10 Tips to Reduce our Waste while Traveling

Reduce your waste while traveling

Most of us love discovering new places. But as any of our actions, it has an impact on the environment that can sometimes be greater than in our daily lives. Being mindful of our ecological footprint even when we are out there enjoying the world can really help.

To start this process, I listed 10 tips to reduce our waste while traveling.

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Why should we care about waste ?

It is not a secret that the way we live produces waste. Out of convenience, we tend to use disposable items that almost immediately go to waste, especially when we travel. Some are recyclable, but not always recycled. A lot of products, on the other hand, are not. Once thrown in the trash, they are abandonned in landfills, when they don’t end up directly in nature.

Our planet is crowling under the weight of plastic waste especially, which can take up to 1000 years to decompose. It is polluting every corner, invading the oceans and having disastrous consequences on wildlife. Ultimately, it even comes back to us in the form of microplastics in the water and food we ingest. But it is something we can work towards shifting. I know it can seem a bit overwhelming, especially on the go, but at our level it is actually quite simple. So let’s get into it !

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How can we reduce our waste while traveling ?

Here are 10 tips to tackle this and travel more sustainably while enjoying our incredible adventures around the world. You’ll see, most of them are fairly easy to implement !


One of the first and easiest things to reduce our waste while traveling ! Do we really need plastic tubes to drink an exotic cocktail on the other side of the world ? 

Some countries have become crazy with straws and the majority of restaurants automatically put one in any drink you order. I can’t count the number of times I was pissed at myself for not thinking of specifying “no straw”. It is a new habit that can be a little challenging to build but it makes such a big difference.

If you are someone who just loves to use straws or prefers not to drink directly out of the glass, you can buy a reusable bamboo or metal straw. Just keep it in your handbag at all times and wash it after you use it. This way, you’re good to go for the next cocktail !

Bamboo straws
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In some countries, tap water is just not safe. If you do not want to end up in the toilet for a week or worse, at the hospital with a bad salmonella, it is best to only drink mineral or purified water that comes in… plastic bottles. So how do you reduce your waste while traveling when your health requires you to never drink water that you didn’t open yourself ?

Nowadays, many hostels and restaurants offer water refills from big mineral or purified water tanks. If it isn’t free, it usually costs less than half the price of the bottled water. Of course the tank is made of plastic, but it still reduces the overall amount used. Plus, you save some money and for the long term traveler, it is always welcome !

You can also purchase a filtering bottle that eliminates micro-organisms from tap or river water and fill it as you go. It represents more investment in the beginning but it is one of the most economic and sustainable solutions in the long run. Note that you will need to replace the filter more or less regularly depending on your use.

Bottle refill
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When we order take out or buy processed food, it usually comes with a lot of packaging. It is beginning to change in certain areas, but is mostly petroleum based and non degradable.

A better way to reduce our waste while traveling is to eat at the restaurant or buy whole ingredients with reusable bags and cook them ourselves. If we still want to order to go, we can ask in advance not to add plastic cutlery, straws or napkins. We can also choose places that use recyclable containers.

I have noted though that in certain countries like Mexico or the United States, some restaurants now use plastic containers and cutlery even if you stay to eat. It is probably a strategy to avoid washing the dishes, but a disaster for the environment.

I personally would avoid these places or ask them to make more responsible choices. Indeed, raising awareness and suggesting better alternatives are one of our responsibilities as costumers.

Banana pancake
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Carrying one or two bags with you will not weigh you down too much if you are a backpack traveler. However, if you really don’t want to add the extra item, you can still go grocery shopping with your small backpack when the rest of your luggage is in your room.

If you already carry plastic bags from previous purchases, reuse them until they are broken. Buy fruits and veggies with your own bags, and in bulk if it is available where you are.

Tote bags
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Eating out or on the go while traveling ? Get your own reusable fork, knife and spoon and say no to the single-use ones that clutter our oceans.

More and more brands are now offering washable pieces that don’t weigh a lot and easily fit in a handbag. If you can, try to support local businesses and get a kit that comes in a biodegradable container.

