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What’s In My Zero Waste Carry-On?

One of my obsessions, passions, and lifestyles I’ve adopted is being zero waste. This passion has expanded beyond my house and into what I call my zero waste carry on. What is “zero waste,” you ask?

Zero waste is being intentional about the items you come in contact with over the course of your day with the aim to send nothing to the landfill. While that may sound overwhelming and lofty, don’t close your browser on this blog post! Trust me, it’s easier than it sounds.

Although I am passionate about identifying ways I can limit my waste, I am not perfect.  I create trash. I discard items for the landfill.  The key is progress, not perfection. Today I want to share with you what’s packed in my zero waste carry on.

I also want to remind you that you are not alone in being new to this concept of zero waste. I’ve been antidotally sharing new tips with friends for a few years.  You are not alone should you want to learn more about this lifestyle. There are so many resources I consult, as I work to identify additional ways to limit my waste and impact on the environment. I’ve linked a few of my favorite bloggers at the end of this post.


I recall exactly where I was when I first started diving deeper into these #zerowaste Instagram posts.  It was May 2017 and I was traveling to Buffalo, NY from New Orleans, LA with a team of college students. We had spent a week in New Orleans volunteering with organizations who were connecting 11 years of post-Hurricane Katrina recovery with the environment and food access.  It was an empowering and sobering week.

I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across an image that stated:

“The average American produces 4.5 pounds of trash each day.  That’s like tossing 45 million elephants into landfills each year.”

That quote transformed my life. In less than 2 years later I am sitting at my laptop writing about how I reduce my waste when I travel.  Crazy! My point is, you don’t have to start at a place of knowing all; just start.  Find your catalyst and get moving!

RELATED: 30 Day Zero Waste Challenge Recap


When possible, I only travel with a carry-on. Not only does this save some serious cash on my overall travel expenses, but reduces the weight I carry in my travels.  Overtime this small inconvenience will make a small dent in the harmful effects of traveling in a carbon-emitting airplane, train, or bus.  Besides the obvious essentials (like clothing), I pack the items outlined below to limit the impact I make on the waste stream.

The goal is to travel and experience the beauty the world holds; once you realize how much waste you can create in a single day it may be hard to separate your travel-self with your wasteful-self.  Instead, by trying to live a more zero waste life, I’ve found I have been able to have a life and travel experiences that are more in line with my values.


My reusable to-go mug is a must have in my carry-on.  I rarely leave the house without it! Single-use coffee cups typically include the cup, liner (so you don’t burn your hand), and lid. Even if you skip the liner and lid, you are creating waste; the cup can’t be recycled in most instances because of the plastic coating protecting the paper from getting wet. Similar to how coffee shops will refill your own mug in your hometown, the shops in the airport will do the same.  


While you can’t get butter knives through airport security (I tried), your fork and spoon can pass.  I typically toss a metal fork and spoon from my kitchen in a linen napkin anytime I leave the house; travel is no different. I also include an aluminum straw.

Snacks are also a must.  I get hangry (an endearing hungry/angry combination) and airport/train station prices are no joke. To limit my travel costs and waste, I typically bring snacks with me.  

Some of my go-tos include: trail mix (purchased package- and plastic-free from the bulk section of the grocery store), a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a smear of peanut butter with a piece of fruit. I either bring a cloth bag or a small container to safely enclose the snacks.  Again, this can all go through airport security.  There have been times when they’ve searched my bags to get a more detailed look, but once they take a look personally (instead of only on the monitor), I have not had any issues.

When my best friend and I took a 6-hour train ride, I was so thankful to have packed some snacks.  Being able to control how much I spent and ensuring that I could save my budget for more important purchases once we arrived at our destination is worth so much.

I also typically travel with a few tea bags.  Although some tea bags can be composted, many are actually made with plastic woven into the bag. Sometimes trash is created when you travel, but it’s certainly less than a single-use to-go cup from a coffee shop.


To keep myself busy on the flight, I know I’m like most when I bring something to keep me occupied. I always check to verify I have my headphones, phone charger, and book. This quick once-over ensures I don’t have to purchase anything in the airport.

The less we unnecessarily purchase in the airport, on the flight, and in general, the less resources will be used and the less damage done to the environment due to the manufacturing packaging, and delivery of an item.


I tend to run cold on when I travel, so I pack/wear a scarf, sweater, and cozy socks. I don’t want to have to rent a blanket on an airplane (they come wrapped in plastic that then gets tossed away). In my humble opinion, layers are your best friend no matter what you are doing throughout your day.


Although you aren’t permitted to take a filled water bottle through airport security, you can take an empty bottle.  Once past security, I head straight to the water fountain to fill up my bottle.  Not only does this limit my need to purchase a single-use plastic water bottle, it also decreases my impulse to purchase a sugary beverage.  I make sure to fill up the bottle before boarding.

Not only do I depend on my reusable water bottle to keep me hydrated when traveling, I also make sure to give my skin some hydration. Rather than buying a fancy travel serum or cream (in a plastic tube that can only be tossed after its use), I make my own.  Using a recipe from Sustainyoself, I make a cream of cocoa butter, olive oil, and coconut oil before leaving for a trip.  Throughout the flight, ride, or drive, I make sure to slather the creamy substance all over my face, neck, and hands.

I also bring a small container of coconut oil that I can spread on my lips to keep them from drying out.


If I am not limiting myself to only a carry-on, I make sure to toss a few toiletry items in my carry-on to access during my travels. Sometimes after a long drive or flight, I just want to brush my teeth! I pack my every-day bamboo toothbrush and homemade toothpaste.  Doing these two things limits the creation and disposal of a plastic toothbrush and a small travel-size tube of toothpaste.  My homemade toothpaste is in a small container and is enough to last me three weeks.  I tend to make a new batch before a trip.

To reduce dependance on single-use facial tissues for stuffy noses or watery eyes, I always pack a few handkerchiefs.  Depending on the length of the trip I may bring more or less.

RELATED: Packing a Zero-Waste Toiletry Bag

In the summer, I don’t want to sweat and smell all over my fellow travelers. To ensure I keep myself cool, I bring along my natural deodorant.  I purchase this from a local shop in Western New York, but there are several natural deodorants you can find in a small glass container that won’t take up much space and will pass through airport security.


Although I won’t be heading the grocery store while I am in the airport, I might find myself needing to purchase something (like some local beers for my husband).  I don’t need or want a flimsy plastic bag.  I make sure to bring along a bag that I can easily unravel to use.  If I know I will be shopping at my final destination, I roll up a few cotton bags and toss them into my carry-on.

So there you have it! The essentials I pack in my zero waste carry-on. Adding a little extra forethought prior to a trip or anytime you leave the house, you too have the power to reduce the waste you create in a single day. Being a responsible roamer when it comes to your waste is just as important as being a responsible and respectful tourist in another country and culture.  The less waste you create when you travel, the less tourism dollars are spent on creating infrastructure for irresponsible travelers.

Looking for some more zero waste inspiration? I highly recommend the following blogs:

Have questions or doubt? Share them in the comments or send me a DM on Instagram! I love sharing my zero waste habits and changes with people who are curious to learn more about what they can do to make an impact.

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