How easy is it to be plastic-free whilst travelling?

It’s simple. Us earth wanderers love the planet and all it’s stunning sights.

So why ever would we not want to protect it?

As travelers we have a responsibility to look after the earth as much as we can, and what better way than to swap out all our single use plastics. In just under a year of trying to live a more sustainable life, I’ve made a few mistakes and learned from them along the way! I’m definitely missing a few tricks, so if you have any tips, whether they’re obvious ones or super smart, feel free to share them in the comments!

water bottles

Photo by Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash

This is the main difficulty for most travelers. I’m in a firm habit of taking a steel water bottle everywhere I go in England, but it’s a little bit more difficult when you’re not sure about the water where you’re going. By and large, you can take empty water bottles through airport security and fill it up either at a water fountain in the airport or ask one of the aircrew to do it for you on the plane. Not being able to take liquids through security isn’t an excuse!

If you’re really worried about drinking tap water where you’re staying, the best option is to buy a big 5L bottle of water and decant it into your reusable bottle – far better than buying a bottle every day. Remember to look after your personal safety, and if you need to hydrate then prioritise that. I was really happy when I flew to the Galapagos islands that they didn’t allow plastic bags or bottles to be taken onto the island (they sold plenty on the island though, so I’m not sure how much they’ve achieved there). The filtered water provided for us where we stayed wasn’t an issue for me, but I did have to buy a plastic bottle so I could alternate the two and always have one in the freezer. We live and learn.

plastic bags

Again, in England I usually take a cloth bag around with me – we have plenty at home and one lives in my car at all times. When I remember, I usually take one away with me too. I stayed in a hostel in Quito which provided a woven bag in the room which I thought was a nice touch. All in all, since there aren’t restrictions on taking bags around with you, this one’s a fairly easy one to maintain.

food

Photo by Toni Osmundson on Unsplash

I can’t find a way around plastic food packaging both at home and abroad. The sad fact is that the majority of produce comes packaged in plastic as standard, and at home we can be a bit choosier and use markets or greengrocers where possible, but while traveling we don’t always have this option. The worst offender by a mile is airline and airport food, and I simply can’t see a way around it. I always try to choose the best option, but so far I’ve found it impossible to eat completely plastic free.

toiletries

Most plastic-free toiletries are solid, so as to get rid of the plastic container. For this reason, they’re great for travelling as there’s no danger of a messy spillage in your bag and you can also take them through security easily – traveling with just hand luggage has never been easier!

shampoo, conditioner and soap bars

From Lush

I’m currently using the “Jumping Juniper” shampoo bar from Lush and I’ve also loved the “New” bar (but don’t ever get it in your eyes – oh god the BURN!). My hair is fairly easy to maintain so I wasn’t looking for anything specific – if I’m honest, the smell is the major selling point for me! I’m not super in love with the “Daddy-o” conditioner as it’s difficult to actually get the product onto my hair. It’s the only one I’ve used because they last FOREVER so I don’t know if this is specific to this particular product of solid conditioners in general. That said, my hair feels great afterwards to it’s obviously doing the job, it’s just not very satisfying to use. I’m definitely never going back to liquid hair products, although I am thinking of trying some different brands, so if you have any recommendations, let me know!

The difficulty comes with storing them on the move. If you’re staying put for a while it’s not a problem as long as you let them drain, but chucking a soggy bar into a sealed container for the day isn’t always great. I learned that the hard way last summer when my shampoo got stuck in its very snug container and I practically had to scrape it out. Luckily, there are a few tricks online which you can try, such as using soap bags which you can easily hang out to dry in your hostel or on the outside of your bag.

Also: I store all my naked toiletries in tins. That’s a tin for my soap, a tin for my shampoo, a tin for my conditioner and a tin for my face products. I am also very clumsy. I don’t think anyone in the hostel appreciated it when I dropped pretty much all of the tins in the bathroom early one morning.

natural deodorant

On The Fly Blog

I was nervous to switch my deodorant for fear that it wouldn’t work – I tried a crystal one in the past and wasn’t particularly impressed. Let’s face it, deodorant is NOT the part of your routine that you want to be let down by, especially if you’re in a hot country and/or moving around all day. In the end I received a sample of a deodorant balm by Native Unearthed in a Birchbox and I LOVE IT. It held up over last summer, including a month in Spain, and recently a week in the humid heat of Ecuador. It comes in a recyclable glass jar but unfortunately has a plastic lid. For this reason I’d be open to trying other brands – again, if you have recommendations, let me know!

bamboo toothbrush

Even Colgate are marketing bamboo toothbrushes now. Although I use an electric toothbrush at home, I always take a bamboo one away with me. You can find them online and in Boots, Superdrug and Holland and Barrett, among other places. Some are fully compostable whilst with others you have to remove the bristles and dispose of them separately.

