10 Tips to Avoid Using Plastic Water Bottles When Traveling

I get it. When you’re at home you avoid using plastic water bottles, more or less.

You reuse your plastic water bottles multiple times when you do buy them, and you recycle those bottles when they get too old. When you travel, you even collect all of your recyclable materials and plastic products and bring them to the neighborhood recycling bin.

a recycling bin in Europe
Neighborhood recycling bins in Europe

But entirely avoiding the use of plastic water bottles when you are traveling? That’s impossible, right?

I am living proof that you CAN entirely avoid using plastic water bottles even you’re on the road. It is now more than one year since I last lifted a plastic water bottle to my lips and most of that year was spent traveling full time.

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Here are 10 tips so you, too, can avoid using water bottles when traveling:

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!

Nomader collapsible water bottle

The key really is to carry it everywhere. If you forget your reusable water bottle, 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. (Source: @americanrivers) #WanderWithLove Click To Tweet

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 my hotel, Airbnb or bungalow without a full bottle of water.

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
According to @americanrivers, 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! #WanderWithLove Click To Tweet

3. Get a SECOND foldable, reusable water bottle for your luggage

Say what? Travel with two water bottles?

There are two reasons to have a backup water bottle. 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 purchased a single-use, plastic water bottle.

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.

A statement in plastic “art” in touristy Walking Street in Pai, Thailand
Beverage containers makes up half of roadside litter. Much of those containers make it into our waterways. Source @americanrivers#WanderWithLove Click To Tweet
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4. Fill That Reusable Water Bottle Every Chance You Get

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. Which brings me to…

A water bottle littering the beach
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5. Look for Water Refill Stations Everywhere When Traveling (Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!)

In Asia, 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 to fill up from their five-gallon jug, and 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 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.

Water refill station at the Golden Gate Bridge
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 in the United States
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.

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

Reusable water cooler
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 plastic, they kept on eye on my water supply throughout my 30-day stay and actually swapped my jug for a full one when I got low.

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

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 do not use single-use plastic.

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 Water-Purification Tablets to Avoid the Need to Use 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.

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.)

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).

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

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.

9. Staying in an Airbnb? Buy a Five-Gallon Water Jug

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 at an Airbnb 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 Airbnb 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 Cup in Your Carry-On

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 travel like me, turning down the wine is not an option!

My fancy wine cup for airplanes!

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 my collapsible cup that folds flat and is 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!

Using my collapsible cup for wine while standing in line after a canceled flight
Now you have it! Ten tips to help you avoid using plastic water bottles even when traveling. It's possible. I promise! Click To Tweet

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    1 Comments on “10 Tips to Avoid Using Plastic Water Bottles When Traveling”

    1. 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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