The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
February 2, 2011

Plastic-Free Travel: Bring Your Own and Be Prepared

As I mentioned on Monday, I’m out of town this week. But I don’t give my plastic-free habits a break just because I’m not at home. I have developed strategies over the years to avoid accumulating new plastic even while living out of a suitcase. Here are a few things I brought along with me on this trip to help:

1) Travel Mug

Water bottles are great, but for me a travel mug is eminently versatile. At the airport, I carry it through security empty and then fill up at a water fountain on the other side.  I did hear that TSA has been screening insulated mugs a little more heavily lately, but so far I’ve had no problems bringing mine through.

travel mug

It’s fine to bring water on the plane if you get it from within the secure area of the airport. And a mug is great for not only water but coffee, tea, or other beverages. I always use my mug on the plane instead of a plastic cup.

travel mug

2) Reusable utensils

I carry a little set of reusable utensils in my purse or backpack wherever I go to avoid disposables. My kit includes knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks, and even glass drinking straws.

reusable utensil wrap set

reusable utensil wrap set

But you don’t need a fancy utensil wrapper like mine (which I ordered from a fantastic Etsy seller). Check out Micaela Preston’s super easy steps for creating your own utensil wrap in five minutes. No sewing or special utensils required.

3) Snacks & other food necessities

Airplane food is expensive and full of chemicals and packaging waste. We can avoid it by bringing our own yummy snacks or even full meals in reusable containers. It just takes a little pre-planning. And whatever container you bring can be reused for restaurant leftovers or take-out food while out of town.

airplane snacks

airplane snacks

airplane snacks

(Those bulk bin pretzels didn’t last long.)

I also bring my own bulk tea in a glass jar or tin and metal tea ball, since I know that teas I purchase while away from home will probably come in disposable packaging, likely plastic. Most hotel rooms have coffee makers that can be used to heat water.

airplane snacks

4) Headphones


I usually have my headphones with me anyway, but I make sure to have them during any flight in case I want to watch the movie.  There’s no need to buy new ones from the airline.

5) Travel Pillow

travel pillow

I used to have a drawer full of inflatable plastic travel pillows that I used once and then forgot.  And asking for a pillow on the plane is not green either. Airline travel pillows are trashed at the end of each flight, for sanitary reasons, and they come sealed up in plastic packaging.  Now, I always remember to bring my own.

6) Reused plastic zip-top bag

The only time I ever use a plastic baggie is for carrying liquids and gels in my carry-on luggage when flying. But I reuse the same TSA regulation baggie over and over again, keeping it in my suitcase when not in use so I’ll remember it for next time.

TSA Zip Top Bag

7) Personal care products in reusable containers.

Instead of buying travel size shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothpaste, etc. or taking the free products provided by the hotel, I fill up my own reusable containers (3.4 ounce or smaller if flying) at home and avoid all the extra packaging waste from travel sizes.

I also use an old prescription bottle for toothpaste instead of buying the travel size tube.

travel toothpaste

It can be tempting to take the hotel’s free offerings, but remember that refilling from your big shampoo bottle at home generates a lot less plastic packaging waste than using those cute little travel size bottles. The planet would prefer that you politely decline them.

Personally, I try to do without liquid personal care products in the first place. Solid shampoo bars work as well as liquid shampoo and contain no plastic packaging.

travel toothpaste

8) My Resolve

It can be tempting to succumb to the convenience of single-use disposables while on vacation. But planning ahead and relying on my own ingenuity to avoid creating waste gives me a feeling of connection to the planet, wherever I happen to be, that is priceless.

63 Responses to “Plastic-Free Travel: Bring Your Own and Be Prepared”

  1. eascello says:

    I know this post is from a while ago, but if you’re still answering comments, I have a quick question.  We’re going to be traveling abroad for our honeymoon soon (!), and I was planning on packing my baking soda/corn starch deodorant mixture.  Have you run into any problems with this on airline security?  Thanks!! :)

    • BethTerry says:

      Great question. Only a couple of times TSA officers ran it through their special scanner and then handed it back when it checked out as safe, but that’s the worst that’s ever happened. I used it as an opportunity to tell them how baking soda is a great deodorant. Usually, it goes through without any problem at all.

