Zero Waste Travel Kit: 19 Essentials to Pack

Written by • Last Updated April 20, 2021

As someone who travels frequently for work, I’m always looking for ways to offset my carbon footprint. And one of the most impactful changes I made to my packing routine was creating a zero waste travel kit.

To be candid, I was hesitant to switch to sustainable travel products. When you’re in vacation mode (or work mode), the last thing you want is to feel inconvenienced.

But after years of burning through mini shampoo bottles and disposable razor blades, I knew enough was enough.

Luckily, using a zero waste travel kit in lieu of traditional supplies doesn’t feel like a chore! In fact, many of these items–like shampoo bars–make traveling and packing easier.

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Why use a zero waste travel kit?

Brown pouch with eco friendly travel products coming out, including toothpaste, toothbrush, cotton swabs, and sponges.

Have you ever found yourself playing a game of toiletry Tetris, where you’re trying to fit as many plastic bottles as possible into a small ziploc bag?

I certainly don’t miss those days. And by switching to zero waste travel products, you can put them behind you, too.

Here are some of the benefits of using an eco friendly travel kit:

  • No more last-minute shopping for travel-size toiletries
  • No more desperate searches for recycling bins
  • No more guilt when you see beautiful places littered with plastic waste

If you’ve already made some zero waste bathroom swaps, you can easily pack those products into your travel kit–no airline-approved containers required. No more tossing half-used bottles into that random drawer, only to be forgotten the nex time you take a trip.

RELATED: 10 Best Eco Friendly Backpacks for Every Occasion

Zero Waste Travel Products for Everyday Use

Sunscreen

I can’t imagine going on vacation without sunscreen! Thankfully, gone are the days of sunscreen only being available in plastic bottles.

Today, there are a number of zero waste sunscreen options that come in eco friendly packaging. Plus, they are free of harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in mass market products.

This Badger sunscreen is all-natural and reef-safe, which is a must to preserve marine life. In fact, more and more destinations are making it a requirement.

Reusable Water Bottle

If you haven’t already invested in a good reusable water bottle, get on it ASAP!

Seriously, this isn’t just about the environment–regular plastic bottles have BPA which is toxic to, well, every living thing. Under extreme heat, or just after repeated use, these toxins leak into the water. And I think we can all agree that’s bad.

There are tons of options out there, but my favorite is this stainless steel bottle from Tree Tribe. They are not only BPA and plastic free, but Tree Tribe also plants a tree for every purchase, making them doubly sustainable travel products.

Reusable Cutlery

Plastic cutlery is hard to avoid if you’re dining out on a budget. I’ve been known to eat with my hands and drink soup straight from the container to avoid single-use plastic. But reusable cutlery is a much better alternative.

This stainless steel set even comes with a carrying case. Simply rinse or wipe down the utensils, pop them in the case, and wash everything back at your accommodation.

Metal Straws

This won’t be a must for everyone’s zero waste travel kit. But if you like to use straws, please invest in some metal ones. Metal straws are definitely the way to go since plastic straws are responsible for 4% of global waste! 

In many countries, plastic straws still come with your drink by default. And if you don’t speak the local language, it can be hard to refuse one. In these cases, I’ve found that holding up my reusable straw is an easy way to signal that a plastic one isn’t necessary.

Reusable Coffee Mug

As someone who routinely walks 20,000+ steps a day on vacation, I need coffee to power my sightseeing. Once I got into zero waste coffee, I was keen to add a reusable coffee mug to my eco friendly travel kit.

I use a glass and silicone cup in my daily life, but I recommend a stainless steel mug for travel. No one wants shattered glass to ruin their trip!

In my experience, most coffee shops are happy to pour your drink directly into a reusable mug instead of one of their non-recyclable cups. In fact, many even offer a discount for doing so.

Check out my post on the best eco friendly travel mugs for more recommendations.

Silicone Ziplock Bags

If you are the kind of person who likes to have snacks on the ready while you travel, silicone ziplock bags are a must for your zero waste travel kit!

These are especially handy for kids, but as an adult I use them as well. They are easy to wash, and I can pack all my favorite zero waste snacks to have for long bus rides or hikes. They also double as mini trash bags if you’re somewhere like Japan, where waste bins are hard to find.

Mask

Isolated image of green reusable face mask.

The pandemic may have introduced daily mask-wearing to the West. But there are many countries where the air pollution gets bad enough that masks are commonplace, especially in winter.

With reusable masks, you can protect yourself from the environment AND help save it from waste.

This one from Cotopaxi is great because they’re made from 100% repurposed cotton, and Cotopaxi donate 1% of all their annual earnings to humanitarian aid organizations.

Sustainable Toiletry Bag

After assembling your zero waste travel supplies, you’ll need somewhere to keep them. And if you aren’t using a sustainably-made toiletry bag, it sort of defeats the purpose.

This colorful hanging organizer is made from recycled bottles, so it’s naturally water-resistant. It’s the perfect size to hold all your toiletries and self-care accessories.

Eco Friendly Backpack

Buying a good, sturdy backpack may cost more than the average mass-market variety. But if there’s one accessory that’s worth a few extra bucks, it’s the one that hauls your important stuff around the world.

