much space, it surely must be included in your packing list as it is one of the most useful zero-waste travel essentials.
This is also great when camping, instead of buying single-use cups, buy a few of these and reuse them on your next trip. It is made of food-grade silicone and is safe to place inside the dishwasher and can hold hot and cold liquid. Another thing I love about this product is how it can also be used as a basic container. When the cup is not being used for drinking, I like to use it as a container for fruits, trail mix, and even soups.
Contribute by Elizabeth of Three Week Traveller
10. Shoe Bag
Another great zero-waste travel essential is a shoe bag. Shoe bags are cheap, versatile, and very useful. Not only do they protect your shoes, but they also help to keep the rest of your stuff clean which helps you to pack faster and easier. Because now you can put your shoes almost anywhere in your backpack or suitcase, and you don’t have to worry that much about the cleanliness of your footwear.
The best thing is that you don’t really need to buy a special travel shoe bag. It can be any durable bag, which is big enough to hold a pair or two of shoes. You can also use this zero-waste travel essential as a laundry bag as well when you don’t need it for shoes.
Last, but not least — you don’t have to use plastic bags for your shoes anymore. It’s more eco-friendly, and it’s also so much easier for you. You don’t have to look for a new plastic bag every time you are packing up your hotel room or hostel, you have one, and you know that it’s trustworthy.
Contributed by Kaspers of Make Adventure Happen
11. Period Underwear (Pants)
Anyone who has ever traveled while on their period will know how much of a hassle it can be to find, carry, and change sanitary products while on the road. That’s where period underwear (pants for my non-American readers) comes to the rescue! Not only are they a fantastic way to cut down on single-use period products, like non-environmentally-friendly pads and tampons, but they’re also super convenient to travel with. Having a zero-waste period has never been easier, with the fantastic range of period underwear available. And in the long run, you’ll save money too.
You can get period underwear to suit all flows, and often they’re designed to wear all day – so you can explore without worry. At the end of the day, simply rinse in cold water and throw them in your laundry pile, or stash them in a laundry bag or reusable silicone ziplock if you won’t be able to do your washing for a few days.
Contributed by Nadine of Zero Waste Memoirs
12. Reusable Sea-Sickness Bands
If you are motion-sickness prone, then reusable sea-sickness bands are an ideal zero-waste travel essential for your travel kit. Don’t let that cruise or road trip spoil your vacation with the fear of nausea. To prevent seasickness or motion sickness, consider using sea bands. Sea Bands are a fantastic environmental solution to chemically-filled medication that comes in plastic bottles.
The knit fabric bands are sold as a pair and should be worn together. The reusable stretch bands fit comfortably over your wrists. A plastic button applies pressure to the Nei-Kuan or Pericardium 6 (P6) point on the inner wrist. Used for thousands of years in Chinese culture, applying pressure to this area prevents nausea and vomiting associated with motion and pregnancy.
These high-effective bands are an excellent option for medication which often causes drowsiness and other side effects. Not to mention what the chemical ingredients might be doing to your body. The key to the band’s success is correct placement. With your left wrist facing upwards, place three fingers from the other hand across your wrist, next to the wrist joint. The point below your index finger is the Nei-Kuan point. Fit the sea band over this area with the button precisely on this point. Ensure you have a tight fit.
Contributed by Karen of Forever Karen
13. Cloth Diapers
As parents, we go through thousands of diaper changes before potty training. Every disposable diaper sits in a landfill for up to 500 years before decomposing. Reusable cloth diapers are an ecological and affordable alternative that, if done right, can actually make daily life and travel easier. Traveling with cloth diapers may sound intimidating but it’s truly not that difficult.
The most seamless way to travel with cloth nappies is to rent an Airbnb with a washing machine. Then you can easily keep up the same routine as at home. Without a washing machine, hand washing in the shower or bathtub is rather easy. In these situations, using a quick-dry option like flats (similar to the diapers our grandparents used back in the day) is best as they are the easiest to wash.
In isolated destinations, like many small villages across Argentina for us, we were able to always have diapers to use even when stores were few and far between. Rather than adding stress, in these situations, we never had to think twice about where we’d get the diapers our baby needed. In the end, there is a lot of stigma around diapering with cloth but in practice, it can make life and travel with a baby easier. This zero-waste travel essential helps the planet and reduces diaper costs.
