Warning, this is unachievable but not hopeless. As a matter of fact, if we can all strive to achieve almost zero waste travel, we will be great role models for our children.
It seems strange that exploring the planet greatly impacts the environment. Unless you take a horse and hunt your own food, but that is not for everyone.
If you would like to learn all about zero waste travel then I have the perfect article for your here
I left my home country Germany in 2000 for the first time to explore the beauty of Australia. I was absolutely in love with this country and its people. Did I think about the environmental impact that my travel had back then? Absolutely not?
I have since visited many places from Thailand, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and so on. You could say I have caught the travel bug. Although most of the time, I didn’t even plan for this.
But every time I traveled to a different country, I faced different environmental problems.
The easiest one to fix is buying carbon credits to offset your flight, or is it?
Aviation is responsible for 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it turns out CO2 emissions from domestic flights are counted in a country’s emission accounts, and international flights are not. So you have to add them up.
Okay, so let’s get the obvious ones out of the way and see if we can have an even bigger impact on zero waste travel.
10. go paperless
11. bring a towel
Have a zero waste travel kit
You might have never heard of a zero waste travel kit, but it is a backpack you can take on the plane as your carry-on or as just an additional handbag. Take it when you go on a camping trip or just backpacking by yourself.
Some of the items listed here became part of my daily carry. Here’s what mine looks like:
safety razor, but make sure to pack the blades in your check-in luggage
my journal and fountain pen
headphones (you don’t have to use those cheap onboard headphones that are individually wrapped in plastic)
snack in a reusable food container (nuts, sandwiches and carrots work great)
reusable straw if you have kids
menstrual cup for the lady’s
What to pack for air travel?
1. Reusable Water Bottle
The most obvious one is a reusable water bottle but make sure to empty it before you go through customs, and then you can refill it again in the waiting area before you board the plane.
2. Food Containers/ Tiffin
It is always healthier to pack a sandwich or some fresh veggies in reusable food containers to take with you on the plane. In most countries, you are allowed to bring food on the plane. When you enter a new country, you may have to trash it before entering a new place.
Make sure you eat the food you brought on the plane. Perhaps also don’t bring foods like tuna or chicken or anything that makes the whole plane regret that you are on board. Nothing is worse than sitting next to someone eating smelly food while you are locked into a confined space. Trust me; I have been there.
3. Shampoo Bars + Deodorant
If you have an overlay, add shampoo bars to your travel kit. Since a shampoo bar is solid and not liquid, you can bring your favorite shampoo bar and conditioner bar on the plane without the TSA agent throwing them in the bin. Another plus of doing zero-waste travel!
Not sure which your favorite shampoo bar soap is? Check out this detailed article to find the best zero waste shampoo bar for you and your hair.
Headphones are a must if you want to enjoy a movie on the plane and if you want to reduce waste. The single-use, plastic-wrapped, cheap no, good headphones on the plane are a pain, so always pack a good pair of headphones. I got my Sennheisers second-hand, and they are awesome.
5. Power Banks
Power Bank or charging bank. There are so many, and unless you are filming or playing games on your phone, you don’t need one, but they can come in handy when you need extra battery power. Beware that there are limits. Most airlines allow up to two power banks in your carry-on, but they need to be individually packed and not exceed 27.000mAh or greater than 100Wh. If yours is bigger, check with the airline or leave it home.
6. Toothpaste tablets
Although I am not a big fan of them, I wanted to mention them here because they are zero waste. They come in handy when traveling, but you can also bring toothpaste on the plane.
7. Bamboo toothbrush
It just makes sense
What is the big goal of zero waste travel?
The biggest goal behind zero waste travel is to reduce unnecessary waste as much as possible. Bring less stuff. Kind of like minimalism.
There is no way traveling can be zero waste as everything we do creates some form of waste. Be it our carbon footprint from taking the Uber or Taxi to the airport to actually flying in the plane. If you want to be 100% zero waste, you may have to walk to your destination and camp under the stars while hunting for your meals.
But for most, that is a bit too extreme. Going package free and reducing the number of plastic water bottles we consume can make a big difference. The key is that we all take our part in this movement and do not give up.
There are many great inventions and ways to reduce plastic waste and reuse it to give what we saw as trash a second chance.
Small steps make a big change:
eat local and get to know the real culture
go camping instead of a hotel,
use a bicycle for transport, or opt for trains, buses, or carsharing to reduce carbon emissions
have a holiday in your neighboring travel equipment,
get second-hand travel gear
The impact of hotels
I spent a couple of months on the road with my wife as she was working for MAD and educating kids on the dangers of alcohol and weed. This meant we checked into an Airbnb or a hotel room every other day.
