Easy Ways To Reduce Your Waste While Traveling

Words and Images: Elana Jadallah

Traveling can be extremely wasteful – the resources used, the reliance on “convenience” along with the freeing ‘I’m on vacation’ mindset can be a dizzying mix. But it doesn’t have to be.

Mindfulness and travel can coexist when we learn to integrate our low-waste rituals and practices wherever we are in the world. There is impact when we travel – no matter what – and while we have slowed our travel way down, it is still part of our lives (and a lot of people’s) so finding ways to reduce that impact is such an important conversation to be having. Here are some ideas on how we can be mindful of our impact while we travel:

1. Fly Direct & Offset Your Carbon

If the travel plans include flying, which is one of the ‘dirtiest’ acts we can partake in as individuals, seek out non-stop flights or flight paths with the least amount of stops possible.

Instead of choosing the airline with the cheapest fare, opt for an environmentally conscious airline that uses biofuel, has plastic free flights, etc.

Along with this, offset the carbon on your flight! You can do this directly through the airlines oftentimes but I recommend looking into an organization like Cool Effect or Terrapass.

If you want to learn more about this, I have a longer-form article on my blog!

2. Bring Your Own Reusables

The best way to avoid plastic/excessive waste while traveling is coming prepared with waste-free tools! When you have these, it’s a lot easier to avoid unnecessary waste that we can easily create while traveling.

Some of the tools we find helpful are: reusable bottles like Klean Kanteen’s TKWides , to-go coffee tumblers, stainless steel to-go boxes (here are the ones we have), biodegradable soap bars, a reusable tote bag & cutlery. Sounds like a lot but this packs fairly small and comes in handy multiple times a day!

3. Shop Your Closet

Before we travel, it’s so easy to feel like we need to ‘get a few things for our trip.’ Instead, I recommend shopping our own closets (both for clothing and for gear).

I often find a few pieces that I had forgotten about or find myself feeling most confident in my favorite, most flattering dress or vintage sweater of my mom’s instead of buying something new.

If something specific is needed, I opt for secondhand first or high-quality second but try to avoid any impulse pre-travel buys. This may seem simple but in the consumer-driven world we live in, I’m sure you’ve also felt the pressure to buy a bunch before you travel!

4. Bring Your Own Food

It’s not a secret that food is a huge source of waste, especially ‘fast food’ or anything we get to-go. We have the opportunity to cut down on waste by reducing our reliance on packaged food when we’re traveling.
Before departing, we visit our local market to load up so we don’t need the plane / gas station snacks or have to buy single-use packaged goods. We try to bring as much fresh snacks that we can: fruits and veg, homemade hummus, raw carrot salad, coffee or tea from home, etc.
Some of our favorite snacks to get in bulk are dried fruits, nuts and granola. We’ve also been known to bring cooked rice, roasted veg, homemade bone broth and things of the like on road trips and when we go camping.
Preparing our own foods is so much less common these days but 1000% worth it not only because it’s reducing waste but because you’re the one overseeing what ingredients are actually in your food and avoiding preservatives.

When eating out: choose to dine-in vs getting takeout whenever possible to avoid plastic / styrofoam packaging or bring your own to-go container! I look forward to the day that toxic food packaging is banned nation (and world) wide.

Klean Camp Mug for Travel
Couple with Camp Mugs at Bonfire
Prepping Food for Travelling

5. Leave No Trace

The concept of ‘leave no trace’ is most commonly associated with recreating in remote areas but when we travel, we love to honor this practice in every way we can no matter where we are.

If there’s the option, stay in eco-accommodations that compost / recycle / upcycle and generally ‘get it!’ or if there’s no choice — ask the accommodations you are booking about the above. By simply bringing things to their attention, we can be a small catalyst for change. *Consider leaving a note with suggestions - especially at Airbnbs!

If you're on the road, search for community gardens & compost facilities in the area — oftentimes, they’ll let you drop food waste off to be composted!

If you are camping, we love to challenge ourselves not only to pack out all of our trash but to create as little as possible. Be mindful of the recommendations they give you upon check in and care for the land as a steward.

On our last camping trip, I cooked potatoes, apples and onions over flame… as an example of the challenge to reduce our waste, I brought a jar filled with water to drop the apple cores and peels into to make apple cider vinegar before composting them. Obviously, we were camping fairly close to home and this wouldn’t work abroad but adopting this type of mindset allows us to get creative with our rituals instead of feeling restricted by them!

6. Seek Out Local Allies

One of my favorite things to do when I am away from home is to seek out and support small co-ops, markets and farm stands for our cooking ingredients. Not only are you supporting local farmers but I have met some of the most incredible people this way.

If you’re dining out, look for farm-to-table restaurants supporting their local farms.

Always ask about plastic-free alternatives, utilizing your reusables and overall, keeping the conversation open.

Most Importantly:

Do the best you can & don't forget to enjoy the incredible world we're trying to protect!

Progress is more important than perfection. Welcome lessons from each place you travel and every person you meet. You’ll likely learn a few things you can add to this list and other ideas far more profound.

Wishing you safe & happy travels!