10 Tips to Travel Without Plastic Water Bottles

Is it actually possible to travel without plastic water bottles? It sure is! Traveling without plastic is challenging, but it’s not impossible. The first step is to avoid the worst plastic offender of them all: the single-use water bottle.

Water bottle litter in Vietnam

I am living proof that you CAN entirely travel without plastic water bottles. It is now two years since I last lifted a single-use plastic water bottle to my lips, and I spent most of that time traveling full time.

Here are 10 tips to help you ditch plastic water bottles even when you’re on the road:

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1. Get a foldable, reusable water bottle, and carry it EVERYWHERE

My favorite traveling companion is the Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle. It rolls right up into a tiny ball when I’m going through airport security and it works for both cold and hot drinks, so I never use a single-use coffee cup either! The Nomader retails for $21.95 on Amazon.

Nomader collapsible water bottle

The key to travel without plastic is to carry your reusable water bottle everywhere. If you forget it, you will be tempted to snag one of the plastic water bottles sold from the coolers of street-side vendors at every tourist site known to man. With your own water bottle in tow, you can buy the fresh fruit sold from those same vendors instead!

More than 22 Billion water bottles are thrown away each year. And only one in every six water bottles purchased in the United States is recycled. Much of this ends up in our waterways.

@americanrivers

Bonus Tip: Sometimes it is hard to get the coffee smell out of a hot/cold reusable water bottle. If you want a separate, collapsible cup for your coffee, try the Stojo cup. It works really well and looks cool, too. The 12-oz cup sells for $15 directly from Stojo as well as from Amazon:

collapsible, reusable coffee cup
Eco-friendly packing list opt-in for men

2. Use an over-the-shoulder holster to carry your reusable water bottle EVERYWHERE

Until I was given a water bottle holder in Thailand, I didn’t realize how much this would change my life. Especially once I upgraded to a carrier that does double duty as a wallet! After that, I just never left on a new adventure without a full bottle of water.

This was a game-changer on my quest to travel without plastic water bottles.

A reusable water bottle in a travel holster helps to travel without plastic water bottles.
My Nomader water bottle tucked into my over-the-shoulder carrier in France
Tactical Molle H2O Bottle Bag Retro Style with Adjustable Padded Shoulder Strap and Pockets

The amount of water bottles wasted every year would add up to half a billion pounds. That’s almost as heavy as the empire state building!

@americanrivers

Of course, if you aren’t into the over-the-shoulder holster, you can also try a small hydration backpack, like the stylish CamelBak Snoblast that carries two liters of water. It sells for $110.

CamelBak Hydration Pack carries two liters of water. Good for traveling without plastic water bottles

Bonus tip: I would absolutely pair any backpack with a luggage lock when traveling.

Extra bonus tip: When buying expensive items like a backpack, check out used gear sites like Geartrade where you can buy (and sell!) gently used clothes, backpacks, snowboards, and much more:

GearTrade sustainable advert
Eco-friendly packing list freebie

3. Get a SECOND foldable, reusable water bottle to guarantee you travel without plastic water bottles

Say what? Travel with two reusable water bottles?

There are two reasons to have a backup. The first is the obvious one and that’s that you may lose the one that you carry with you everywhere.

I’ll never forget the time I returned to the scene of the crime (an all-night dance party on the beach on the Gili islands of Indonesia) to find my water bottle – in its over-the-shoulder holster – waiting for me behind the make-shift bar. And that’s not the only time I’ve had to go searching for my water bottle when I left it behind!

If you want to try a different water bottle than the Nomader, check out the collapsible HydraPak. It sells for $28 at REI and comes with its own storage bag. Amazon also sells this collapsible water boggle for $28:

collapsible water bottle to avoid single-use plastic bottles

The second reason that you need two foldable, reusable water bottles is that sometimes you know that you won’t be able to fill your water bottle for quite some time.

I remember clearly the last plastic water bottle that I used. It was in April of 2019 on a bus somewhere between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The road was dusty, the windows were open, the April heat of Cambodia was baking me to the black vinyl seats of that sticky bus.

I caved at the pit stop and broke my three-month streak of travel without plastic, purchasing a single-use, water bottle for my parched throat.

CoalaTree Sustainable Ad

It won’t happen again. Now before a long trip, I now unfold the backup collapsible water bottle that is buried at the bottom of my bag and carry two full reusable water bottles with me on a bus or train.

The need to travel without plastic water bottles is made clear in this urban artwork in Pai.
A statement in plastic “art” in touristy Walking Street in Pai, Thailand

Beverage containers make up half of roadside litter. Much of those containers make it into our waterways.

@americanrivers

4. Never miss a chance to fill your reusable bottle

Fill your reusable water bottle at every chance to guarantee you won’t need to purchase a plastic water bottle. I do mean EVERY chance. If your water bottle is only half empty and you notice a water fountain or a water refill station, use it.

And once you start looking, you will notice many water refill stations. This brings me to…

5. Look for water refill stations everywhere when traveling (don’t be afraid to ask!)

In Asia, for instance, it’s pretty easy to find places to fill up your water bottle. Staying in a hotel is very economical in much of Asia and they usually have a filtered five-gallon jug of water in the lobby.