While bamboo seems like a great alternative, we now know that some pieces are made with a toxic resin that can release chemicals in the food. Therefore, I advise you to go for wooden articles or bamboo that you know is very high quality.

I currently own a full kit of wooden cutlery and straws as well as a small wooden spoon that I bought from a family in the north of Mexico. I have them with me at all times in a small linen bag and they already saved me a lot of waste.

Wooden cutlery kit zero waste
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It is a small weight addition but it can make a big difference. Carry with you 2 washable tissues or napkins so you always have one when the other is in the washing machine. If you don’t have any, cut a small piece in an old sheet, fold it in two and sew the extremities. It will then be thick enough to do the work !

Same goes for the good old cotton pads some of us use to clean our face after a long day. You can buy washable ones made with sustainable fabrics, preferably in an ecofriendly container. You can even make some out of an old towel ! Clean them with your clothes and save space from carrying a whole pack of their disposable counterparts.

Washable tissues napkins
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As for several items already mentionned, a lot of businesses now offer good recyclable toothbrushes. Most of them are made with ecological material like wood or bamboo, and some are even compostable.

Recyclable toothbrush
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In addition to reducing our plastic consumption, going for solid hygiene products has several advantages for the traveler. Indeed, it takes less space and is perfect to pass hand luggage security. Even better, it takes away the risk of liquid accidents ruining your backpack and everything in it. If, like me, you do not want to be in the same position as Ross after his “major shampoo explosion”, go solid !

Joke aside, it is also good to know that you can usually find better quality products in that category. Indeed, a lot of companies are now creating particularly ecological solid products. They have fewer and less toxic ingredients for your body and the planet, and most of them come on their own or wrapped in degradable materials.

You can now find several solid products such as shampoo and soap bars, deodorants or toothpaste.
Weleda also offers good liquid deodorants in recyclable glass bottles of 100mL suitable for hand luggage.

Solid shampoo and soap
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If you are not familiar with these products, you may be happy to learn that women have now new healthier alternatives. In addition to being disposable, most tampons and pads found in drugstores contain toxic chemicals. Other reusable alternatives exist.

The menstrual cup has many advantages. First of all, one cup has a lifespan of about 10 years. In addition, it is made of 100% medical grade silicon and doesn’t contain all the pesticide residuals that stay in the cotton tampons. It is as comfortable for most women as its single-use counterparts, and as a bonus, it doesn’t take much space.
One of the few challenges is to find a place where it can be sterilized with boiling water for 10 minutes before and after each cycle. It is also imperative to carry clean water to rinse the cup after we empty it every few hours. They are things to plan ahead, but I always found it manageable during my travels.

If you are not comfortable with a cup or if you still want a small protection while using it, you can make or buy washable panty liners, pads and even menstrual panties. They exist in different sizes, and you can easily carry at least 2 or 3 with you.

Washable period pads
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If we need new items of any sort, we can try to find them second-hand or to get them from businesses that have a policy in favor of the planet.

For example, we can favor water bottles made with recycled plastic or clothes with ecological materials. Instead of the controversial multi-ingredient creams that come in plastic tubes, we can also use natural, non-toxic cosmetics like organic vegetable oils in small glass bottles to nourish our skin.

Many local businesses are trying to do their part and choosing them over the big corporations encourages more initiatives.

Argan body oil
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Bonus tip

Reducing our waste while traveling is one of the best ways to take care of our planet. However so many areas are already polluted, as you may have noticed if you travel a lot. So I think it is important during our travels to take the time to pick up some trash once in a while.

On the road, on the beach, even inside craters or volcanoes, we can pick a few pieces and throw them in the corresponding trash so it can be recycled or destroyed. Some islands or towns also organize beach clean-ups on a regular basis so this can be a good way to help !

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I hope these tips made you realize how easy it can be to reduce our ecological impact, even when we are traveling. Which ones will you try ? What are you already doing to reduce your waste while traveling ? Tell us in the comments !

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