Zero Waste Travel, Made Simpler

Zero waste travel, made simpler | Litterless

It’s likely many of us are traveling later this week for the holiday. We’re road-tripping to Indiana on Wednesday and back up to Madison on Sunday. I’ve been away from home more often than usual in the past few months, and will be even more in the upcoming ones. In that spirit, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to simplify my travel routines: not leaving packing until the night before, bringing fewer items of clothing, and, a big one, bringing fewer items of zero waste gear.

My friend Kathryn joked in a post awhile back that “Zero waste doesn’t have to equal being a pack mule,” but it sure feels like it sometimes, doesn’t it? Especially a few years ago when I really took the “zero” in zero waste to heart, I would travel with way more gear than was feasible. I brought a tea strainer to Ireland in the hopes of avoiding single-use tea packets. That type of dedication may seem admirable to some, but from where I’m sitting several years later, it just looks foolish.

If you were truly hoping to stay zero waste while traveling, you might be tempted to bring more or less the whole contents of your kitchen with you. I’ve been there, done that. But what I’ve found is that regardless of preparation, travel makes trash. It just does. I can make Herculean efforts to avoid it, or I can save my Herculean efforts for something else.

Zero waste travel, made simpler | Litterless

If, instead, you were hoping to stay low waste while traveling like I now am, well, you could lighten things up a little bit. Here’s what I bring with me, in my newly pared-down travel kit:

-A couple of handkerchiefs
-A cloth napkin
-Reusable utensils (or pare it down to just a reusable fork)
-Water bottle, or better yet combination water bottle / thermos
-Food storage tin for snacks and leftovers
-Produce bag or two for snacks and purchases
-Reusable shopping bag
-Tin of travel soap, to avoid plastic-wrapped bars at the hotel

That list still looks long enough, but many of the items do double duty beyond zero waste, as well. Not everything will squeeze back in your suitcase as you’re leaving? Reusable bag to the rescue. Mopping up a spill in the car? Cloth napkin comes in handy. Found a compost drop-off spot near where you’re staying? You can save those food scraps in the food storage tin you brought for leftovers. Free apple at the hotel? Throw that baby in a produce bag and eat it on the plane.

Zero waste travel, made simpler | Litterless

Pictured above are two oranges wrapped up in a cloth napkin, furoshiki-style, in Boston a couple of weeks ago. Despite the fact that I couldn’t find a compost bin for the peels, purchasing a snack in its own packaging rather than in plastic felt like a small victory. (Though you better believe I had to buy some plastic-packaged snacks, too).

When traveling, maybe we can bring the things that are the most versatile and lightweight and useful. We can arm ourselves for the most likely scenarios and then make a little trash when there’s a paper-wrapped teabag at the Airbnb. We can let things go, and come home renewed and excited to keep on keepin’ on at zero waste. We can focus on our families at the holidays, not on attaining some gold standard of zero waste perfection.

Who’s with me? Safe travels this week to you and yours.

More notes on doing zero waste imperfectly, here.