A zero waste travel kit is a great way to make your travels more sustainable and avoid single use plastic and creating waste while you’re traveling.
Remember that this is about progress over perfection. Inevitably, you will create some waste on the road. But it’s about reducing that waste! Don’t worry about being perfect because perfect zero waste does not exist. We live in a society where waste is unfortunately created all the time and it’s really difficult to step away from that. Every little bit counts, and we can always improve.
What is a Zero Waste Travel Kit?
A zero waste travel kit is basically a series of items that helps you reduce your waste while traveling.
By creating a zero waste travel kit, you will already be leaps and bounds ahead, so remember to applaud yourself for that and keep doing the best that you can. With that in mind, it’s even more difficult to be zero waste right now. Given the current pandemic, many places that used to accept reusable containers are no longer accepting them. You’ll have to decide whether you want to accept the waste and support a local business, or forgo getting whatever it was.
In this article, whenever possible, we’ll be linking to conscious online marketplaces like EarthHero (use code ALTERNATIVETRAVELERS for 10% off) rather than Amazon. We firmly believe that voting with our dollars (or euros, or pounds, or whatever) is critical to building a better world. Amazon is not an ethical company, and is rife with poor worker treatment and destruction of the environment, among other issues.
For more, read our post all about it: The Best Ethical Alternatives to Amazon
Lastly, remember that conscious consumption means recognizing that the most sustainable item is the one that you already have!
Look into your closets and cupboards to see if you have items that could fit the bill for the following items below. If not, you can rest assured knowing that you’re ordering from sustainable marketplaces when you create your zero waste travel kit.
Reusable Water Bottle
The first item on our list is a reusable water bottle because this is probably the easiest swap to make. There’s no reason to be buying plastic water bottles if you are traveling somewhere with safe drinking water.
If you are traveling somewhere where the drinking water is not safe, you’d need to also purchase a water filter. Lifestraw filters water while you’re drinking it, which is pretty awesome. Click here to learn about the LifeStraw (also comes with a collapsible bottle – bonus!).
In places with safe drinking water, you will be able to fill up your reusable water bottle wherever you’re staying, fill it up in restaurants, ask people to fill it up in bars, etc. We’ve done all of these things and it’s been no big deal, especially as the conversation is changing and more people are aware of the impact of single-use plastic. Most people have no problem with filling up your water bottle, so this is an easy swap to make.
Nomader Water Bottle
Our favorite reusable travel water bottle is the Nomader bottle. They come in really fun colors: we have the purple and the green ones. We love that they come with a strap so you can hang it off your wrist. We do this a lot while we’re walking around a city or hiking. A lot of times we forget that they’re even there. They’re that light weight, especially compared to the more stainless steel bottles.
The Nomader bottles are flexible silicone water bottles that collapse as well, so when empty they may fit better packed away. Unlike other collapsible bottles, they still stand up on their own when they’re not filled. This is not the case of the Vapur water bottle, which we also have.
Nomader bottles are currently only available on Amazon, but we spoke with the founders and they will soon be selling them directly, in which case we will update this post!
Vapur Water Bottle
These are collapsible water bottles that fold up smaller than the Nomader, so they’re great if you want to put them eventually in a smaller purse, pocket, fanny pack, something like that.
We have found them not as durable as the Nomader bottles, but those don’t collapse as small, so really depends on what your preferences and needs are. Having both is great, because they take up minimal space and we can then switch out depending on what we need.
Metal Water Bottle
We also have a couple of metal water bottles from Public Goods. These are great especially for keeping the liquid insulated (steaming hot water has stayed hot overnight!), but they are heavier. We tend to use these ones if we’re road tripping or at home because they are quite heavy in a bag all day.
Public Goods has lots of zero waste items, and don’t forget to use our code ALTPGA for 15% off at checkout! Click here to check out the zero waste section of Public Goods.
Zero Waste Lunch Kit
Reusable Silicone Container
Number two in our zero waste travel kit is a reusable container. There are many different kinds of reusable containers, so again, go with your preferences and the kind of travel you do. This about a portable storage container, usually for food items.
You may easily have something in your pantry that could fit the bill already, like a plastic tupperware. As nomads, we don’t have a home base with a kitchen or pantry, so we purchased our reusable containers with maximum travel functionality in mind.
We often use our silicone container when we make our own food and want to take it on a day hike. It’s also great for packing food on the plane – can’t rely on airlines to have reliable vegan options!
Read more: Budget Vegan Travel Tips for a Tasty Trip!
The collapsible silicone container is a bit heavy, but it is nearly watertight. We could put soup or anything saucy in it. It’s also fairly big, so we can fit a decent amount of food in there!
The exact container we got was discontinued, but there are plenty available online. This set comes with two collapsible containers that fit into each other for easier packing and storage.