  2. Laura says:

    How do you deal with the *attitude* of others?  On a recent flight I had a flight attendant give me an absolutely horrified look – like I had just tried to hand her poop – and tell me she could not do it for safety reasons – when I wanted her to put water in my wide mouth water bottle.  She handed me a plastic cup and told me I could do it myself.   I am sure you must encounter a lot of this, I do  (the other day I had a cashier told me she hated reusable bags because “they were so dirty”) and I can usually shake it off – but that flight attendant rattled me!  Thanks!!

    • BethTerry says:

      I tell myself it’s about them, not me, and that they just need to be educated.  I have never had a flight attendant refuse to fill my reusable bottle. What airline was it?  If I were you, I would write to the airline.

  3. Loved this!!! Sometimes I just give up ad get lazy. I feel re-inspired!
    I can say that I always bring my own cup on planes, and they go with it. I can’t stand that every passenger uses multiple cups each trip!
    I will go buy a new mug (old one broke) tomorrow!

    Thanks so much, aninha

  4. peajay says:

    Dorothy, I can answer: The lunchbots are stainless steel (yay!) Not sure where Beth bought hers, but I found them for a reasonable (?) price on Amazon. Be sure to ask them for their “frustration free” packaging. I still have one waiting in my cart, while trying to decide whether to get a reusable cone coffee filter, or to give away my plastic coffee maker and get a french press (all are in the cart awaiting birthday money and my decision). I have been searching for a used French press with no luck. I’m thinking this means they really work and people like them. ; )

  5. peajay says:

    Jen and Beth: I agree with Beth; skip the nasty “free” meal. It’s the fakest of fake nasty food, totally not worth eating. Just be sure to say “no thanks” to the meal when booking your flight. Some airlines can not/ will not simply use the meal they had ready for you (based on flight manifest) on the next flight. Everything just gets tossed. So sad, so stupid, so wasteful. I wish they would just stop serving all together. Then folks would learn what can pass through TSA and bring stuff they really want anyway. And not be in my way for an hour when I need to pee!
    I find I usually feel quite bloated on a plane (only fly maybe once or twice a year) and am not hungry. A few soaked walnuts usually get me through even a cross-country flight. As far as utensils go, hashi (chopsticks) are all I need, as long as I am willing to eat Nihon-style (Japanese). I lived there for 3 years, so this doesn’t bother me a bit. I do have a “hobo knife” for travel that doesn’t involve planes, though. And I would like a glass straw. I have been dealing without one, but ice near my teeth has always bothered me. Color me picky.
    Love, love, LOVE this blog!!! And your entire site. So helpful and informative!

  6. MJ says:

    Grapes, some nice Gouda and made from scratch muffins care of my dear husband. Couldn’t avoid the plastic on the cheese from the store, but I’m learning. We buy as much food as we can from our beloved farmer’s market which comes sans packaging.

  7. MJ says:

    Beth, I’m waiting in the airport for my flight having just gone through security. No problems with my reusable bamboo utensils, reusable mug or water bottle. Just my braid that they thought I might hide a weapon in?! I’m actually looking forward to the meal on the plane, having packed it myself. Thanks for being a constant inspiration. Keep up the good work!

  8. You sure know how to travel wisely. Everything is very useful and I love the lunchbot – is it made of aluminum? Where can I buy one?

    Thanks Jen, nice tips :)

  9. Beth Terry says:

    Hi Jen. I just bring my own food and skip the airline meal. It’s crap anyway. And it will be served in all kinds of disposable packaging — not just the utensils. I don’t care if it’s free — to me it’s not worth it.

  10. Jen says:

    Does anyone have any solutions for when you are flying where a meal is provided? If I know I am getting a meal I don’t bring a meal (other than snacks) but if I bring my own utensils (haven’t done this yet) they will just throw out the plastic utensils that are on the tray (if they are plastic…some airlines have stainless steel). Kind of defeats the whole purpose.

  11. Suzanne says:

    I took my first cruise last week and was delighted to see everywhere we ate on the boat had real silverware and cloth napkins, and reusable plastic glasses.
    I knew that waste is a big deal on a boat, no where to store it, but I loved not haing to throw anything away.
    I did take my water bottle with me and filled it up n the morning and used it throughout the day on our excursions, that helped so I didn’t have to buy any water while out.

  12. Beth Terry says:

    Hi Maureen. It was Purpale Strawberry, but sadly it looks like she’s not selling anything right now. You could send her a message though.

    She custom-made my wrap to make it longer for my chopsticks.

  13. Tracy Gaudet says:

    I love your ideas! I have committed to a ceramic coffee cup and took a B.Y.O.B. pledge but reusable utensils is something I really need to get into!

