Why I’ve Started Traveling With A Portable Coffee Mug

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

When I moved into hotels full time in April 2014, I quickly realized the benefits of minimalism. I had only lived in Seattle for about 18 months, but somehow managed to acquire so much stuff that I didn’t really need. The first day I moved out of my apartment I managed to consolidate all my luggage into just a few big suitcases.


I quickly realized it wasn’t practical to travel with all those bags, and eventually I consolidated all of my essential belongings into the below carry-on contraption:


At that point I made the decision to stop buying souvenirs, and for that matter, to only buy material possessions if they’d actively make my life better. Last year I wrote about nine gadgets in my carry-on, and while I’ve replaced some of them, the core of what I have has stayed the same.

Anyway, during my recent trip to Russia I added something to my carry-on for the first time in months. I was at a Starbucks in St. Petersburg and saw this cute travel mug, that looked sort of like a Matryoshka doll. I don’t know what made me buy it, since I almost never pick up material possessions, but for whatever reason I did.


I figured I’d get rid of it soon enough, but I’ve actually found this to be immensely valuable, and now always have it in my carry-on.

Why? Well, first of all, because I’m a coffee addict. I’ve written in the past about my frustration with airline club lounges not having proper to-go coffee cups, and while American has improved in that regard, the cups still aren’t great.

There’s something magical about being able to pour a hot cup of coffee, latching it shut, and easily being able to carry it with you.  Not only does it help with keeping coffee hot, but it also prevents spilling. I’ve lost two laptops to airplane spills over the past several years, so I feel like this will help in that regard.

Beyond that, no matter where you are, it’s nice to be able to pour something in a container that’s actually portable and can be sealed. I use it for coffee, still water, sparkling water, juice, etc.

It’s very easy to clean, even in a hotel room, as I just wash it out quickly with some water, and then dry it with a towel.

I mention this all for two reasons:

  • Even if you’re someone who minimizes what you travel with, I think a portable mug is well worth the space it takes up in your bag.
  • I bought a random portable mug at Starbucks, so I imagine there are much better ones out there. Does anyone else travel with a thermal mug, maybe one that’s higher quality or has more features?
  1. @Lucky – Are these cups spill proof? Like can you drip them in your bag and not worry about them spilling?

  2. I do the same with a water bottle, which helps keep me hydrated. I often have to chug whatever is in there before I hit security, but then can refill it right after security at my home airport. Or I can go to the lounge and refill it. And I never have to depend on FAs for water.

  3. Contigo mugs are the best. I literally toss mine upside down (not on purpose) into my purse or backpack and they stay completely autosealed. They’re about $20 on Amazon or at Target.

  4. I bought a Thermos mug on Amazon and it’s amazing. It keeps the coffee hot for up to 8 hours and cold beverages up to 24 I believe.

  5. @ Karim J — The Starbucks version has a lid cap that can be locked. I’m not sure I’d place a full cup of coffee in my carry-on as something could always come loose, but it’s good enough for me. At least when I’m sitting at my seat and put the mug on the center armrest with the lid locked, I feel pretty comfortable.

  6. Contigo and Zojirushi make excellent tumblers that keep drinks hot/cold for over 8 hours. I don’t leave home without it!

  7. I like the Manna stainless insulated bottles. Great for all types of drinks and seals super well for those times you just want to throw it in your bag.

  8. I second the water bottle! Since I started carrying one my travel is so much more pleasurable. It’s the little things in life.

  9. I always travel with my Camelbak water bottle! Worth having to find a spot for it in my bag.

    As far as travel mugs go, I swear by my Zojirushi. It keeps coffee hot for a supremely long amount of time, and it’s totally spillproof thanks to a locking mechanism. I rarely travel with it (other than road trips) but I do love it.

  10. How do you deal with taking this through security? Most parts of the world do not permit containers that can hold more than 100ml of liquid in your hand luggage, even if they are empty.

  11. LOVE my Zojirushi stainless steel 20oz mug. Keeps my coffee hot for 8+ hours and looks really sleek. Easy to wash too.

  12. I swear by Klean Kanteen; stainless steel in a variety of sizes (I use 16 oz.) with both waterproof and drinkable lids.

  13. Oxo has a great spill/leak proof steel thermal and wel priced. Can take quite a beating, and is all safe (Bpa free, no plastic, etc.)

  14. I second @Garrett comment. I have two and they don’t even drip when closed. And hot! Oh my! If I forget my coffee, it’ll still be hot (not warm…hot) 10 hours later.

    Also, a separate water bottle is huge. When I travel, I fill it post security, I use it in the gym, and, where the tap water is safe, but not tasty, I add a flavor enhancer like TrueLemon.