Stainless Steel Container
The other reusable container that we have is stainless steel. It’s very cute and is in the stereotypical “zero waste” style, if that’s important to you. It does not look like a kitchen item but closer to a camping tool. It’s not liquid proof though, so you want to make sure that you’re only putting dry things in there.
The stainless steel container is great if you get a pastry or other dry item somewhere, because then you can ask to have someone put it straight in your container. Also, unlike the flexible silicone container, this will keep your food from being crushed. Stainless steel containers come in varying sizes, so choose a good one for your needs.
If you are a coffee or tea drinker, then a reusable mug or cup is a must. We have a silicone collapsible cup that’s watertight just like the silicone container that we already mentioned. Veren had to run with a full cup of coffee in this cup, to catch a train, and it didn’t even spill a drop!
This cup also collapses down, so it takes up no space and is pretty lightweight. The only problem is that these kinds of cups don’t keep the beverage warm for very long, so this is something that you want to drink fairly immediately. Or just use it for cold beverages!
Also over time, unfortunately the silicone does absorb the coffee flavor, so you need to periodically soak it in a lemon solution or vinegar to get that smell out over time. But it’s still a great option. I have been using mine for years and it still keeps its place in my zero waste travel kit.
We also have a cute thermos that my grandma made me from Shutterfly (it has photos on it). A thermos is another great option, especially if you want to keep your coffee or tea piping hot for a while. Again, this is something that you might already have in your kitchen, so take a look around!
Reusable Food Wrap
Along the same line as food containers are reusable wax wraps. Usually most of these are beeswax wraps, but there are also some that are vegetable based, such as this one.
These are great for wrapping sandwiches, rolls, pastries, etc. We even use them to cover our overnight oats in the fridge!
They have a lot of uses and are easy to keep on you as they are foldable and very small. The reusable containers can add up in weight, so you might not want to carry them if you’re going to be walking around all day. If you don’t feel like carrying containers on you, then a reusable food wrap is a great option.
Zero Waste Travel Utensils
If you get some takeout, you want to avoid using those plastic forks and knives which – let’s be honest – are pretty shitty anyway. What can those plastic knives actually cut? Those bendable plastic forks suck too. Having some reusable and actually useful cutlery on hand will be great for eating on the go.
We love our titanium spork that has a spoon on one side and a fork with a serrated cutting edge on the other. It’s super lightweight and extremely handy. Unfortunately, don’t try to take this one through security if you’re flying, because of the serrated knife. They’ve let me through with it before, but it really depends on the person. I would recommend packing this into a checked bag or purchasing bamboo reusable cutlery if you fly carry on only.
And never fear about bamboo cutlery actually working – bamboo is quite hard! We have a dull bamboo knife that still cuts hard fruit like apples really well.
We like to put all our reusable cutlery with our reusable napkin along with straws and everything like that in a small cloth bag to keep it all together in one place. Try to use something sturdy, as the cutlery can poke holes. When you get reusable cutlery in a set, it usually comes in a little carry case – bonus!
Next thing up on the list is a reusable straw, which has kinda become a symbol of the zero waste movement. Usually a photo of a turtle or a fish will be shown with an image of a straw through it, but the reality is that straws contribute way less to ocean plastic than fishing does.
Read more: We Need to Talk About Sustainable Travel
Regardless, straws still DO contribute waste, so it’s best to avoid them. If you use straws a lot, then it’s good to have on hand, but carrying a reusable straw is by no means necessary. If you don’t like straws, then you don’t need to use a straw! A lot of times, I forget to carry this with me and that’s no big deal. I just ask for “no straw” and drink whatever I ordered without a straw.
Of course, if you need a straw for medical reasons, then don’t feel bad about putting your health first. As we mentioned above, it’s all about progress over perfection and doing what you can within your circumstances.
If you do want to get a reusable straw to up your zero waste travel game, there are a lot of options. You can get stainless steel, bamboo, and even collapsible ones! We prefer the stainless steel ones as they’re easier to clean. This stainless steel straw set comes in a pouch with a brush straw cleaner.
If I’d known about it when I got my reusable straws, I definitely would have gone for this collapsible one. It even comes on an keychain so you’ll never forget it!
Napkin or Handkerchief
A reusable cloth handkerchief is another key, yet often overlooked, item. Use it to wipe your hands after washing them, wrap a sandwich in it, or just spread it on the ground to eat something. So this one has a lot of different functions. We just use a cloth napkin that Veren’s great-aunt gave us, and then throw it in the wash when it gets dirty.
These organic cotton napkins come in a 12 pack. That way, you’ll never be without one if there are some in the laundry!
We also end up with some paper napkins, because sometimes even if you ask for no napkins, you might be given them anyway. At that point, you can’t give them back because they’ll just throw them away. So it’s better to hang on to them and use them next time you need one, or give them to someone else that you’re eating or traveling with. It’s always good to have some napkins on hand.
