Any type of traveling can be stressful enough. Whether you’re just heading to work or flying across the country, there are a million things to worry about. Where are my keys? Should I bring a coat? Do I have the right papers for my flight? Despite double and triple checking everything, you still wonder ‘Do I have everything I need?’ as you are walking out of the door. We get it: life on-the-go is not always easy.
But a travel-packed life often has some issues of its own that we may not want to recognize. First and foremost: waste. To-go containers and gadgets, food packages and drinks, and single-use everything can be convenient and easy to travel with, but at the end of the day they’re just another disposable item making it into our landfills. After all, as destructive as single-use items can be, people like them because we can use them and get rid of them (out of sight, out of mind, right?). Once anything goes into that forbidden trash receptacle, it’s easy to forget about it–as well as the 500+ years it will spend in our landfills. As a culture, we are conditioned to always seek out convenience. We often forget that this convenience comes at the expense of our beloved environment. But don’t worry, there is hope! With these simple zero waste travel tips you can become a conscious, on-the-go expert in no time!
Your “going out” essentials pack
This is a list of essential items for almost everyone. When you leave the house, make sure to take these with you! Never be caught unprepared and forced to take the dreaded single-use anything. Put these items together and keep them on your person, in your car, at work, or wherever is most convenient. If you have these with you when you head out, then you’re on the road to reducing your trash output in no time!
Hydration is a key player to human health, so make sure you do it the right way! Ditch the plastic bottles and opt for a sturdy reusable bottle that can be filled, washed, and reused over and over again!
You never know when you will encounter the need for utensils. It happens more often than you think! If you carry around a reusable set, you are sure to be prepared for any spontaneous snack or meal that comes your way!
3. Reusable bag
Whether it’s a planned trip to the grocery store or an “I just want to look” turned accidental shopping spree, make sure you’re prepared. Keep a reusable bag with you at all times; you never know what life will throw at you!
There is no reason not to carry around a reusable straw. It’s slim, lightweight, and overall easy to carry around. With your pick of stainless steel or glass, you will be sure to make a statement anytime you pull it out of your bag. Oh, and make sure to tell your waiter ‘no straw, please!’
Sometimes there are leftovers from work that you do not want to go to waste. Other times, you may decide to treat yourself to a meal in town. Maybe you stopped at a friend’s house and they want to give you some food for the road. Who are you to say no? If you keep a container on you, you mean business. Styrofoam, plastic, and aluminum foil are all food storage containers and wrappings of the past. Simply fill your reusable container, store, eat later, and enjoy!
Be eco-friendly everywhere!
Now, let’s get into some situational stuff. While the essentials will get you far, it can’t hurt to be even more prepared when certain events arise. Is work an eco-disaster? Zero waste travel tools are here to help! Going out to eat with the gals? We have gear for that, too! Taking a trip with your little ones? Have no fear!
To work and beyond!
For many, coffee or tea is a morning must. Whether you make it at home or get it on the road, do your best to ditch disposables! Opt for an insulated mug instead that will not only save your hot drinks from getting cold, but the planet, too! (Pro tip: if you get coffee on the go, ask your barista if they can prepare it in your mug. They may not always say yes, but it can’t hurt to try! Some cafes will even give you a discount!)
So you’re making lunch at home and bringing it to work–that’s awesome! Using plastic wrap, tin foil, or other less sustainable means to transport your meal from A to B? Not so great. Avoid plastic wrapped sandwiches and unsustainable snacks by using reusable containers or food wraps. From tiffins, to sandwich wraps, to bento boxes, there’s tons of ways to pack a lunch without plastic.
Now, how are you going to eat your lunch? Sure, plastic cutlery is convenient, but reusable utensils are much more fun and eco-friendly! With a bamboo utensil set, of course!
Going out to eat
A reusable container once again saves the day! More often than not, restaurants serve large portions. But no worries, save that delicious dish for a next day meal! Leftover containers are very rarely eco-friendly. The most they can be at most restaurants is compostable, but few take the steps to do that. Instead, we are given plastic and styrofoam, neither of which are good for the environment. To solve this problem, bring your own container, slide your food into it, and take it with you. It’s that easy!
Restaurants and bars are notorious for contributing to the plastic straw epidemic. Straws are both harmful to the environment and the wildlife within it. Do your part and take action one of two ways: bring your own reusable straw or tell your server, No straw, please! These glass straws come with their own carrying case and cleaner. They come in a variety of fun colors, so choose your favorite and bring it everywhere you go! Or, find the straw alternative that works for you here!
For your longer travels
You really can’t go wrong bringing utensils around with you. Never again should you miss an opportunity to eat some delicious goodies, especially when you’re traveling! Say no to disposable plastic cutlery that will never be recycled, and yes to reusables that are easy to simply toss in your bag.
Airport snacks can be so tempting, and expensive! Every corner you turn, there is another kiosk trying to sell you plastic wrapped this and disposable that. Avoid the expensive cravings by packing yourself some food for when you’re waiting. Trail mix, cut up fruit, and cereal are all lightweight and easy to carry zero waste travel options that are sure to make any adventure better!
To ensure you don’t have to buy bottled water, or take one of the free bottled waters on the airplane, simply bring your reusable bottle along and ask the flight attendant to fill it up for you on the plane! You’ll get more water, won’t use any plastic, and chances are, your bottle will probably spill a lot less than the little water cup they leave on your tray table.
Traveling with kids
When traveling with kids, it is important to use whatever fits your lifestyle best–and create positive habits to pass along to your little ones! Kick Ziplock bags to the curb and instead, fill these reusable snack bags with your kids’ favorite goodies, store, eat when ready, wash, and repeat! Your little ones certainly won’t mind the snack bag switch up, and neither will the planet!
As convenient as those small, plastic water bottle are for your kids, they do not have a small impact on the environment. Instead, opt for some kids sized reusables! Not only are you reducing your consumption of plastic, but this is a great way to teach your tiny tots about responsibility by having them take care of their bottle! Plus, try kid-sized utensils made for tiny hands!
You’re setting an example!
Every time you pull a sustainable tool out of your arsenal, you are making a statement: “I care about the planet and you should too!” All too often, people assume that it’s too difficult to be sustainable, but you are living proof! When you bring your own container to the restaurant, people will notice. When you refuse a straw and instead pull out your own, people will catch on. Your choices and actions will make an impact, all you have to do is get started!
Soon enough, your friends and family will jump on board and then their friends and family will, and so on and so forth. The Zero Waste Movement is picking up traction and we want you to be a part of it! Take what makes sense for your lifestyle and implement it. Bringing these goodies with you from place to place and on every journey will become second nature in no time. Then, you’ll be on your way to being a zero waste travel expert!
This blog was first written in March 28, 2018 and was most recently updated February 20, 2023.