Contributed by Erin of Solsalute.com
14. Zero-Waste Travel Essential- Solar Charger
If you are a frequent traveler, choosing a zero-waste travel essential like a solar charger can help you even if there is no traditional electricity supply. You can use a solar charger to recharge the battery of your mobile phone, tablet, camera, and GPS devices during trekking, hiking, or camping trips.
This zero-waste travel essential is lightweight, compact, stylish, and fits perfectly into any bag, making it easy to carry on the go. Though this solar charger is super thin, it is tough for all-weather environments. It is also rain, shock, and drop-proof, making it pretty durable. More than 10000 charge cycles make it long-lasting, even for more than 20 years, if maintained properly.
Most of the best solar chargers come with overcharge protection, making your device safe. The monocrystal silicon on the solar panels has a high conversion efficiency and does not affect the environment adversely. For these reasons, using a solar charger is crucial for traveling. However, it takes more time to charge the devices than traditional chargers.
To make the most out of a solar charger, use it directly under the sun in sunny weather. Cloudy or foggy weather makes it less efficient. More is the intensity of the sunlight; faster is the charging time. Overall, a solar charger is good for travelers looking for a zero-waste and eco-friendly travel essential.
Contributed by Soumya of Nature Diary
15. Safety Razor
One of my biggest zero-waste travel essentials is the steel safety Razor. This has been my best shaving friend for a few years now.
The reason I love this product is that it’s so easy to use, it saves me tons of money, and it’s zero waste!
Benefits of the safety razor:
- With proper care, it will last a lifetime
- Better shaving results and less irritated skin
- They’re a %100 stainless steel
- No plastic waste
- Super easy to use
- Easy to take extra blades with you on a long trip
The only disadvantage this razor has is that it’s a bit heavier than a plastic razor. But I’m willing to make the sacrifice.
The store I bought it at, also offers a vegan leather pouch, so you can take it with you on trips without accidentally cutting your finger. However, I haven’t had to use this, as I am used to being careful when grabbing my razor.
Together with my reusable Q-tips, reusable cotton pads, and menstruation cup, this safety razor is a great addition to my (space-saving) zero-waste travel kit.
Contributed by Lisa of Dazzling Wealth
16. Filtered Water Bottle
Every year between 8 and 12 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean. A significant amount of that is from single-use plastic bottles. A reusable filter water bottle not only replaces these single-use plastic bottles, but they also negate the need for the cost of transporting the single-use bottles and the energy to create them. A filter water bottle is an essential zero waste travel product as it not only removes the need to buy bottled water but also puts you in control of your health.
Filter water bottles can remove Giardia and Cryptosporidium from untreated water and other bugs which can cause gastrointestinal diseases. It means that no matter what the water source, you’ll always have a supply of drinking water. Although most filter water bottles don’t recommend using saltwater, you can in an emergency, your filter just won’t last as long! And then there’s the money you’ll save – around US$400 a year just by switching to a filter water bottle like Grayl and think of how much further you can travel with that!
Contributed by Sarah of A Social Nomad
17. Travel Toothbrush Eco-Swiss Bamboo Handle Toothbrush
So many people causally overlook the vital importance of a toothbrush and what factor it plays when regarding ecological impact. Toothbrushes are primarily wasteful plastic and fibers that cannot be recycled and are in landfills. When you take that extra step to replace this nonrecyclable item with a biodegradable version, you effectively reduce your eco-footprint on the planet.
We replaced our travel toothbrushes with biodegradable versions such as this sustainably gathered bamboo wood handle toothbrush. The charcoal-infused bristles also ensure your teeth are sparkling clean, and the soft bristles protect the gums from abrasive brushing. You should never cheap out on oral care when traveling, no matter how short the vacation, and that’s why we took the extra precaution to research eco-friendly toothbrushes while also maintaining quality for adequate cleaning.
One thing to note is it’s almost impossible to find fully biodegradable bristles, so you should stack up old toothbrushes and then one day take the time to pull out the bristles with tweezers and discard them; it’s relatively easy to do.