I can’t think of any downsides whatsoever here. By using a bamboo toothbrush you are helping to cut down on the billions of plastic ones that end up in landfills every year – only to stay there for hundreds more. Plastic toothbrushes only came about in the 1930s, so think about the fact that every single plastic toothbrush ever made still exists somewhere. Even airports and local gift shops have started selling them, so you’ll be surprised at how universally you can get hold of one.

toothpaste tablets

No one is disputing that teeth cleaning is a vital part of your day, but just take a moment to think about how many tubes of toothpaste you throw away – in just one household. Luckily, many brands have offered alternatives. You can buy jars of toothpaste, which I haven’t tried yet, or tablets. Our local market has an eco friendly stall which sells toothpaste tablets in a tin that you can take back for a refill.

I’m spotting a pattern here – like most of the products listed, these were weird to use at first. I’ve never chewed my toothpaste before. However, it worked a treat apart from the fact that the particular tablets I’m using felt quite small so I often double them up. However, if I were to run out whilst traveling I wouldn’t be sure about finding some more, so I’d probably have to switch back to a standard tube.

face products

From Lush

My skincare routine is very basic (out of laziness and money saving more than anything else) and consists of cleansing/exfoliating then moisturising. I use the Gritty Politti exfoliating bar and the Amazon Primer face oil, both from Lush. I love the exfoliator as it’s also oil based so although it cleans my skin, it doesn’t feel like it’s stripped the moisture out of it. And of course, they’re both solid bars and so completely zero waste. The only problem is, they’re designed to melt into your skin, meaning that in hot climates they get particularly soft and difficult to use. You also end up transfering far more onto your skin than you want, which results in using up the product at a much faster rate. It’s also not ideal because too much facial oil + suncream + sweat makes for quite the shiny face. In Ecuador I actually started storing them in their tin in the fridge, much to the confusion of my house mates.

my shopping list

From Wearth

Ahead of my next trip, I’d like to find an eco-friendly sun cream and bug repellent. By “eco-friendly” in this context I mean that I want a sunscreen that doesn’t damage coral reefs or oceans and a bug-repellent that doesn’t contain harmful chemicals – you’d probably be surprised, and then nod and shrug as if to say “makes sense, I guess” if I told you that lots of the primary active ingredients in both products are not actually ideal for our skin, or anywhere else. I’d also like to try a bug repellent gel or lotion instead of a spray, so that it’s mostly on me and not floating around in the air, hitting other wildlife. I recently read a post on choosing the best sunscreen, but I’m going to take that one step further and consider the environment too. As always, your recommendations are welcomed!

What is your experience with being plastic free while traveling? What tricks am I missing? Let me know!

Published by On The Fly Blog

Student and lifestyle blog based in North Yorkshire, UK

45 thoughts on “How easy is it to be plastic-free whilst travelling?

  1. The thing is, when people travel they often opt for convenience and practicality and unfortunately that so often comes with extensive plastic use. It is so wonderful that you have managed to find so many lovely products. I love a shampoo bar on the road, although I am still trying to find a good one (and a conditioner) for my hair! ♥ x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great post! IRL I am an Environmental Compliance officer – basically I go to peoples business’ (farms, mines, fuel stations, waste water etc) and tell them how to comply with the law and encourage improvement of their practices where possible, for the better of the environment. You’d think, being so passionate about the environnment, I’d have all these tips up my sleeve but I don’t!

    I think I’ll defo be trying the hair bars out because I actually always forget shampoo etc and I really don’t like motel quality stuff.

    The water one is a good one! We do this if we don’t like the water in the area we’re staying in.

