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 a 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 ounces or smaller if flying) at home and avoid all the extra packaging waste from travel sizes.

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.

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Did you bring the utensils through TSA? Did you have any issues?


Do you know if I can bring my metal straws and tumbler through TSA and in my carry on? I use metal stainless steel staws instead of plastic.


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!! :)

Beth Terry

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.




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… Read more »

Beth Terry

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.

aninha esperanza Livingstone

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


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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.


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!

Dorothy Bocas

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 :)

Beth Terry

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.


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.


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.

Tracy Gaudet

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!


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… Read more »


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.

Catherine Sutton

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?


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.


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!

Melissa Brown

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.


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

Beth Terry

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.


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?

Beth Terry

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

Kay Pere

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… Read more »

Kay Pere

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… Read more »


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… Read more »

Beth Terry

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


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… Read more »


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.


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.


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!


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….


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


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… Read more »


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.


@ 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 :)


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!

shona- LALA dex press

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!


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


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.


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.


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… Read more »


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


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!



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.


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