Goodbye, tiny toiletry containers; hello, stainless steel water bottles.

Just in time for your family vacation, we’re on the cusp of Plastic Free July, a challenge to refuse single-use plastics for the month (creating a habit that may carry on). I’m willing to give it a try, even in my travels — especially as plastics are having their 15 minutes of fame, or make that shame.

Last week, we learned that China no longer accepts plastics trash from other countries, resulting in a pileup of the synthetic around the globe, some of which cannot be recycled. Earlier this year, the floating plastics mass known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch measured twice the size of Texas. Across the country, states, cities and individuals are banning plastic straws, even as some people argue that activists could better use their energy by lobbying for more significant change, such as holding accountable those who abandon plastic fishing nets in our oceans.

What can one traveler do in the face of such a mounting problem?

Skip the little bottles of shampoo in the hotel bathroom. Bring your own toiletries.

Opt for hotels that are committed to environmental stewardship. Element hotels, with spots in Des Moines, Fargo and beyond, are built with recycled materials, have charging stations for electric vehicles and use wall-mounted dispensers in showers for body wash, shampoo and conditioner. On the higher end of the spectrum, luxury chain Edition (Bangkok, London, West Hollywood and other cities) is phasing out single-use plastics by 2019.

Carry a water bottle and use it everywhere, including on airplanes. Airport security allows bottles that aren’t filled with liquids; just stop by a fountain once you’re in the terminal. Many airports now have water dispensers designed for just such a thing — with water that flows straight down so you don’t have to awkwardly tilt your bottle to catch water from an arcing flow.

Bring your own tote bag for shopping. Ones that fold into themselves take up little space.

Tuck a collapsible spork into your suitcase. Carry it around, and you can decline plasticware — without fork tines getting tangled in your purse or poking your leg.

And as for that plastic straw, just say no.


Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.