  15. Hi Lucky, do you have any issues with weight restrictions on your carry-on bags while traveling? I know some impose pretty low weight limits.

  16. It’s also a way to reduce what goes into landfills. We use contigo ones purchased at costco for about $10 each. Great for hot or cold beverages.

  17. Another vote here for the Contigo. Also bought at Costco and am amazed how long it keeps beverages hot/cold.

  18. So, here is my question. I know scientists got us to the moon. TV signals travel the globe. Monster airplanes somehow fly. But, will somebody please explain to me how the thermos knows if I want something to stay cold, or hot? How do it know?

  19. I concur with all of this, however I HIGHLY recommend the Insulated Kleen Kanteen (16oz variant). It has a screw top that seals it completely, does a really great job at keeping hots hot, or colds cold. I never thought I’d make a container one of my must travel items.


  20. I’ve been traveling for some years now and I always carry my Contigo thermal mug as it allows me to lock it down when I’m rushing between gates. The type I have is no longer available, but the Byron 20oz seems like an even better replacement (see http://www.mycontigo.com/en/byron-20-oz?id=26).

    A thermal mug is great for airports and conferences, but flight attendants are really helpful to fill it up during long flights. So you can work with ease of mind your coffee will not spill over your laptop during turbulence.

    I am loyal to Contigo as they offer a wide range of mugs and bottles, but any other brand will be as good I think. Some key points to look out for:
    – easy lid cleaning
    – lid lock to prevent accidental pressure on release button
    – anti-spill rubber

    Get yourself a 20oz to have the maximum quantity that will remain hot enough to drink. A 16oz wasn’t working out for me and a 24oz was too big to carry on comfortable.

    At airport security they always ask you if it’s empty before shaking it. I don’t know why, but it seems to be a global habit. Sometimes you need to put it in a separate bin for x-ray inspection, but most of the time I stick it into the bin next to my shoes.

    Hope this helps,


  21. Gary (and others): Please keep in mind that Thermos (R) is a brand name, under trademark protection, and should always be capitalized … It’s the insulation between the inner vessel and outer casing that help retain the temperature of a hot OR cold liquid. It’s the same principle used within walls to help keep your home warm or cool or thermal underwear, where, in colder months, you would likely try to slow the escape of heat your extremities and manjunk generate.

  22. And it will come in handy when you visit those few lounges that serve Dom, Krug, Grand SIecle, Veuve, etc., I’m sure they won’t notice you filling up your travel mug with champagne! Just enough to get you to the gate!

  23. I bring a ceramic cup that nests in an insulated mug and make my own coffee with an electrical immersion heater and a linen-and-wire colander on a stick from Colombia, where it’s called a colador. A barista in Bogota first showed me the ropes, but I’ve since seen both sold on Amazon. You can go from plugging it in to slugging back a shot of fresh-brewed high-octane about 90 seconds slower than a microwave cup of instant slop. Many places in Latin America are proud of the local coffee, and this way it’s easy for coffee junkies to try them all as they meander.

  24. Thought I posted already but I don’t see it, re-attempting.

    Anyhow, I agree 100% with carrying your own mug. The one I use is the Kleen Kanteen insulated flavor, http://amzn.to/2bSUaeP, which does a really great job at keeping hots hot, colds cold, and more importantly has a really tight screw to lid that seals whatever you put in there.

    There is another lid you can buy for a sip cup style but it is not completely leak proof. Travelling wise, this has been a constant win, either for getting coffee, making tea, and its stainless so there is no residue/build up of tea/coffee after repeatitive use.

  25. I know I should be commenting about travel mugs; but, I just can’t get past Lucky’s declaration that he doesn’t buy souvenirs. I love souvenirs. I will devote hours to roaming a city in search of the perfect souvenir. I had a two day business trip to Lagos back in July and I literally had to extend the trip by a day so I could find that one perfect memento. After all, it is unlikely that I shall ever return to Lagos.

    Please forgive my intrusion and return to your travel mug discussion (I don’t own one).

  26. @ Sean M.: I don’t think that’s right. In SFO, they have actually put up signs encouraging you to empty your water bottle before going through security and refill it at the water dispensers afterwards. They even had put up sinks before security that you could empty your bottels in.

  27. I travel with a metal Starbucks travel mug and a bobble filtered water bottle.

    The metal Starbucks mug is double walled and will keep cold beverages cold for about twelve hours and hot beverages hot for about eight. We did an overnight night test with ice beginning late afternoon, and the majority was still ice in the morning.

    The bobble water bottle I can fill up at any tap or hotel room sink, and know that I have filtered water. I just make sure it’s empty when I go through security, and fill it back up in the board room.

