Your first step towards Zero Waste Travel – How to travel plastic-free

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Environmental-friendly travel. Actually, these two words contradict each other. Because let’s be honest – how much good can you do to the environment by getting on a plane, going on a cruise or do long road trips by car? Since my University Major was tourism management I was able to hear a lot of professionals talking about this topic and get a little insight. I’ve even written my bachelor thesis on the impact of climate change on tourism and vice versa. Obviously, I don’t want to give up on traveling, of course, but I think that even small changes can make a big difference. In this article, we would, therefore, like to give some tips on how to avoid single-use plastic while traveling, but also in everyday life. We want to show you how to go plastic-free in order to take the first step towards zero waste travel. If only some travelers will live by those easy principles, we can make a huge impact on the garbage that is produced due to travel.

Your first step towards Zero Waste Travel – How to go plastic-free

Zero waste travel, plastic bottles, environmental polution

Tote bag instead of Plastic bag

Orange plastic bag, Plastic-free travel, sustainability

At home, some people already do that, but while traveling many don’t – Using a tote bag for your groceries can have a huge impact on the amount of plastic waste you produce. While in most European countries, it slowly becomes common practice to pay for plastic bags, they are free and (almost too) easily available in many countries with every purchase, even without asking for it in the first place. Especially in Japan and Thailand, where we often got our food or snacks in convenience shops, we were shocked by how much garbage we produced, if we didn’t expressly point out every time that we DO NOT need a plastic bag. Every little purchase will be packed in a plastic bag before being handed to you – so you kind of automatically accept it from the cashier without even thinking further about it.

The Solution

Instead, always carry a little tote bag with you or in your backpack. So you can always have something to carry your purchase around with. Many bags can be folded extra small and thus take up very little space in your backpack – but are still always ready for use.

Check cool tote bags here

No plastic cutlery

Plastic cutlery, Plastic waste disposal when traveling

The same scenario as with the plastic bags. You just want to buy a snack in the convenience store or supermarket and one minute later you find yourself holding a plastic bag full of plastic cutlery and napkins that are also wrapped in plastic. I guess the budget travelers among us know this all too well.

The Solution

Instead, always bring your travel cutlery with you. It weighs little and usually comes in a handy little bag, in which the cutlery can be stowed before and after use. The cutlery can be easily transported and thus helps to avoid a lot of plastic waste.

Author’s note: In some Asian countries, such as China and Japan, you instead receive wooden chopsticks for eating. Even though those only cause degradable waste, they are still not good for the environment. Disposable chopsticks are responsible for a large part of the annual deforestation. If you don’t want to give up the authentic chopsticks feel, then bring your own reusable chopsticks with you.

Check more information and pricing of Travel Cutlery

Water Bottle

water bottles, plastic bottles, how to avoid plastic

If you move a lot, especially on hot days, you should make sure to stay hydrated. However, in most places, water and soft drinks are usually just sold in plastic bottles or cans. Even if the plastic bottles are disposed of properly, they cause big amounts of plastic waste and cannot be endlessly recycled and reused.

The Solution

The solution is a refillable bottle that you can refill over and over again (such as this one here). In many countries in Europe, Japan and Singapore, tap water is drinkable. So you can refill your bottle anytime, anywhere and always have something to drink with you. But what if you travel in countries where you should not drink the tap water? The solution is a water filter. It filters up to 99.9% of all bacteria and pollutants out of the water, making it safe to drink. So you not only avoid a lot of plastic waste but also save money. Even in the plane, you can ask instead of handing your drink to you in a plastic cup to refill your bottle, or a reusable cup (like this one) instead.

Check more information and prices of the water filter

Saving Plastic already begins with brushing your teeth

plastic toothbrush, zero waste travel, how to avoid plastic

Most of the time we don’t really think about which of the things we are using in everyday-life are made out of plastic. Because even our toothbrush, which for most people is essential (hopefully!), is mostly made out of plastic. If you change your toothbrush regularly as recommended, you will notice how much plastic waste this causes.

The Solution

Don’t worry, of course, you can continue to change your toothbrush regularly. How about switching to a bamboo toothbrush the next time though? This one, as the name implies, is made of bamboo and not plastic and is therefore much better for the environment.

Check more information and prices of the bamboo toothbrush

Plastic waste for shampoo, shower gel etc.

Shampoo bottle, plastic waste, how to avoid plastic

Now that our toothbrush is more eco-friendly, we find that our shampoo and shower gel also produce a lot of plastic waste. Especially those who, like me, have long and thick hair, finish such a shampoo bottle relatively quickly.

The Solution

Have you ever heard of so-called shampoo bars? You can imagine them like soap bars that you simply massage into your hair for washing. So, you no longer need plastic bottles for washing your hair. And the best? You also save space in your travel backpack, the shampoo bars don’t leak and can even be taken on a plane as it’s not considered a liquid.

Check more information and prices of the Shampoo Bar

Female Hygiene Products

female hygiene products, tampon, garbage

Even with products that we women regularly use, we produce plastic waste. Every single sanitary napkin and tampon is wrapped in plastic. Until recently, however, we women did not really have alternatives.

The Solution

The solution is a so-called menstrual cup, which is used during the period to catch the blood. Of course, that might sound a little strange at first but it is easy to get used to it and I know many girls that are now happily using them.  Not only does it save a lot of money in the long term (women worldwide have probably been annoyed by the incredible prices for tampons and co.) but also it is even more hygienic than conventional hygiene products.