A water bottle littering the beach
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When I am struggling to find a public water refill station, I ask at restaurants, bars, hotels, tourist attractions, street vendor tents, you name it. I offer to pay them the cost of a plastic water bottle and explain that I am committed to traveling without plastic water bottles. They are usually more than happy to share.

It’s a little harder in the states and in Europe. But the worst that can happen when you ask is that someone turns you down, and then you just ask at the next place.

Remember: asking for a sustainable option helps us all get the message across to businesses that some consumers want to see fewer plastic water bottles in our oceans and landfills.

Also, you may be surprised at how many water refill stations that you find when you start looking for them. On my road trip through the western states, I found that almost all of the rest stops had water fountains. And the visitor centers at most National Parks had a place to refill.

A water refill station at the Golden Gate Bridge helps us travel without plastic water bottles.
A water refill station in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge

I also had a water jug in my car that I refilled at these Safeway refill stations:

A water refill station at Safeway helps us all travel without plastic water bottles
A water refill station at Safeway in the United States

6. Don’t be afraid to ask your hotel if you don’t see a water refill station

I have only had one hotel that hasn’t resolved this issue for me, though, admittedly, I’ve have had to get pretty creative at some establishments.

I was granted permission to use the employee water refill station in one hotel in Saigon. The kitchen staff simply got used to seeing me pop in to fill up my water bottle. They sort of laughed at my commitment to travel without plastic water bottles, but they also heard the message loud and clear!

And the owner of the bungalow where I stayed on the Indonesian island of Bali even sold me one of his five-gallon water jugs and carried it to my porch.

This five-gallon water jug helped me travel without plastic water bottles for a month in Bali!
On the porch of my bungalow in Bali

The staff was confused at first, wondering why I refused the water bottles that they sold at the front desk, but once they figured out that I wouldn’t use single-use plastic, they kept an eye on my water supply throughout my 30-day stay and actually swapped my jug for a full one when I got low.

Bonus Tip: I always politely refuse the free, single-use plastic water bottles handed to me at check-in, and I return the ones left in my room back to the front desk, explaining that, while I appreciate the generosity, I travel without plastic.

Providing complimentary water bottles instead of a refilling station might get bonus points from the majority of hotel guests, but not those sustainably savvy guests who avoid using plastic even when traveling.

My hope is that if more people do this, businesses will change their ways.

CoalaTree sustainable advert

Business owners want to make the consumer happy, and reminding them that there are customers who won’t use plastic is one way to get businesses and corporations thinking about their environmental impact. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. Nine times out of 10, they will appreciate your effort.

7. Carry water-purification tablets to avoid the need to travel with plastic water bottles

The one time that I did have an issue with getting water at a hotel, I was in the United States where tap water is mostly safe for me to drink. But, when filling up at the sink, it’s best to use Aquatabs.

Aquatabs keep your water safe when traveling

These tiny tablets are easy to carry and they kill micro-organisms in water, preventing water-borne illness. They are cheap, too. Like $12 for 100 on Amazon.

I used Aquatabs every single day in Spain when walking the Camino de Santiago, filling up from random, roadside spigots and from restaurant sinks, and the only time that I got sick was definitely not from water. (Stupid refried beans.) Aquatabs sell for

8. Carry a SteriPen

A SteriPen performs the same magic trick that water tablets do. It looks much cooler, too!

Rechargeable Portable Steripen

Pros: It’s just cool and it will purify 16-oz of water in less than a minute (versus the 15-minutes the tablets will take) using ultraviolet light.

Cons: It’s a little larger in terms of packing space than water tablets but fits easily in a shoe, and it’s more expensive (you pay for this kind of cool!), retailing for $80 on Amazon. It also requires charging.

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You can’t go wrong with having one of these as well as a few water tablets tucked away somewhere for good measure in case you run out of charge. This way you will guarantee you can travel without plastic water bottles!

Bonus Tip: If you want to save a few bucks and upping your sustainability ante, check out these SteriPen options from Geartrade, a super cool site that sells (and buys!) gently used gear.

Extra Bonus tip: Combine your extra reusable water bottle with a filtration system like the LifeStraw water bottle. The straw filters out bacteria and parasites and the water bottle is BPA-free. While it’s not collapsible, this water bottle is a great option to guarantee safe drinking water and travel without plastic water bottles.

The LifeStraw water bottle sells for $40 from REI or $35 from Amazon:

lifestraw water bottles help you avoid plastic water bottles

If you want to shop for more filtered options, my friend Vanessa at the blog Traveling Ness details seven of the best filtered water bottles for travel here.

9. Staying in a rented apartment? Buy a five-gallon water jug to guarantee travel without plastic water bottles

One of my fondest memories in Cambodia is one of my dad’s least favorite memories (at least at the moment…he laughs about it now).

We had just gotten off that hot bus that I mentioned above, and I was feeling guilty about breaking my single-use water bottle ban. We were staying in a rented apartment and – of all things – there was a power outage. Having no AC in the sweltering April heat of Siem Reap is, well, not ideal.

