Outside the home is where I end up accidentally accumulating the most garbage. In my home, I can usually control what comes in. Add in the unexpected locations and situations of travel and it can seem impossible to attempt zero waste. Here are the techniques that help me while I’m on the road – whether I’m going for a day trip, weekend away or longer stay. These tips can also apply to different modes of transportation – driving, flying, train. Or like, submarine? Actually I have no idea how to be zero waste on a submarine. Sorry. 😉
- If you are flying or taking another form of ticketed transportation like a train or bus, use electronic tickets whenever possible.
- Find out what your destination offers – laundry and kitchen access are a huge plus. If you’re staying with family and friends, hopefully they’ll let you use theirs! But even at hotels, it doesn’t hurt to ask if guests have access to a refrigerator, washer/dryer, etc. Pro tip >>> If you have a refrigerator in your hotel room, always (ALWAYS) check to make sure it’s plugged in and functional before you put any food inside.
- Take public transit if possible – Get a pass or refillable card. At the end of your trip, give away or donate your pass and whatever balance it might hold. You can give it to someone at the last public transit stop or station you visit, or ask the front desk at your hotel to pass it along. If you visit this location often, you can certainly keep it, but if I’m not sure when I’ll return, I like to pass it along to someone I know will use it soon rather than let it sit in my wallet.
- If you’re staying at a hotel, ask for your key card without the sleeve – just jot your room number down in your phone if you want.
- Return your plastic keys at the end of your trip for the hotel to reuse.
- Bring snacks! Fill a reusable snack bag with a sandwich, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate – whatever you like. Buying snacks and meals is more than likely where you’ll pick up unnecessary packaging, so try to avoid it if you can.
- Bring a reusable tote bag. Preferably one that can fold up really small. I like the ones by Baggu or ChicoBag because I can put them in my pocket or my purse.
- If you need to have a meal on your trip – on a layover or a stop off on your road trip – try to go to a restaurant with real plates and utensils. Even a Denny’s or diner might be a better bet than fast food; both for your food options and your ability to avoid trash.
- Scope out a grocery store near where you’re staying so you can stock up on healthy fresh food throughout your trip. Even if it’s a conventional supermarket, you can often find a few packageless options (bananas and other fruit, if nothing else).
- I don’t usually assume the worst, but here’s the exception: Assume that everyone (yes, everyone) everywhere (yes, everywhere) will give you single-use items that you don’t want. Straws, napkins and plastic bags seem to be the biggest culprits. “I don’t need a napkin or straw, thanks” should do the trick in most cases.
- This is probably my biggest takeaway from traveling with zero waste in mind: bring your own! My zero waste “travel kit” is outlined below. At restaurants or cafes, I will often hold up my reusable version to get the point across visually in addition to saying “I brought my own bag/straw/napkin/cup…” The worst that will happen is you’ll get a quizzical look, but most people don’t really care. In a best case, you’ll have a nice chat about stainless steel straws.
Be prepared with your own stash of reusable items. Here’s my zero waste travel kit that stayed in my purse throughout my trip. I have a medium-sized cross-body bag that I’ve had since high school. It’s in good shape and perfectly fit my jar “standing up” which I was pleased about. (Check out similar styles to the bag I have on eBay*.)
- Wide-mouth glass jar*
This can be used for water, coffee, other beverages or to store leftovers, etc. If you want your jar to stand out a bit and not look so jar-y, these ones* are cute and colorful.
- A foldable tote bag*
The one I like best is from Baggu*. But there are tons of foldable reusable tote* options out there!
- A reusable straw*
Stainless, glass, whatever you have! I like drinking iced coffee and smoothies from a straw so I like to have one on hand. I also bring it out at restaurants even if I don’t want to use it because it often prevents wait staff from bringing me drinks with straws.
- Reusable utensils*
I brought my ToGoWare set of bamboo utensils and had no issues on the plane. You could also bring a set of your home cutlery or buy a fork/knife/spoon at a secondhand store, but I’m not sure if you’d run into issues with TSA. If you’re traveling by car, bus or train it might not be as big of a problem.
- Cloth napkin
Cloth napkins can be used as a napkin, a placemat, or as a make-shift bag to hold whatever you need it to. Find out why cloth napkins are my favorite thing and where to buy them.
- A reusable snack bag
Lightweight and versatile. I like the “Petit Pouch” and “Diaper clutch” by logan and lenora* (
psst…get these bags for free – enter my giveaway!Now closed.) In the “Diaper Clutch” there are two pockets – one is lined/waterproof and the other isn’t. So I put my straw/napkin/utensils in the unlined pocket and use the other one for food (or compost).
Here’s a little peek at my zero waste toiletries. Want more details? Let me know in the comments and I’ll write up a whole post about my minimalist, zero waste toiletry kit.
Oh, and one last thing: don’t sweat the small stuff. If you request “no straw, please” and you get one anyway, oh well. You tried and it’s better to just move on than get stressed or upset. Enjoying your trip is the most important thing – don’t let reducing your waste steal any joy.
*Hi friends, just a heads up that this post contains scary affiliate links and if you click, a shark will EAT YOU. Just kidding! Clicking my links just means you like my site and like reading my recommendations. Your shopping experience doesn’t change, but I might get a tiny commission. Affiliate links are indicated with an asterisk like this* If you have any questions, I’m here to talk —> email@example.com … or leave a comment below. xoxo.
12 thoughts on “Zero Waste Travel Tips”
Really useful tips esp ideas like plastic room keys, hadn’t even thought of that!
Thank you – glad you found it helpful!
Thanks for this great article! My partner and I really enjoyed it. We’d be very interested to see a blog post about your toiletry kit.
Thanks for the comment, Travis! I’ll put that post on my to do list. Stay tuned…
This is perfect. I somehow hadn’t thought of packing a tote. Great list!
Great post! I travel quite a few times a year so this will be very useful, thanks and keep up the good work!
Glad you like the post, Hanah! Thanks for reading & commenting 🙂
Any sort of nylon or other synthetic fabric is non-biodegradable and just as bad as plastic bags. They will all still be here polluting the earth in 100 years. If you must use synthetic fabric buy a used garment from a thrift store and cut it up. At least you won’t be adding to what is already here.
If you use a cotton cloth to wipe up grease (however small) then launder it, that grease ends up clogging drains, sewers, waterways. Use throw-away cotton rags and put them into a composter.
Good tips, Quilth, thanks! In this post I was showing what I exactly brought since it was requested by readers. However I totally agree – natural materials like cotton that can biodegrade are the best choice all around.