Anyone else have about a million tote bags and reusable bags?
We seem to accumulate them along the way, but we’re not complaining because they’re such a great thing to have. There’s really no need to be using a plastic bag when you’re going grocery or souvenir shopping. In many places now, you have to pay for bags at the store, so why not save yourself some money and unnecessary waste by carrying around some reusable bags.
There are tons of grocery bags that pack down into a tiny little bag, which is very helpful for saving space, especially when in travel mode. We have a lot of those, and they’re perfect for travel. You can even hook it onto your keychain or throw it in your zero waste bag (suggestions for those below). Use it for grocery shopping or souvenir shopping. And remember to always support local, one of our top 20 sustainable travel tips.
These reusable grocery bags pack down and come in bright, fun colors.
Alternatively, you can also get this mindful grocer kit, which comes with two reusable produce bags, and two reusable shopping bags. Click here to learn more about the mindful grocer kit.
Hygiene and Safety
Another thing in your reusable travel kit these days is a reusable mask, because unfortunately, we are in the pandemic days. Most likely, you already have a reasonable mask, so just tuck one into your zero waste travel kit in case for some reason you forget it when you go out. If it’s in your kit, then it’s always there. It’s always good to have extras of these things so you don’t end up having to take a disposable mask if you need to go in somewhere.
Always support your local businesses if possible to get a handmade mask! But of course, you can also buy them online. For example, you can showcase your values with this Cotopaxi mask that says “Do Good” on it.
Get a fun one to make yourself and others smile in this difficult time. I have a cat mask and I get compliments and smiles on it all the time.
This is another one that’s good to have on hand, though it’s not the most zero waste item. Buying something in a small travel container is usually the anti-thesis of zero waste travel. But you know what’s not very zero waste: getting sick!
We usually opt for washing our hands with soap, but sometimes there’s no running water on hand. For example, if you’re out and about all day and don’t have a chance to wash your hands. Hand sanitizer comes in great for these kinds of situations.
We like the hand sanitizer from Public Goods because it’s made in the U.S., is soft on our hands, and has a very faint (not overwhelming) scent. We got a big bottle which we can then decant into a smaller bottle to keep with us on the go.
Click here to learn more about Public Goods and get their sanitizer. (Don’t forget to use our code ALTPGA for 15% off).
You can get also hand sanitizer in a calming smell, like Dr. Bronner’s organic, natural hand sanitizer in lavender.
Bags to Carry Your Zero Waste Travel Kit In
Of course, you will need to put your zero waste travel kit in something!
This could take many forms: a little backpack, a tote bag, even a fanny pack. Just remember that the most sustainable option is the option that you already have. If you don’t have anything that fits the bill, or you want to really optimize things, here are some great options for collecting your items in one, easily accessible place.
What you choose will depend on the type of travel you do. Do you mainly go for outdoor adventures and need something super functional and durable? Or are you more of a city explorer, and want something to look fashionable (and not a theft target) while exploring a new place? Do you need it to hold other things (like a laptop or camera), or just your zero waste kit? Consider all of these things when selecting your bag. Or be like us – try out a few things and see what works!
A sling back is great as it’s easy to access items whenever you need them. You can wear one biking, walking around, hiking – the possibilities are endless. I’ve been rocking a sling bag lately, and I have to say that I’m a big fan!
Here’s Veren modeling the sling bag we’ve been using. We got it for free as a promotional item, and the zipper broke right after this. So we recommend purchasing a better quality one, like this sleek black one from Patagonia.
A tote bag is another option for carrying your zero waste kit. This is usually what I do since I have so many tote bags that I acquire on our travels.
The drawback of this one is that it doesn’t close at the top, so you do have to be vigilant for theft if you’re traveling through city centers. Also, it’s not great for if you hop on a bike. One bump and your things could go flying everywhere! Still, a tote bag is a cute option where you can also show your personality (like this one from EarthHero that says “Shop Like You Give a Shit”).
Veren uses a fanny pack to put his phone, wallet, and keys in, but it’s just not big enough for all of the things that we mentioned. However, if you prefer to travel lighter, you could streamline your zero waste kit to fit in a fanny pack. You could probably fit reusable cutlery, a Vapur bottle, a napkin, a grocery bag that packs into itself, and a food wrap in a fanny pack if you really wanted!
This is the fanny pack that Veren uses and he’s very happy with it. It comes in different fun colors and even packs into itself when not in use!
And that’s it for your zero waste travel kit! These are the core items, but we’ll always be updating this post as we make adjustments depending on what’s in our pack, and any new items we might add.
We know it seems like a lot to assemble, so if you prefer to buy a pre-assembled kit, this zero waste kit comes with a lot of the items we mentioned.
What are the must-have zero waste travel items in your kit?! Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!