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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.
I am living proof that you CAN entirely travel without plastic water bottles. It is now nearly three 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:
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 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!
2. Use an over-the-shoulder holster
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.
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.
This hydration backpack sells for $110.
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!
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.
It won’t happen again, because now before a long trip, I 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.
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.
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 you’ll 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.
I also had a water jug in my car that I refilled at these Safeway refill stations:
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 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.
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.
Tip: I always politely refuse the free, single-use plastic water bottles handed to me at check-in at a hotel, 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.
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 this to avoid traveling with plastic water bottles
- Easily fits in a bag or pocket
- Ensure you are always drinking clean water
- Use it if forced to fill up at a hotel sink
- Use it if forced to fill up at an airport bathroom
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.
These tiny tablets are easy to carry and they kill micro-organisms in water, preventing water-borne illness.
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.)
The disadvantage to water tabs is the packaging. If I have a bit more room in my bag, I often carry a water bottle with a filter.
Unfortunately, this won’t work in situations like walking the Camino de Santiago. The next time I walk across Spain, I’m going to spring for a SteriPEN (see below).
8. Carry a SteriPen
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!
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…
10. Carry a collapsible wine cup in your carry-on to avoid using plastic cups
- Wine glasses bend to fit in pocket
- Bowl and cup collapse flat to fit into bags or back pockets
- Saves countless plastic cups at festivals or on planes
- Bring a set of bendalbe wine glasses for group trips
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!
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!
Now you have it! Ten tips to help you travel without plastic water bottles even when traveling. It’s possible. I promise!
About the Author
Hi! I’m Jen!
I’m a freelance writer and travel blogger who quit my nine-to-five after my fiancé, Jeff, died of cancer at the age of 40. When he died, I realized that life is just too short to delay our dreams. Since my dream was to travel and write, I now travel and write full-time. Today I wear hiking boots instead of heels and collect experiences instead of things.