There’s a good chance that you’re traveling to spend time with loved ones for the holiday over the next month or so, and whether that be by plane, train, automobile, or bus, it’s important to be mindful about reducing the environmental impact of your travel and time at your destination. While sustainable living has been a priority for many people for decades, it’s becoming increasingly important that we are mindful of how our actions impact the planet. In fact, a recent UN study showed that we are at risk for major environmental risks if we continue to operate as we currently do.
The good news? There are some simple, easy, and affordable (often even money-saving!) ways to be more mindful about your carbon footprint and the waste you’re producing while traveling. Here are some my favorite ways to live my low-waste lifestyle while on the go.
1. Travel with your zero-waste essentials
I always carry a handful of items that help me reduce my plastic usage and waste while on the go (both for longer trips and daily use). The things I always have in my bag include a water bottle, a set of reusable cutlery, a reusable coffee cup, a metal straw, and a couple reusable bags. By carrying these items, I can significantly cut down my use of disposables and plastic. It’s easy to have a little set of cutlery in your bag and pull it out when you go to get a salad or at an event where they only have plastic forks, or to ask the coffee shop to use your own cup. These small steps can make a big environmental difference as you aren’t using an item for a few minutes that will just be thrown away or recycled.
2. Bring your own entertainment
Take out books from the library, listen to audiobooks on your phone, or read E-books while on the go. Or prepare by downloading your favorite podcasts in advance of the flight. By being prepared, you won’t need to grab a magazine at the airport when you’re bored that you’ll end up tossing at the end of your flight! Don’t forget to bring your headphones so you don’t need to use the ones they give out on board, which are low quality and will end up in the trash after one use.
3. Pack your own toiletries
I used to hoard free shampoo bottles at hotels (yeah, I admit it) and call down to room service for a toothbrush because I always forgot mine, but now I realize how taxing those habits are for the environment. I don’t often see hotels that recycle those mini plastic bottles, and plastic toothbrushes are not recyclable and will not biodegrade in landfill in your lifetime — womp womp. Instead of relying on the hotel’s amenities, be prepared! Bring your toothbrush from home, buy refillable plastic or glass bottles to bring your shampoo and conditioner from home, and whatever bathroom items you love so you won’t need to accumulate more items on the go, contributing to more waste. Plus, you will get to stick to the items you know, love, and trust.
4. Bring a reusable tote bag
It’s helpful to have a reusable tote bag on you for any shopping you’ll want to do while traveling. You can throw anything in there from groceries to new clothing items and more to cut down on the disposable bags you’re taking. Plus it’s much easier to walk around for the day with everything in a reusable tote bag versus carrying a bunch of plastic or paper bags.
5. Travel with your snacks
We all know that airport/train/bus station/gas station snacks leave a lot to be desired when you are mindful of what you eat, not to mention they mean racking up lots of packaging. Instead, travel with the snacks you love and that support your health. My recommendation? Bring a reusable bag or a Stasher to the bulk section of your grocery or health food store and stock up on raw nuts, granola, or anything else healthy you love. Having your own snacks means you can also say “no thank you” to plane snacks, which are generally not very health conscious and come in tiny portions which means lots of packaging waste.
6. Go paperless
Whatever mode of transport you’re taking, there’s almost always an app for that. Go paperless with your travel and save clutter, reduce paper usage, and avoid that moment when you can’t find your boarding pass! Amtrak, most airlines, and lots of bus companies have an e-ticket or app for boarding passes, and more and more local commuter rails are offering apps for tickets as well.
While these tips will keep you low-waste during your travels, you can also use most of them in your normal day-to-day as well. Keep those zero-waste reusable items in your backpack or work bag, bring your own snacks with you from the bulk aisle, and be mindful of your consumption every day. It gets easier and more intuitive (and fun!) as you get used to it.