  28. @Ben /@onemileatatime

    First of all, I love your blog.
    Cleaning up is a great thing. However, at the age of 40+ i hold so much stuff, that I could not possibly carry in four suit-cases. How much did you throw away ?

  29. Another vote for Contigo. Mine is the version with the handle because I have a hard time gripping any mug that is just a cylinder. I love the locking feature on it. Finally I can drink coffee on the go. So worth it.

  30. Contigo water bottle. RTIC thermal mug for coffee. Stays warm all day or cold if you use ice and the outside never gets hot or cold. When I travel internationally, I bring both. Domestically – just the water bottle.

  31. Zojirushi! I love mine it’s so abused but still keeps coffee I’ve forgotten about in my backpack hot all day!

  32. I have a double walled glass tea bottle I bought in China. Works great for tea or water. I just wish more airports outside of Asia had as easy access to boiling water.

  33. Small matter but Thermos lost a lawsuit against Alladin Corp some years back . The result was the word thermos was considered part of the public lexicon for describing insulated containers and thus Alladin could lawfully describe their products as ‘ thermos’ bottles . Capitalization optional . Feel free to research the veracity of this account and then apologize .

  34. I stand erected, Roger. I once perforated my eardrum with a Q-TIP and found relief by inserting KLEENEX secured by SCOTCH TAPE. And XANAX washed down with LISTERENE kept in my TUPPERWARE, naturally.

  35. Ben, just get one of the HydroFlask series thermos from Oregon and don’t look back. Some on sale at the REI website.

  36. Love my Sigg mug/thermos coffee device. Screw down lid and gasket have never leaked for me. I’ve had it for almost 10 years, it’s beat to hell, but I love how it’s aged, and have a story for most of the bigger dings and crimps. Not great for a car, but keeps coffee warm for hours.

  37. If I’m traveling to a place where I expect to be active a lot and carrying a backpack regularly, I usually bring along my 21 oz Hydroflask. Bought it a few years ago since they’re all the rage back home, and it’s kept me nice and refreshed in multiple hot and humid trips through Asia, and even at cookouts in the back yard. Stays sealed no matter where I put it and keeps cold drinks nice and cool.

    They’ve got some fancy lid options like sport lids and the like but I’ve always just used the standard one it comes with.

  38. Another thumbs up for Contigo. It keeps drinks both very hot for a long time and ice cold in the summer.
    And yes, closed it never leaks, even if upside down.

  39. I swear by my Blender Bottle for water. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it “sweats”, but it’s convenient for both drinks and meals (protein shakes).

    I like your minimalist approach to possessions – life should be about the “experiences”, not the “things”.

  40. It’s not leak-proof so maybe not the best for throwing in your bag, but we make a top notch travel mug here in NC called the Temperfect that brings your coffee and tea to a drinkable temp quick (no more burns!) and then keeps it perfect for hours. joeveo.com

  41. I’ve carried my Contigo mugs everywhere. Some models have locks to make them virtuall spill-proof. And in addition to keeping coffee hot for hours, I’ve used mine to keep a smoothie very cold for hours after I purchase it once past the TSA checkpoint. Great for a snack when meal times are disrupted by travel!

  42. I sometimes use a lightweight travel coffee flask by Stelton, which is a really nice design and well made. Doubletree used to have some good green coffee flasks that were freebies I think.
    Also (it’s not a vacuum cup but) I often travel with a small ceramic cup made by Marimekko in Finland. It’s low profile and does not spill easily, of course you can’t really walk around with it in an airport situation but it’s nice to sometimes have a bit of continuity too. I sometimes take a lightweight glass too that I think is by Alessi. I’m not crazy about hotel glasses, did someone put their false teeth in them last night? etc.

  43. Sean M: To the best of my knowledge there’s not a single region in the world that prohibits empty containers (and I’ve flown through a fair chunk of them!). That would make even less sense than the already nonsensical 100ml restriction.

    As to someone asking how the flask knows to keep hot or cold – it doesn’t. Things in proximity to eachother equalise their temperatures. The flask slows down this transfer of energy meaning if the inside is colder than the outside it will block energy moving into the flask, or vice versa for energy moving out the flask from a hot drink.

  44. If you go with the Contigo, try to get the higher end model, the one with more stainless steel than plastic. Klear Kanteen has come out with a leak proof model 2.0, but it’s not as automatically leak proof as the Contigo, since you have to remember to turn the mechanism on the cap to close it. Also, it doesn’t look much different closed than open. Maybe that’s for 3.0?!

  45. We travel and cruise a lot, thermal non see-thru cups work great for mixing cocktails in the cabin and taking down to the pool. Keeps coffee hot and cold cocktails cold out in the hot sun.

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