Adopt these 11 tips for zero-waste travel and you’ll be exploring the world plastic-free before you know it!
1. Take a reusable bottle
Without a reusable bottle, most people will buy at least one disposable bottle of water every day. There’s enough plastic waste for The Ocean Cleanup to deal with already. The simplest and most sensible way to travel with less waste is to travel with a reusable bottle and refill it.
Stainless steel is better than plastic for storing drinks anyway. I like to travel with my FLASK thermos, it keeps my water cool in for up to 24 hours and hot for up to 12 hours.
Make finding free water sources part of your sightseeing itinerary. It’s a fun way to see the city and it reminds you to drink more water. In some countries, clean drinking water is difficult to find. In that case, buy a larger water container and refill your bottle from that.
2. Prepare your toiletries
One of my biggest annoyances is the tiny bottles and packets that travel toiletries come in. The entire purpose of these products is to be single-use and they’re readily available at most stores. Convenient for travelling, great for the supermarket profits, but terrible for the planet.
Instead of falling prey to these wasteful products, be smart and prepare your own zero-waste bathroom essentials. There’s more than one way to do this.
On a short trip, you can fill reusable travel-sized bottles from your home supply. On a longer trip, bring one large bottle of a multi-purpose bathroom product. Switch your disposable razor for a metal one and (ladies) invest in zero-waste menstrual products.
Plus, you can buy solid bars of shampoo, conditioner, soap, and deodorant. Fill a reusable pot with chewable toothpaste tabs or pack a bamboo toothbrush and powder toothpaste. This also lets you bypass the liquid limits for carry-on airline luggage.
3. Go paperless
Most airlines, bus companies, and hotels/hostels don’t require a printed version of your booking. That’s great news because you can reduce your paper waste. Just download your e-tickets, screenshot any reservation, and remember to charge your phone.
4. Don’t forget your food pots and cutlery
I love to taste street food or grab something to take away and eat out in the fresh air. But often, foods come in non-recyclable and non-biodegradable containers. For this reason, I always travel with my own bamboo cutlery set and on the go containers. No more plastic cutlery that breaks in your mouth and pollutes the planet! If you’re a big coffee and tea drinker, then bring a reusable coffee cup too.
A FLASKE food pot will keep your food hot or cool, so it’s perfect for long bus and train journeys or a long flight. Also, consider packing your own washable napkin and sandwich bags.
5. Bring a shopping bag
A reusable shopping tote and a few lightweight mesh bags are your new best friends. Just fold them up, tuck them into your day bag and you’ll never need to buy another plastic bag. Aside from shopping, the extra bags are also handy for organising your gear.
6. Get your snacks ready
On the go, snacks are super convenient but they usually come in disposable packets. To avoid this waste, spend some time at home preparing your own snacks and pack them into a zero-waste container. How about some sandwiches, homemade cookies, or a vegan buddha bowl?
If you’re already on the road then search for stores where you can buy nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, sandwiches, and other snacks without packaging.
7. Pack a stainless steel straw
If there’s one thing you need to learn in a foreign language it’s the words...
"No Straw Please"
Straws are unnecessary and dangerous to wildlife. If you don’t want to ditch straws altogether, just switch to a reusable and washable stainless-steel straw. It's better for the planet, plus, being more sustainable saved me money in the long term.
8. Bring your own towel and be a smart guest
There’s no avoiding the fact that short time stays in hotels are not eco-friendly. Regardless of how many nights you stay, hotels usually provide at least one towel per guest as well as bed linen and blankets. That’s a lot of laundry and a lot of water.
To minimise the water wastage, bring your own towel. Leave the hotel’s towels clean and folded so it’s clear that they have not been used and do not need washing. You can also opt-out of daily room cleaning and don’t use the mini-toiletries provided.
9. Dispose of waste responsibly
Despite your best efforts, you’ll probably end up with some waste. When that happens, make sure you dispose of it responsibly. Keep hold of your plastic bottle, paper or other recyclable waste until you find a recycling facility.
10. Skip the shopping
Keyrings, fridge magnets, and a wrist of colourful bracelets are travellers trademarks but these souvenirs often end up in the trash. In place of hoarding items that will make your luggage heavier, shop for locally produced foods, sweets, and drinks. Collect experiences and photographs rather than items.
To support local economies consider tipping a market seller for allowing you to take photographs instead of buying items.
11. Take zero-waste entertainment
Travel often involves long waits and lots of reading time. Magazines and newspapers are always for sale in airports, bus stations, and train stations but you can trade these for zero-waste electronic versions. Prepare for travel by downloading e-books, today's news, podcasts, or entertainment apps.
If you’re like me and you prefer to read from a real book rather than a screen, search for second-hand books. Hotels and hostels often have a book share where you can leave your book and take another. Alternatively, purchase books from a second-hand store or flea market.
The travel industry certainly needs cleaning up but these simple tips are your one-way ticket to zero-waste travel.