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6 Easy Ways to Travel Plastic-Free

Travel goods like sample-sized toiletry bottles and other disposable items are some of the biggest contributors to plastic waste—just ask hotels that have banished those tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles for more eco-friendly wall dispensers. And plastics aren’t just clogging our oceans and harming wildlife; their harsh chemicals can also be a health hazard to humans. So while forgoing a straw in your drink is a good start, it’s time to think about how you can extend that habit to your travel necessities, too.

Traveling plastic-free is easier than you might think, and means upgrading to reusable travel items so you can banish disposable plastic versions for good. Some of these products will even allow you to travel waste-free, which is easier on both your packing load and the environment. Here’s how to do it.

Use Bar Shampoo, Conditioner, and Deodorant

J r liggett's shampoo bars

For a packing hack that’s plastic-free and waste-free, try quitting those messy three-ounce travel bottles for good by getting bar versions of your favorites instead. Bar soap isn’t the only solid version of toiletries available anymore; there’s a wide array for all different skin and hair types.

Affordable options include sulfate-free shampoo bars, detangling conditioners, moisturizing soap options that won’t strip sensitive skin, and even deodorant bars. I personally travel with Beekman 1802’s Triple Milk Bar because harsh hotel soaps can irritate my skin and ruin my trip. Plus, you never have to worry about removing them from your bag for security to prove they meet TSA’s 3.4-ounce limit on liquids.

Choose an Electric or Bamboo Toothbrush

plastic free bamboo toothbrush and quip

Once a frequent user of disposable, pre-pasted (and yes, plastic) toothbrushes on the plane, I shudder to think how many single-use tooth brushes I’ve thrown away in my life. But if you also shudder at the idea of bringing a reusable toothbrush into the plane bathroom (to be used with a water bottle and NOT the unpotable plane water, of course), there’s still a better toothbrush than the standard plastic option.

Electric toothbrushes you can travel with help cut back on waste since you’re only disposing of smaller brush heads. And if you’d rather not pack another chargeable item, Quip toothbrushes are both charge-free and portable, with a cover that doubles as a mount you can easily stick to any mirror. If you’re truly looking to go plastic-free, however, bamboo toothbrushes are a cheap alternative that often come with a matching travel case.

Buy Clothes Made from Plastic Bottles

Jacket and leggings made from recycled material
Everlane and Girlfriend Collective

If you’re willing to invest in high-performance travel gear that will last, you might want to consider the brands that are accomplishing some extremely needed reuse by creating new clothing made from plastic bottles. Clothing made from recycled plastic is usually durable yet cozy, and repurposes dozens of plastic bottles per piece—so while these garments are pricier, they’re made to last much longer than that tossed water bottle. Cult-favorite examples include Everlane’s ReNew collection of high-end jackets and fleece layers, and Girlfriend Collective leggings—which I personally pack for every active trip I go on, and have lasted me years now.

Switch to Metal Razors

plastic-free metal razor - bulldog

Traditional metal safety razors with removable single blades are being newly heralded as a waste-free way to shave, but they unfortunately aren’t allowed on planes for obvious safety reasons. Multi-blade cartridge razors, however, are allowed by TSA on planes since the blades can’t be wielded as a weapon—and you can opt for cartridges that aren’t plastic. Reusable options like Bulldog’s bamboo razor with steel cartridges can cut down on plastic significantly if you travel with disposable razors.

Invest in a Stainless Steel Canteen

S'well waterbottle

Even if you’re going for a BPA-free water bottle, the general demand for plastics is raising more environmental and health concerns as we create more than ever—plastic can’t biodegrade, and will only sit in a landfill or ocean unless it’s recycled. Upgrade to a stainless steel water bottle, which will last longer and also doesn’t have the tricky health implications to which plastics are being scientifically linked. Stainless steel canteens like Klean Kanteen or S’well can also double as hot and cold cups, meaning you’ll negate double the waste by having both a reusable coffee cup and water canteen.

Try Silicone Reusable Bags or Bee’s Wrap

silicone plastic-free bags

If you’re a firm believer in reusing plastic shopping bags or have a habit of using press-and-seal bags for packing dilemmas, there are some totally plastic-free alternatives you should consider. Reusable silicone bags are a good investment for use both at home and on the road, whether you’re storing food or stashing accessories. Silicone is a generally non-toxic rubber, which makes it a good plastic alternative even though it’s not biodegradable. For a more natural option, organic and biodegradable Bee’s Wrap—washable beeswax-coated cotton made for wrapping food—works similarly, though it won’t be totally water-tight sealable like most silicone bags are.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel and is learning how to travel plastic-free. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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