  14. Danielle says:

    Regarding shampoo bars… I struggled to find a bar that worked for us. For the past few months we’ve been using Chagrin Valley Shampoo bars. I had issues– greasy feeling hair– when I first switched, but it turns out we were having issues with our water softener (we have a well) that made our water VERY VERY hard. But now that we have our water softener working properly… my hair feels and looks amazing :)

    Oh, and the reason that I chose Chagrin Valley is because they rate very good on the EWG cosmetics database (unlike Lush and some other shampoo bars that I looked into purchasing)

  15. Maureen says:

    Hi Beth! Just wondering if you could share the link to the Etsy seller who made the utensil wrap. I’d love to purchase one from them.

  16. Catherine Sutton says:

    I have gleaned a lot of great ideas from this blog, but one thing bothers me. Have you thought about stopping this air travel thing altogether? Supporting plane travel is one of the worst things we can do to our environment. What’s the point of refusing a plastic straw if you still participate in sending huge amounts of carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere?

  17. Emily says:

    It’s great that you re-use your TSA-approved ziploc bag, but in my experience you don’t even need it! I separate travel-size liquid containers in a small cosmetics bag (definitely not clear) and put it on top of everything else in the screening bins. I’ve never had a complaint form the TSA.

  18. Christy says:

    Oh, wow! I just found your blog and loveloveLOVE this post in particular. I have been trying to find resources that connect traveling and waste reduction- thanks for more great ideas! It took me too long to get my own reusable utensils and stop using the ones from the airline. My Kleen Kanteen water bottle and I are going on three years together :)
    Will definitely link this post from my blog! Keeo up the great work!

  19. Melissa Brown says:

    What kind of things do you pack in your lunchbots? Looks like GORP & apple slices and… Stuffed grape leaves & cous cous? I do pretty good with travel except remembering a snack. My brain goes dead & I can’t think what to bring.

  20. Pheas says:

    Whalegeek, I like the metal bar holders from LUSH. They are inexpensive and lightweight.

  21. Beth Terry says:

    D.C. I really only bring the shampoo bar when I travel because it’s just easier. The Burt’s Bees is fine for that. At home, I use baking soda/apple cider vinegar. Just discovered a store down here in Florida called Basin, which is similar to Lush, and picked up a few conditioner bars to try.

  22. D.C. says:

    How’s the shampoo/no poo situation going? I tried the baking soda and it didn’t work out for me and Liggett’s is currently doing a number on my hair (matted, greasy, static-y). Is the Burt’s Bees better than Liggetts?

  23. Beth Terry says:

    Kay, brilliant idea! The water down here in Orlando tastes and smells awful to me.

  24. Kay Pere says:

    Oh, and I almost always bring my own food, too, when flying. It IS a lot of fun to unpack a little picnic, all stored in resealable containers, cloth napkin, reusable utensils. My kit isn’t plastic free because my goal is to continue using what I’ve got rather than buying new.

    Had lots of people tell me they didn’t know we were allowed to bring our own food. A good conversation starter.

    Everything’s allowable as long as it’s not a gel or liquid. I wouldn’t push my luck by bringing along pudding or yoghurt. Fruit like grapes and apples, no problems. Hard boiled egg, already shelled, just fine.

    No problems w/ PB&J sandwiches so far, but I have been on flights in the past where no peanuts have been handed out because someone on the flight had a peanut allergy. They usually announce this sort of thing at the beginning of the flight. If that happened I’d just wait until we disembarked to eat the sandwich.

  25. Kay Pere says:

    I’ve found a solution to mask the funny taste of drinking fountain water at when I’m traveling

    I carry a sports bottle for water, empty except for a wedge of lemon or lime dropped into the bottle before I leave home. When I fill it up after getting through airport security the lemon or lime flavor covers any tap water tastes.

    Whenever I get lemons I cut them into wedges right away then place them in a heavy glass jar in the freezer. That way I don’t have to worry about buying fresh lemons all the time, plus they add a nice chill to the water.

    Even at home or while I’m working, I find that I drink more water during the day if there’s a hint of citrus in it.

  26. Melissa says:

    I flew from Oakland to Seattle yesterday, and made it through security with my carry-on suitcase with a Lunchbot, a metal fork, my (empty) insulated coffee mug & my (empty) Kanteen, without any problems. I don’t even think they looked at the screen, as the lady standing there was texting on her phone. I probably could have gotten away with a full thing of tea and more than 3 oz of facewash….arg.