Investing in a travel backpack that’s made with sustainable materials will save your wallet AND the planet a whole lot of resources.

I’ve written an entire post on the best eco-friendly backpacks, but the Osprey Fairview is my favorite.

Osprey’s backpacks are designed specifically for travelers. They come with so many extra pockets and features I didn’t even realize I wanted–or needed–until I had them.

Plus, Osprey’s “All Mighty Guarantee” means they will repair any damages for life, until the bag is literally falling apart.

Save me for later!

Zero Waste Travel Toiletries

Toothbrush + Floss

I am a BIG proponent of bamboo toothbrushes. I’ve even converted my parents to using them.

Bamboo is incredibly sustainable, and as long as you ensure the bristles are also plant-based, a bamboo based toothbrush will break down in 3 years. That is 99% faster than the plastic alternative.

I’ve tried a few different products, but these ones by GreenBoss are my favorite. The bristles are just the right firmness and don’t fall out like other brands.

And don’t forget to pack some biodegradable floss!

Toothpaste Tablets

At home, I use zero waste toothpaste from a glass jar. But for my zero waste travel toiletries kit, I actually prefer chewable tablets.

I count out exactly how many I need for short trips and put the ones I’m taking in a small container (you can use a finished toothpaste tablet container). Sometimes I even wind up using the empty case to easily bring back small trinkets like foreign coins of jewelry at the end of a trip.

Check out my post on the best zero waste toothpaste for more options!

Shampoo Bar + Conditioner

Zero waste shampoo bars are a concentrated form of hair cleanser that foams up when it comes into contact with water and the ingredients are activated.

They’re great for any eco friendly travel kit because in addition to washing your hair, they can be used to clean your whole body. That’s one less thing you have to pack!

I love HiBAR shampoo bars because they are cruelty-free, free of parabens and sulfates, and come in biodegradable packaging. They also have a wonderful conditioner option.

Deodorant Bar

Did you know that deodorant doesn’t just come in aerosol cans and plastic rollers?

In fact, there are lots of options in many forms:  bars, creams, powders… You’ll be spoilt for choice when adding zero waste deodorant to your eco friendly travel kit.

I find that deodorant bars and sticks are the best choice for travel, as you don’t need to worry about leaks or liquid screening.

Unfortunately, natural deodorant can take your body some time to adjust. So if you haven’t made the switch in your daily life, you’ll want to start using it a couple weeks before your trip (and ideally forever after!).

Cotton Swabs

On numerous occasions, I’ve been guilty of using the hotel-provided plastic cotton swabs. And it’s a double-whammy, because they’re also wrapped in plastic packaging.

Now, I’m always careful to stock my zero waste travel kit with biodegradable swabs. Bamboo swabs are fully biodegradable, and actually tend to be better quality than the plastic variety.

Lotion

Lotion is a staple of my travel kit. As a travel photographer, my hands are constantly exposed to the elements and dry out quickly.

But using lotion is a catch-22, since it can cause the very thing it provides relief from by slowing down your body’s natural moisturizing capabilities. That’s why natural lotion is amazing, because it actually moisturizes your skin without removing its natural outer layer. 

I recommend Moon Valley–they make an excellent all-natural lotion bar with a few scent options. If you don’t have dry skin you might find it to be too greasy, but it’s perfect for those who need the moisture.

Lip Balm

If you’re prone to chapped lips, you know it can take less than a month to go through chapstick. That’s a lot of empty lip balm cases sitting in landfills where they can take hundreds of years to decompose.

Luckily, more and more companies are coming out with all-natural, plastic-free lip balms. Most of them come in biodegradable paper or recyclable glass containers.

Personally, I travel with two zero waste lip balms at a time: one in my toiletries kit, and one in my pocket!

Reusable Makeup Remover Pads

The average makeup remover wipe takes 100 years to decompose! That’s longer than the average human lifespan. It’s even more depressing when you consider that most people who wear makeup do so every day.

One of the best zero waste travel toiletries you can buy are reusable makeup remover pads. And I absolutely love these ones from Marley’s Monsters.

They are made with 100% organic cotton and are incredibly soft, which always makes me look forward to using them. I was dubious about how easily they would clean, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised and cannot recommend this product enough.

Menstrual Cup

I’ve raved about menstrual cups before–they’re a key part of zero waste living for many women.

Silicone menstrual cups like the Saalt Cup are a win-win. They cut out the need for disposable tampons and pads, which saves you money AND valuable packing space.

So if you’ll be traveling during that time of the month, make sure you put a cup in your zero waste travel kit!

Safety Razor

The number one packing fail I used to make was forgetting part of my disposable razor. I can’t tell you how many times I packed the razor body without the blade, or vice versa.

But after switching to a safety razor, that problem disappeared.

Safety razors are the perfect sustainable alternative to plastic ones. They are usually made of stainless steel or bamboo. The stainless steel ones will last forever with proper care, while the bamboo ones will naturally biodegrade at the end of their life.

The only thing that needs to be replaced are the blades once they get dull, and they can be recycled safely by collecting them in a small aluminum can with a lid.

While this might not always find its way into your eco friendly travel kit for shorter trips, a durable razor is well worth investing in for when you do need it on the road.

Looking for more sustainable living ideas? Check out these posts:

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