Contributed by Yesenia and Sierra of The Sisters Who Voyage
18. Reusable Cotton Swabs
Cotton Swabs are a perfect example of something we often use once and then throw away. On average, one American may use 415 cotton swabs annually.
Reusable cotton swabs are a simple and easy way to reduce your environmental impact while traveling. Instead of carrying multiple single-use cotton swabs, you can pack one reusable swab that you wash after each use and they make the perfect zero-waste swap for your travel kit.
This alternative to Q-Tips is perfect for cleaning ears or applying and removing makeup.LastObject is a popular manufacturer of this zero waste swap. They make both a basic swab and a makeup version.
To clean your reusable swab, use a little soap and water after each use. For tough makeup stains, clean it with a natural makeup remover such as coconut or jojoba oil. Switching to this product will save you money and eliminate single-use plastic from the earth’s lands and oceans. It’s also a great way to save space in your travel bag.
Morgan of The Home That Roams
19. Reusable Produce Bags
A great tip for sustainable travel is to support local businesses and to consume local food. How about visiting a farmers’ market in your next destination and getting to know the regional fruits and vegetables of the season? To ensure you won’t be generating waste in situations like this, always carry reusable produce bags with you.
These zero-waste travel essentials are used to substitute plastic bags, you can opt for the ones made of 100% cotton or jute, which are biodegradable, or bags made with recycled materials. Make sure you choose the ones that are durable and lightweight so they will be strong enough to carry heavy fruits and vegetables and they will not affect the prices you will pay for them when they need to be weighed.
My reusable produce bags are made of recycled fishing nets, which is a great incentive for local communities to take the fishing nets out of the ocean (the biggest threat for marine life) and earn some money.
Contributed by Elaine Villatoro from Live More, Travel More
20. Reusable Cutlery Kit
One of the opportunities traveling presents is eating out in restaurants and local haunts, perhaps much more than you might normally at home. While trying the local cuisine is one of the best parts about travel, eating in restaurants or ordering take-out every day can create a huge amount of waste. Traveling with a reusable utensil kit can be a great way to avoid more plastics in the world!
And you may never live without it again. These little kits are handy for picnics and work lunches too!
There are many different models and brands to choose from, but here are some items that make for an indispensable reusable utensil kit:
- Fork and spoon of course! And a travel-safe knife (blade less than 3cm for planes)
- A cloth napkin
- Bottle opener/multitool
- Camping can opener (if traveling by land, would not be permitted on a plane)
- Handy carrying case
Reusable utensil kits can be in plastic (sigh), bamboo, or metal. Metal is the most durable of course, and if you go that route you can give yourself an easier time at the airport by laying the kit out, open, in one of the x-ray bins.
These items may seem simple, but they can make a situation go from mediocre to seamless and might just be your new favorite travel companion. And hey, why not pair your reusable cutlery kit with some Tupperware or silicone snack bags and make your entire takeaway experience waste-free!
Contributed by Shev of Shev Strolls
21. Portable Bidet
Another great zero-waste essential is a portable travel bidet. Once you get used to the convenience of using a hose bidet, it is extremely difficult to go back. It’s lovely and refreshing. If you’re traveling somewhere hot, it’s even nicer to make you feel refreshed in between showers. On long journeys or days out, finding toilets without any paper is also no longer a problem.
As if those benefits weren’t enough, it’s possible to make going to the bathroom zero waste with a portable bidet or at the very least reduce the amount of toilet paper you use. If you want to remove all waste then you can carry a small towel around with you. The size of a face towel is perfect and can be used to dry yourself off after. Most portable bidets on the market do come with a small waterproof pouch for portability so you can store your towel inside the pouch.
When you need to use it, you just fill the bottom bottle part with water before you enter the bathroom from a nearby sink and then pour any remaining water down the toilet when you’re done. This style of bidet is extremely popular in the Middle East, where it is called a shattaf.
Contributed by Danni In The Desert
I hope that these zero-waste travel essentials will help you become a more eco-conscious traveler and packer. Let me know if this list is missing any other great eco-friendly swaps!
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