I was always heartbroken to see these little single-use shampoo bottles or coffee stirrers. Most of the hotels had them made from plastic, and very few were made of wood or bamboo. Sometimes they even provide a plastic toothbrush for you to use once or twice and then throw away. And don’t get me started on the coffee pod machines that nearly every hotel room has. Convenient but so bad for our planet.
Check out the reusable coffee pod machines article here.
Sometimes a hotel is all you can take, and some of you may really like the comforts of staying in a hotel. Zero waste travel should be more about connecting with nature and enjoying the elements. So my suggestion is if you are staying in a hotel, don’t open the new bar soap that comes in a plastic wrapper. Skip the coffee from the pod machine and grab one from a local barista.
It is often very simple steps that we can take to reduce our impact on the environment.
Carry your zero waste travel kit
The biggest change I noticed from living a “normal” life where I wasn’t very aware of the trash that I was producing to the life of a zero waste man is that you have to be a bit more prepared.
That’s it. All it takes is a little extra planning, and you can avoid tons of waste created by you.
Creating a zero waste travel kit is simple, and I would even go as far as to say it is fun. You can find some nice backpacks second-hand, or you might even have one lying around.
Throw in some of your favorite zero waste essential items, as I mentioned above, and you are pretty much ready for action. I would also suggest having a reusable bag in your zero-waste kit because they come in very handy, trust me.
It can save you money
Yes, most of us see zero waste as an expensive trend that isn’t worth the extra cost since our planet is on the way to being totally destroyed soon anyway. With statistics like the ocean will have more plastic than fish by 2050, this isn’t especially motivating; I get it.
If you only shop in zero waste stores and only opt for the best, then yes, this lifestyle can become expensive. But many people fail to see that you are buying quality products that will most often outlive their cheaper plastic brother.
A great example is the zero waste razor. Buy a cheap plastic razor and the additional blades cost a lot. Compared to buying a high-quality safety razor and the blades cost nothing and everything is recyclable and lasts a lifetime. You can read more about the best safety razor here.
On the other hand, if you consume less stuff, you automatically save money.
Bring back memories, not souvenirs.
When you return home, what will you share most with your friends? The unique environment you have seen, the new culture you experienced, and the food or souvenirs you brought back?
I think it is obvious that even after years, you can look back on photos or share stories of your travels that have left a positive impact on you and probably on the world too.
Who doesn’t like to travel back on memory lane rather than dust off some souvenirs that mean nothing to you?
Zero waste dining and meeting the locals
If you are in a new country, there is nothing more exciting than trying different cuisines. Well, that depends on the country, but let’s say Thailand. My favorite place for outstanding food, and the best part is you eat local, fresh and with low to no waste. I even go as far as ask for no straw.
Avoid fast food chains and takeaways unless they let you pack your food into a steal tiffin, but most of us don’t carry that around all the time.
Avoid plastic cutlery if possible. Sadly a lot of smaller local restaurants will give you plastic cutlery. I feel this is a common thing to do in the third world. Just ask for silverware or use your hands. Works with Tacos and Burritos where we currently are.
And most of Asia gives you bamboo sticks.
When the tap water isn’t of high quality, like in Mexico, the waiter often serves you plastic bottles. I usually have my reusable water bottle with me and can drink from that instead of using plastic bottles.
You can also try and reduce food waste by using some of these apps:
Unplug your house
Before leaving the house, ensure you have turned everything off and, even better, unplug devices that don’t need to be plugged in, like your TV, lamps and lights. It is still drawing power if you are plugged into the power outlet. You might as well turn it off completely and save yourself money and the environment.
Before you board your plane, make sure to have your boarding ticket on your phone. Make sure to tell the person at the check-in that they don’t need to print a ticket for you since most of this is managed online.
Bring a towel
It’s pretty clear that staying at a hotel isn’t the most eco-friendly way to travel. If you do find yourself at a hotel you can always use your own towel and therefore avoid a lot of wasted water from washing the hotel towels and bed linen.
When you stay at a hotel leave the towels as they are so it is obvious you didn’t use them. Also, skip the toiletries as I mentioned before. You can easily pack your own special travel towel and your soap bars.
So there you have my zero waste travel tips. I hope this doesn’t feel too complicated and you can even integrate some of these tips into your everyday life. I love having my little backpack full of sustainable travel products with me and being prepared to pull out a reusable straw for the rescue. I know, nerdy but fun.
Happy zero waste travel, and if you want a checklist, you can download this free one I made for you. Enjoy your next trip.
Grab your free camping checklist here.