Check more information and prices on the menstrual cup

Straw? – No thanks!

colorful straws, plastic waste, travel sustainably

Another factor that causes tons of garbage annually is straws. I know, the feeling of lying on the beach while sipping on your cocktail is part of a successful beach holiday. However, after seeing several times how waiters in Barcelona beach simply threw the straws on the ground while collecting the cocktail glasses and let the wind do the work for them, I’m hardly surprised that our oceans are full of plastic garbage and the beach of Barceloneta is extremely dirty and littered.

The Solution

The solution is quite simple – If you order your drink, just emphasize that you DO NOT want a straw. However, if you don’t want to give up the straw feel, you can make provisions by buying and carrying a metal straw. This product is easy to transport and thus takes up little space in your bag.

Check more information and prices for metal straw

Collect information before your trip

Cocktails with plastic straws, plastic waste

As mentioned above, I’ve written my bachelor thesis about the influences of tourism on nature and vice versa. The Maldives, on which I spent my semester abroad, served as the major example. Not only do they have a major garbage problem, but they also struggle heavily with the impacts of climate change. There is hardly any recycling practiced yet, in a way that it’s done in many Western countries. The garbage is simply collected, stored on the garbage island Thilafushi, sorted superficially and mostly burned. Between the garbage, which is stored, there are often health-endangering substances. But waste incineration also releases toxic substances that harm people and the environment.

The Solution

Of course, most of the work here is on the Maldives themselves, which must promote better waste separation and processing. But you too as an individual can do something to help. Try to cause as little plastic waste as possible while staying on the islands. On many islands, locally-processed water is offered in glass bottles as a substitute for plastic bottles. Try to avoid snacks and plastic-wrapped toiletries offered at the hotel as much as possible. Before you travel, educate yourself about possible local waste issues and act accordingly. When plastic waste is generated, try to take as much of it home with you and dispose of it probably in a country where waste separation is common practice.

Avoid other types of garbage while traveling

Use the App instead of printing a boarding pass

Boarding pass and tickets, printed, travel

Especially if you travel a lot with low-cost airlines, you probably know the struggle already: you have to print out your boarding passes before departing. Many also print out the hotel booking confirmation, itinerary etc. Just to play it safe. Sure, it’s usually just a two-sheet of paper – but if every traveler prints his whole travel documents, it will cause a few tons of unnecessary paper waste.

The Solution

Check in online before your trip and download the appropriate app from your airline. On those apps, you can simply show your boarding ticket to the airport staff and board the plane without any problems – and above all paperless.

Extra tip: Send you all your important travel documents by email to yourself before you depart. This way, you always have them at hand. To play it super safe, you can also take screenshots of all documents, so you can access them even without an internet connection. Even safer is to save those files on several mobile devices in case one gets lost or out of battery.


Books, paper waste, book disposal travel

I know, the feeling of holding a new book that has that particular “new book smell” is hardly comparable to electronic options. But especially when traveling, many people like to get rid of their books after they’ve read it to save space and weight.

The Solution

An e-reader or tablet cannot replace this book feeling a hundred percent but is still a practical solution to paper and above all, it saves a lot of weight. Ideal for travelers. Just download the books of your choice before or during your trip. You can either do this on the PC or directly from the e-reader/tablet and read as much as you like without producing paper waste or tossing unnecessary weight around with you.

Check more information and prices of the e-reader

Garbage destroys the most beautiful places

Garbage, Waste in the nature, carbage can

Especially those who have traveled in developing countries before will realize that the way the plastic and garbage disposal is handled there is quite different than in most Western countries. In Myanmar, too, we have noticed that some locals (and tourists) simply throw away their garbage when they no longer need it. Accordingly, especially outside the city centers and tourist areas, you can often find mountains of garbage. What a shame for a country of such a gorgeous nature.

Just recently, China decided to close the Mount Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side for now, because this place was extremely littered so that they couldn’t keep up with the removal of the garbage. In the future, only 300 hikers will be allowed to walk up. You can read more about this topic here.

But you don’t even have to look that far. Here in Barcelona, at the Barceloneta beach, tons of garbage and rubbish that tourists leave behind are piling up every year. For this reason, locals avoid this beach almost completely. The biggest garbage problem, which I had to experience until now, is a place where nobody really would expect it: in the Maldives. While thinking of the Maldives, probably pictures of white sandy beaches and turquoise clear waters pop up in your mind. But unfortunately, the reality is quite different. Anyone traveling on private islands or the main island of Malé will find that the water is barely visible due to the huge amounts of plastic floating in it. During my internship in the Maldives, I talked to several locals about this problem. However, many of them don’t perceive this as a problem in the first place. Some of the locals I’ve talked to were even convinced that the plastic just dissolves without a trace after being dropped into the water. Such conditions can only be resolved by raising awareness and educating locals and tourists about the effects of plastic waste on humans and the environment.

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4 thoughts on Your first step towards Zero Waste Travel – How to travel plastic-free

  1. There are some great ideas in here about how to reduce plastic while travelling, some I hadn’t thought of either! I always carry a backpack when I go shopping, but shopkeepers often give me plastic bags too so I have to explain why I don’t want one. I’m glad more is being done about reducing waste though 🙂

  2. Some excellent ideas! I have a Lifestraw bottle and it’s great. I got to adopt more of these suggestions. Thanks for compiling this list!

  3. I love all these ideas. Even when I’m not traveling, I try to implement things like this. The hardest one for me is the straws tho, I hate them obviously but I just always forget to ask for them without! I need to think of a way to remember haha

    • Hi Casey,

      I feel you. Sometimes I am not even aware that the drink I order is usually served with a straw. I think it’s just a think one has to get used to 🙂


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