I’ve read a lot about sustainability on the go — folks go to impressive lengths to cut down their plastic consumption and reduce their carbon footprint while traveling. Having just returned from a few weeks of being on the road myself, I’m reflecting on the low-waste efforts I found valuable and actionable.
Traveling low-waste is obviously a challenge! Life is full of uncertainties, and it can be anxiety-inducing to expect that between lodging, eating out, and transportation you’ll make zero trash. But you can try to reduce that impact!
Here are a few things I was able to do while jetting around, what I’ve seen or heard of others doing, and how I want to improve in the future.
The Low-Effort, Low-Waste:
Gestures that are easy to remember & limit excess waste:
- Carry your water bottle everywhere! Unless you’re travelling in remote locations, you should have access to clean drinking water. Most airports these days have water bottle filling stations, making things extra easy. Get yourself a trendy bottle or a Klean Kanteen (what I have!)
- Invest in a coffee tumbler to enjoy hot liquids on the go. Nothing says “vacation” to me like sinking money into an excessive number of coffee drinks everyday. I brought along my favorite light-weight mug – a Miir tumbler – for coffee/tea to go. (Miir is the best – every purchase helps fund clean water projects & sustainable development abroad.)
- This one’s for conference goers: refuse freebies! You definitely don’t need more low-quality free pens, totebags and jumpdrives clogging up your life. Channel your inner Marie Kondo on this one.
- Leave a note with your hotel indicating that you don’t need fresh towels or new toiletries on a daily basis. You have no idea how many partially-used bottles of soap and shampoo are sent to the landfill (actually, we do know…)
The Moderate-Effort, Lower-Waste:
- Did you know you can arrange carbon offsets… very easily? Some light research will reveal that airlines & environmental organizations offer options to offset carbon produced by air travel. I discovered that Alaska Airlines, which I used to fly to both coasts in two weeks, offsets with Carbon Fund and specifically supports this project. I used their Carbon Calculator and paid $30 to offset my two trips.
- Prioritize bar soaps over liquids. You can get package-free soap bars at Whole Foods, Lush, or even local beauty stores. They can be stored in a soap carrier or a dishcloth, and IMHO, they’re way easier to pack + get through airport security!
- Research public transportation options ahead of time & walk when possible! In LA, I walked 20 minutes to and from the convention center and really enjoyed seeing my little corner of the city (pictures below.) In Boston, I took the subway every day and felt like a real city kitty. 🐱
- Prioritize compost! Each time I consumed something with compostable wrappers or biodegradable naturally (e.g. banana peel), I’d hang on to them in a small baggie until I got to a compost bin at the convention center.
Things to remember for next time:
- In the future, I’ll plan better for snacks on the go. I’ll either stop by my local co-op and stock up on yogurt pretzels and nuts in bulk, or make food ahead of time that will travel well (probably something from this list of fifty ZW snacks!)
- Take advantage of library books and e-books! Before I left, I impulsively bought a book on Amazon knowing that I’d want to read on the plane. This was particularly dumb since I know my local library rents out e-books that can be downloaded instantly to Kindle. In the future, I’ll save money and paper by going this route.
In the end, it’s a question of effective planning and prioritizing. When you give yourself the time to prepare (and just as importantly, the space to slip up along the way) you might find that these and other low-impact efforts will start to come as second nature.