    I am still using facewash and moisturizer from plastic containers (unfortunately) and filled up little midget tupperware 2oz containers that I had from a long time ago. Still plastic, but at least reused and reusable again plastic.

    I really need to make a utensil roll like that, I just throw them loose in my purse. Good thing I don’t care about germs….

  27. Beth Terry says:

    Hi Whalegeek. I’ll be in that situation tomorrow. I plan to dry it w a towel & then wrap it in a cloth hankie.

  28. Whalegeek says:

    Great tips! I will likely be flying in November for the first time in several years (before the limits on taking filled water bottles through security, for example). My question is about soaps… I use a natural bar soap (Sweetgrass Farms, made in NH) and also a bar shampoo (Liggett’s). For the trip home, they wouldn’t be getting packed when dry as I would shower before leaving. What would you recommend as a replacement for a plastic bag or soap case for packing these? (not just for flying, really, but for any travel, though flying certainly merits trying to take up less space)

  29. Val says:

    I’ve had a (regular, metal) fork taken away from me by airline security before, and that was before the liquid restrictions came into place. Now I tend to save plastic utensils when they’re unavoidable and bring them along for air travel.

  30. ODog says:

    With regard to taking eating utensils on a plane, my backpack always has a stainless steel fork, knife, and spoon in it. So when I take it on trips, sometimes I forget that stuff’s in there.

    I’ve never gotten any hassle for the fork, but I’ve had multiple butter knives taken away from me due to their ever-so-slight serration. I find it odd that those barely serrated edges result in confiscation but that everyone’s OK with a fork..

    Perhaps a wooden/bamboo knife is the way to go.

  31. Eve says:

    I too take my steel travel mug and have never had a problem w/airport security or the flight attendants. On my last trip, I was nervous about taking my bamboo utensils (knife) ‘cuz I didn’t want it to get confiscated, but the TSA web site listed knives such as dull, butter-type as acceptable, so I took it as well, w/no trouble. Thanks for all the other travel tips – I’m starting my list for my next trip this fall!

  32. Michelle says:

    Awesome! I´ve been doing the water trick for ages. You also save a ton of cash. Wow, they know how to charge for a bottle of water!! Unbelievable. & the food etc is horrible & costs a fortune. Luckily all my cosmetics are solid, so that sorts that out. Loving your utensil kit….

  33. rho says:

    To Martha, who didn’t like the Burt’s Bees Rosemary Shampoo Bar: I tried that one too, but I prefer Just Soap’s rosemary shampoo bar because it has a more luxurious lather. Also, it’s mixed with a human-powered bicycle blender, which is fun and ecological! I order it from

  34. Pheas says:

    Beth, thanks. I have the same utensil set and have not had trouble, but that metal fork looked dangerous!

    Martha, the Burt’s Bees bar didn’t work well for me, either. I like the J. R. Liggett ones, though (

    Jenny, I like to wax before a trip, then I don’t have the hassle of shaving while away from home. But I started checking my luggage when the liquid restrictions started. I like to keep my toiletry bag packed with everything I need to be comfortable on a trip, and I just find it too annoying to pack a separate plastic bag of portioned-out liquids!

    Gina, I love my glass straw, but I have a stainless one I keep in my purse. The glass ones are very sturdy, but I know even *I* can’t damage a stainless one!

  35. Clif says:

    A good friend of mine when traveling by car with kids, took along a very large jug filled with diluted bleach. When the kids needed a diaper change, into the jug went the used cotton diapers to be laundered later.

    This was in the early 1980’s…he and his wife were way ahead of the rest of us.

  36. Danielle says:

    @ Martha

    All the flights I’ve ever been on the water is poured from a “larger” plastic bottle of water. We fill up our reusable mugs at a water fountain or get water from a soda fountain before we get on the plane… then we just say “no thank you” when the flight attendants come around for beverage service :)

  37. Gina says:

    Wow, glass straws! I am so getting these right now! Straws stress me out so much – all that plastic, sometimes wrapped in other plastic. I avoid them when I can (which is most of the time), but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I don’t know how I never realized that there were glass straws out there!

  38. shona- LALA dex press says:

    Rob + underbelly- as long as it’s empty when you go through security, it’s no problem.

