What To Bring Around the World

What to bring around the world to stay zero waste while traveling | Litterless

Next week, my partner and I are leaving Madison to travel for a few months. It’s something we’ve been planning for a long time, and we’re excited. While we’re gone, I’m taking a hiatus from Litterless, both here and on social media; I’ll miss this space, especially when I encounter a new bulk grocery store (you know those are my jam), but I’m very much looking forward to everything else we’ll be doing while we’re away.

So: what do you bring around the world to stay zero waste?

The most important thing to bring, I think, is the knowledge that a big trip probably (certainly) won’t be zero waste. I don’t imagine that we will never buy a piece of packaged food, that we will always happen upon a bulk aisle when we need one, that we’ll find a compost bin in every locale.

What we’ll do is our best: to walk, to use public transportation, to minimize the number of flights we take, to seek out recycling bins and to brush up on local recycling rules, to carry our water bottles and refill them with tap water wherever possible.

And, of course, to bring a few pieces of zero waste gear.

What do you bring around the world to stay low-waste, then? I’ve been pondering the question for months now. The answer, for me, is very little. I haven’t tried to prepare for every possibility under the sun. I’m not carrying a tea strainer, a glass jar, a fountain pen, a safety razor, a coffee thermos, my usual two Nalgenes, a stainless steel straw.

What to bring around the world to stay zero waste while traveling | Litterless

Instead, I’m bringing what feels like the bare essentials to me: a water bottle, a cloth napkin, a utensil kit, a stainless steel food storage container, two produce bags, a bamboo toothbrush, a menstrual cup, a tin of bar soap, a plastic-free stain stick, a few handkerchiefs. I’ll try to keep my habits as sustainable as possible while I’m away and to let go of guilt or frustration when I can’t.

The process of winnowing down my entire stash of zero waste supplies into only what I’ll bring has been an exercise in remembering that there are many things I can do to reduce my waste and impact without buying or owning a specific object. Just like at home, we’ll try to only buy food that we’ll eat and to give away what we can’t, to bring a reusable container with us to restaurants to cart home leftovers, to order coffee and tea in a mug to stay, to hang laundry to dry rather than use a machine, to buy very little.

In some ways, I feel strange and slightly sad (wistful?) about stepping away from this beloved space for a bit, but mostly I’m excited to have a chance to rest and be present and think deeply about what’s next. I’ll be back to posting here in about six months (if I don’t get an itch to come back even sooner). You can sign up here to get an email when that first post after the break is up. Thank you so much for your readership over the years and for the thoughtful comments, emails, and exchanges. See you in August!

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).