Many people who decide to go zero waste have one thing in common: they love the planet and want to do their part to protect it. Therefore, it is only natural that this same group loves to travel to explore the place they are trying to preserve. The only problem is many aspects of traveling can be wasteful, from the unnecessary single-use items at restaurants to the extra products bought for travel bags. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to be an eco-friendly traveler to make sure your adventures fall in line with your zero waste efforts
Below are some of the best—and easiest— zero waste traveling tips to get you started! Whether you decide to embrace a few tips or all of them, they will help make your next vacation much less wasteful!
Rethink How You Pack Toiletries
When it comes to packing toiletries for travel, it isn’t uncommon to end up with quite a bit of unnecessary plastic—those mini travel bottles add up! Here are some tips to skip the extra products and packaging to make your travel toiletry bag zero waste.
For travel bottles you have two good options:
- Use a refillable travel bottle set to fill with products you already own.
- If you already have travel-sized products, it is best to use those instead of buying new bottles. Once your travel-sized products run out, simply refill them with your larger products at home, such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, moisturizer, and mouthwash.
If you use shampoo bars or soap bars instead of liquids, cut off a piece for travel (You can even keep all the chunks in the same soap container for easy access.) It will take up less room in your toiletry bag and keep you organized!
For anything you can’t transfer to another container, look for sustainable products—both the product’s materials and the packaging. This may include toothpaste tablets or powder in a glass jar, a zero waste toothbrush, compostable floss, powdered dry shampoo, etc. As a bonus, powdered dry shampoo is great for carry-ons, unlike the more common aerosol brands.
If you use a menstrual cup, cloth pads, or another reusable zero waste period product, your eco-efforts don’t have to be put on pause just because you’re traveling. Make sure you have a wet bag to store any used products until you can clean them and carry on as usual. The same goes for cloth diapers. The exception is if you are traveling somewhere where water isn’t sanitary. In that case, skip anything that needs to be rinsed and try applicator free tampons, such as those from O.B or a similar brand. And for diapers, opt for biodegradable ones.
Want to skip the toilet paper or don’t have access to any? Try a portable bidet. These handy devices are compact enough to fit into a small bag and are exceptional for adventures where toilets and toilet paper aren’t readily available, such as backwoods camping. They are also highly recommended for RVs where toilet paper can’t be flushed.
Go Digital with Travel Resources
We live in the age of technology and swapping some parts of your travel to digital is an excellent way to save paper. These include:
Google Translate is a favorite translation app for travelers far and wide. You can instantly search any phrase you need without flipping through a bunch of pages to get there.
Modern services like Google Maps allow you to forgo the gigantic paper maps that feel like a puzzle to fold back down. If you turn on location services, you won’t even have to guess where you are and you can get an estimate of how long it will take to travel to the next place on your itinerary. Perfect for travelers that don’t want to waste time so they can explore as much as possible!
Everything from airline tickets to event tickets can be downloaded right on your phone. Just make sure that whatever method you use that you have offline access in case there is no internet or cellular service where you need the ticket.
Pack an Around Town Bag
Chances are you will want to explore everything your destination has to offer, from the local cuisine to shopping hotspots. To ensure you can enjoy everything the locale has to offer without compromising your eco-efforts, pack a small travel bag with reusable essentials to tote around with you.
Things you should consider adding to this bag include:
Utensil Set and Collapsible Container
With these on hand you can enjoy street food and takeout without the guilt of disposable containers and utensils. The collapsible container is also great to take along any leftovers, so you don’t contribute to food waste.
Just like shopping at home, reusable bags mean you don’t have to take paper or plastic bags. Plus, they tend to be much stronger, so you don’t have to worry about them busting open.
A Travel Cup
Many places are more than happy to fill your cup. If you are staying on a resort in a country like Cuba, having your own travel mug will help you avoid dozens of single-use plastic cups over the course of your stay since many places serve with disposables anywhere outside the main dining area.
Reusable Water Bottle
It’s important to stay hydrated, and a reusable bottle makes it possible without single-use plastic. Water, not potable where you’re staying? Purify your water while traveling with options like iodine tablets, a Life Straw, or a Steripen. A Steripen is a USB charged device that uses ultra-violet light to purify up to a liter of water at a time. And it only takes 90 seconds to do so. It works by killing the DNA of harmful bacteria and microbes.
With your own reusable straws, you can skip the plastic straws in restaurants. If you are traveling to a country with a foreign language, it is helpful to learn the phrase “No straw, please”. It can also help to show the waiter your straw if there is a language barrier.
Whether you’re using it as a napkin or a makeshift placemat on an outdoor table, a tea towel is a great thing to have in this kit. Plus, if you end up spilling anything on your clothes, the towel combined with the water bottle in your bag makes for easy cleanup!
Look for Amenities that Support the Environment
Try seeking out shops, hotels, and restaurants that are making a conscious effort on the environmental front. This tip is often overlooked but can make a difference in how much waste your stay produces. This may include:
- Restaurants that use local produce or offer farm-to-table dining options to reduce emissions. A unique example of this is Uncommon Ground in Chicago who grows much of their produce right on their expansive rooftop garden.
- Environmentally conscious shops that sell products made from sustainable material. Or retailers that make a conscious effort to reduce packaging.
- Eco-friendly hotels that use sustainable practices or building material. 1 Hotels is an excellent example of this with its nature-inspired design that uses reclaimed material. They also offer unique amenities, like a farm-to-table dining room and fresh, local produce stand in the lobby.
Embracing the tips above will make your next travel adventure much closer to zero waste. However, don’t feel that you need to use all the advice if some doesn’t resonate with you. For example, if you are trying to digitally disconnect for your vacation, moving all your phrasebook and maps to an electronic device may not jive with your trip vision. And that’s okay!
It is important to know that zero waste travel is possible without compromising your enjoyment. Do what you can and don’t sweat the rest—even a few small changes are better than none at all. Happy travels!