    I tend to travel with a glass Pyrex dish (yes, the top is plastic) with food for the plane trip + it’s funny to see the varying expressions of the people around me when I’m eating a homemade meal, complete with a cloth napkin + metal spoon (I don’t have wooden utensils and they don’t confiscate spoons).

    Great tips!

  39. Beth Terry says:

    underbelly — I’ve never had any problem taking glass jars through security.

    Lydia — maybe people can hide contraband inside the double walls?

    Martha — I just stick the toothbrush in and scoop it out. I’m the only one using it, so I’m not worried about germs.

    Rob — not a violation. They just might check it extra.

    Jenny — Good point. I still have a plastic Venus razor that I only use for traveling. I take good care of the blades so they’ll last.

  40. Jessica says:

    Rob- I’ve taken stainless steel mugs through security multiple times and never had any problems.

  41. Jenny says:

    What do you do about shaving when you’re on a long trip? I was very happy to not have to check luggage on my last trip but the TSA website said that my metal safety razor wasn’t allowed. I can usually go without shaving, but I was in a wedding. I ended up using a disposable, which was annoying.

  42. Rob says:

    I am confused (also don’t travel much) You can take your Stainless Steel mug on a plane? I thought this was a TSA violation.

  43. Martha says:

    We travel alot and have also gotten in to taking travel mugs as opposed to water bottles. Airlines vary on how cooperative they are in filling YOUR container with a beverage. I’ve had some refuse, one saying it was “against regulations” and one because she (personally) thought it was unsanitary, and flatly said, “I won’t do it.” Some just don’t want to pour it into the container and have given me water in a plastic glass so I can pour it in myself! Duh!
    My question to you Beth is, isn’t it a little difficult to get the toothpaste on to your toothbrush from that pill container??
    I have gotten rid of liquid hand soap, but not shampoo yet. I tried that Burt’s Bees Rosemary Shampoo Bar and it just did not work well for me at all. I keep looking for another alternative…
    Thanks for all your ideas, Beth. Keep them coming!

  44. Lydia says:

    I wonder why there would be concern about insulated reusable mugs? I can’t think of how something like that could be misused. Odd.

  45. Jessica says:

    You forgot one of the best parts about reusable water bottles/mugs on the airplane: they have tops on them, so no worrying about spilling drinks in those little plastic cups all over the place!


  46. Beth Terry says:

    Pheas, I’ve never had problems getting through security with my fork or with my bamboo knife. (I had a bamboo fork too, but I lost it.) I think as long as they’re not sharp…

  47. autumn says:

    thank you. so timely, i’m flying friday and never knew they throw away the pillows. disgusting. i’ll gladly use my sweatshirt. i hoping to get a smile this time from the flight attendant when i hand them my sportsbottle for the free beverage.

  48. underbelly says:

    Beth, do you ever have problems taking glass jars through security? I’ve always wondered about that.

  49. Val says:

    I use this product for my liquids and gels when travelling. It does use plastic, but is much more durable than a ziploc bag so it probably results in less plastic used over time for anyone who travels much. I’ve never been asked to use a separate bag for my liquids with this.

  50. Shannon says:

    LOVE this! I don’t have any traveling until August but when I had to unexpectantly travel in October, I didn’t have time to pull all of this stuff together and I was, well, screwed. Saving this for later!

  51. Kumi says:

    Great idea about packing food, tea leaves and tea ball! I’ll remember for next time I have to fly. I also wondered if you had any problems with those utensils in your carry-on, especially those sharp forks…

  52. Danielle says:

    We have the insulated Klean Kanteens… and get this… on our way home from our most recent trip… when I went to fill up our water bottles– after making it through security– I noticed that one of my bottles had about a half a cup of water in it (oops… I forgot to double check!!) and they didn’t even notice!!! Which I found strange because we had to do the x-ray body scan thing!!! I would’ve thought that airport would’ve been meticulous about everything…. hmmm…

  53. Debra Baida says:

    Beth! You amazed me yet again with an ingenious idea: toothpaste out of the tube and into a small container. While (thankfully) I don’t have prescription bottles to reuse, you’ve planted the seed for a new use for two underused tiny glass jam jars!

    Let me know when you’re back in town. We’re overdue for lunch or tea!

  54. Pheas says:

    Have you had any trouble with your fork or knife in your carry-on?

    I did have my water bottle go through additional screening on a recent trip, but it was no big deal. They swabbed it and my hands with gauze, which they then analyzed. It only took a minute.


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