Let’s just say, we needed copious amounts of water.

So, we walked down to the little shop at the end of the dirt road where our rented apartment was located, and we negotiated to buy a five-gallon water jug, which we brought back at the end of our trip for the store to reuse.

Now…getting it home was a whole other issue…

It was 100-degrees outside! (38-degrees Celcius)

10. Carry a collapsible wine cup in your carry-on to avoid using plastic cups

If you’re like: What? A collapsible cup AND a collapsible water bottle? Hear me out…

You’ve made it through airport security. You’ve unfurled your Nomader, collapsible, reusable, bad-ass water bottle, and you’ve filled it at the refilling station before settling into your airplane seat for takeoff.

Then the flight attendant offers you a nice (glass) bottle of cool, red wine…and a plastic cup. NOW, what do you do? If you feel the same way as I do about airplanes, turning down the wine is not an option!

Eco-Friendly Wine Cup for Travel

When I know I’m going to be on a plane, I use a fun little cup that I found in a local store near my hometown. It sparks so many conversations with passengers and flight crew alike!

I also have a collapsible cup (and bowl) that fold completely flat and are always tucked into my backpack.

I forget about it until I really need it. Like that time my flight got canceled in Spain and I had to stand in line for hours. I really needed that discreet cup of wine!

Travel without plastic water bottles means being prepared with reusable cups all the time!
Using my Sea to Summit collapsible cup for wine while standing in line after a canceled flight

The collapsible cup you see above sells for $12 directly from seatosummitusa.com or for $19 from Amazon:

collapsible cup to avoid single-use plastic

Now you have it! Ten tips to help you travel without plastic water bottles even when traveling. It’s possible. I promise!

If you enjoyed this post, you will love this list of eco-friendly travel products that you will use forever. Or check out my collection of sustainable travel and green living tips and tricks. Thank you for your commitment to our Earth!

37 Comments on “10 Tips to Travel Without Plastic Water Bottles”

  1. They say ignorance is bliss, but no it’s not. I’ve never bought water purification tablets. I think that’s the solution I need from this blog. Do they work on water everywhere?

    • I love the tablets because they are lightweight and easily tucked into a bag for emergency situations. They aren’t perfect though. They protect against *most* harmful microorganisms. Best used from a tap and/or in clear water (everywhere).

  2. Great tips! Would never think to pack a collapsible wine cup so maybe I’ll add it to my packing list next time. I do like my trusty lifestraw too.

  3. These are all great tips! I try to use as little single-use plastic as possible, however, I want to do better. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for reading, Cristina! And thanks for doing better. Those small decisions made in our daily lives add up to make a big difference.

  4. We take our re-usable drink bottles everywhere but I do like the idea of a collapsible cup. Saying no to the wine on planes is not an option for me either haha

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  6. I love this post and all your good ideas! I bought a shoulder holster for hiking but find I bring it with me everywhere now and am lapping up all your other suggestions. Thank you!

    • You are my people, Melinda! I also bring that shoulder holster all over the place. I’m looking for a more stylish one…let me know if you have any tips!

  7. I don’t remember the last time I bought a plastic bottle of water! I use a Laken metal bottle and have a handbag big enough to hold it 😉 Great suggestions – like the water bottle strap / carrier!

  8. Great article! I like the over-the-shoulder holster, this just secures the bottle and you don’t need to worry if you have a small bag. All these stuffs are great buys for sustainability.

  9. Love this! I’ve got quite a selection of reusable bottles including a great one with a handle for running. I’m tempted by the holster though for my Chilly bottle as I end up clamping it between my knees when I want to stop and take a photo! ?

  10. I normally travel with a reusable water bottle and a large cup that I use for tea. It’s made travel so much easier and I’m glad not to rely on reusable water bottles. I do need to invest in either purifying tablets or steripen!

    • I’m so glad you travel with your water bottle! Yeah, the tablets and steripen (or lifestraw water bottle) are key in those places where you just don’t quite trust the water. I love the tablets because they are so light and cheap. (But they do take a while before you can drink the water. That sometimes sucked when I was walking across Spain!)

  11. You’ve inspired me to do much better ditching the plastic. Plus, a water bottle holster! Now I won’t have to hand off my water bottle to my wife every time I want to take a picture 🙂 She thanks you!

  12. I try to carry my water bottle with a snap hook but it’s much too wobbly. I think I should really consider a proper holster… Btw I love the picture of you and the wine in the airport. I can relate so much 🙂

  13. Traveling without plastic water bottles is a must going forward! I always bring a refillable bottle everywhere I go 🙂 wonderful list. I’ll have to see if I need an extra!

    • So glad you always bring your water bottle, Lannie! I used to leave mine behind in my hotel/apartment rental. I hate that I contributed to the water bottle mess for so long.

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  15. You have really mastered this, Jen. Thanks for the great tips. You and Franny have shamed us big time so we don’t use single use plastic any more, but these tips will make us much more SAVVY.

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