    A word of warning about the sunscreen – we went to Rarotonga back in 2016(I think?) and used the coral reef friendly sunscreen – but it was really bad and b0th my partner and I got really sunburnt. I understand the need to protect the reef, but we also have to protect ourselves, too. I’ll certainly be doing more reading on reef friendly sun screen. The Islands may be one of the few destinations I can travel to in the near future and I’ll be doing lots of snorkling!

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    1. That’s really cool – thank you for building your career around helping the environment!

      That’s a really important note about the sunscreen and it’s valuable to hear your experience – I’ll make sure to read very carefully before buying any coral-friendly stuff. Especially with Ecuador being on the equator, suncream is an absolute must there.

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  3. wow, i didn;t realize some of these products even existed!!! I will definitely start using some of them. Especially the tooth paste tablets!!

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  4. The tin idea for bar soaps is a brilliant idea! I received a beautiful organic bar soap from ab rand when I purchased a pair of shoes from them and I’ve been wondering how I’m going to travel with it. So far I’ve re-used empty travel-size pump bottles and filled them with shampoo and body lotion from home. I also always take the soaps/shampoos from hotels, and use them when traveling. Otherwise they would go to trash.
    Living completely plastic-free is bloody difficult, but there are small things we can all do! And your list here is a great place to start 🙂

    Teresa Maria | Outlandish Blog

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading! It’s hard work isn’t it! You make a good point about hotel shampoos too. Love the idea of receiving soap as part of a purchase, that’s really sweet

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  5. Your post is so on point and relevant, when we travel, we see the dire impact of plastic and it is a global problem that’s why we all need to take little steps into going plastic free and following your suggestions, we can all do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. These are great tips. I wrote a similar series on my blog last fall. It takes a little planning but plastic free travel is possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Cutting down on plastic is so difficult, but I’m def making small steps in the direction to use less. Also, I LOVE the Lush bar shampoos – Jumping Juniper and the Dandelion one are my favorites! I’ve not tried solid bar soap for the face though, so I should consider trying one before I purchase another gel/liquid/cream based cleanser!

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    1. Whenever I’ve been abroad, I’ve been so shocked by the amount of plastic bottles and tubes that have been left. I’ll definitely be taking a reusable bottle with me when I next travel. Great post

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I always end up feeling kind of guilty about plastic whilst travelling. I’m a huge water bottle carrier so I always have one (sometimes even two) empty to fill up after security which is good but food packaging is a hard one! Really enjoyed reading this post and I’ve heard so much about Native that I may have to give it a try!

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  9. Great options. Another consideration for the water bottle idea is to look into personal-sized filter options. They are generally made and marketed for campers and hikers, but they are great for those who are interested in travelling without having to purchase water bottles on the move. If you are considered about the water at your destination (or any stop along the way) you can filter it.

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  10. I always carry a backpack with me, so I never have to worry about needing a plastic bag.

    I’ve never heard or seen jars of toothpaste it toothpaste tablets. I only use one brand of toothpaste, as every other one I’ve tried have never been good enough.

    I always have a steel water bottle with me too. However, when I was Italy in a very hot May, that water in said bottle didn’t last long. So even with the best intentions, circumstances may get in the way

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  11. I love this, I believe that we should all be plastic-free, as it’s so much better for the environment and for conservation purposes. I always have bags in my car so I don’t have to buy one when shopping.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post! I just wrote a similar one over at my blog. As an alternative to buying a big water jug when you travel, you could get a Lifestraw water bottle. The filter is much better than in your typical filter bottle and is adequate for drinking water in foreign countries, or even from a stream.

    -Hillary
    http://www.hillarybush.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! I’ll head on over and check yours out! It’s so bizarre that you mention that because just this morning I found out about the Lifestraw company! I need to add it in. I love that things like that are becoming more available to buy x

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  13. I think plastic free travel is tough but definitely something we have to work towards! I recently bought myself a filter water bottle to try and reduce the amount of plastic ones I have to buy when abroad! Still stumped on how to avoid plastic with food though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just found the Lifestraw brand who make filter bottles and even straws so you can drink directly from water sources! Love that things are getting more accessible. You’re right though – no idea about food packaging x

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s so much to think about isn’t there! I don’t think anyone should ever feel “unsustainable” though – just be conscious and do what you can. No one can do everything, so don’t feel guilty!

      Liked by 1 person

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