Travel is generally great for relaxation and gaining new perspectives—but it’s not so great for the planet. In addition to air travel’s heavy carbon footprint, it’s a time when single-use packaging is everywhere, since you’re on the go.
But it’s much easier than you might expect to drastically reduce the amount of waste you produce while on the road (and offset those carbon emissions). With a bit of planning and proper packing, you’ll be good to go.
Here are my top tips to reduce your waste while traveling. Give them a try and you might just find, like I did, that incorporating them into your life enhances your travel experiences by encouraging you to be that much more present and mindful.
Abby K. Cannon, JD, RD is a Nutritious Life Certified attorney-turned-dietitian who lives a very low-waste lifestyle. While practicing law in New York City, she realized her true passions were for nutrition, wellness, and the environment and so she returned to school to become a dietitian. Her food philosophy marries sustainability and nutrition. Abby’s Food Court (both the website and the practice) helps people make the best choices for their health and the environment. Stay up to date with Abby by following @abbysfoodcourt on Instagram.
8 Hacks for Eco-Friendly Travel Habits
1. Bring your own utensils.
I talk about bamboo utensils a lot, and that’s because they are a core staple in a low-waste lifestyle. Having bamboo silverware means you never need the disposable, plastic alternative. Ever! At the airport, on the plane, or at an foreign food market with glorious new flavors to try, always be prepared to avoid plastic cutlery.
2. Bring your own snacks
To me, there’s almost nothing worse than having to sit on a plane for hours with heavy food that I didn’t even like sitting in my stomach. Plus, most airport snacks are wrapped in plastic and filled with salt and sugar. Instead, I pack a light meal and some light snacks when traveling. Here are some examples of my favorite travel snacks:
—A small jar with peanut butter, sliced banana, hemp seeds, and a sprinkle of cinnamon
—A homemade nut and seed mix (made from nuts/seeds bought in the bulk section!)
—A jar with baked Japanese sweet potato
—Dried mango and pineapple
Bonus: The jars will come in handy if you pick up snacks at a local shop or want to bring leftover dessert back to your hotel room.
3. Bring your own tote bags
A lot of people shop more when they travel (souvenirs!), and you can avoid all disposable shopping bags by bringing your own. Totes are more durable, anyway, and won’t break like a plastic bag will while you’re out and about.
4. Bring your own coffee cup
What’s better than finding a cute café and enjoying a lovely cappuccino while on holiday? While my first choice is always to sit down and drink from a real mug, having a reusable coffee cup for rushed moments is key. Like when you’re anxious for sightseeing and want to grab coffee from the hotel and go.
5. Bring your own water bottle and filter
Traveling is dehydrating, so it’s important to set yourself up to stay adequately hydrated. To start off your trip super hydrated, fill up your reusable water bottle before you hop on the security line. You will be forced to drink it before entering the terminal. Additionally, I always use a GoPure Pod water filter so that I have confidence in the quality of my water. I research the tap water quality ahead of time and usually feel comfortable relying solely on my GoPure Pod.
6. Bring your own soap, shampoo, and conditioner
By bringing soap and hair-care products, you avoid needing the ones provided in hotels. Hotels throw away millions of bars of soap and half-used shampoo and conditioner bottles daily. The half-full bottles end up in our landfills. To avoid contributing to this, I pack an all-in-one shampoo and conditioner bar (yes, those come in bar form!), a bar of soap that can double as body and face wash, and lotion. Plaine Products also makes perfect travel-size personal care items in stainless steel containers that you can return once used. As with any liquids, make sure to pack them in your checked bag. And, check with your hotel ahead of time: Some are switching to large bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in bathrooms. If you go to one such hotel, make sure to compliment them on their eco-friendly practices.
(Photo: The Yellow Bird)
7. Pack as light as possible
I know I know, I just finished telling you about all of the extra stuff you need to bring, and this is one I still struggle with. But the heavier your suitcase, the heavier the plane, and the more gas needed to transport you. Take a few extra moments when packing to think about your outfits and be picky about what you bring. Only pack what you’ll actually wear. Avoid what I call “aspirational packing”—when you pack a piece of clothing you haven’t worn in years because you think you might finally wear it …but never do.
8. Offset your travels
Using the Carbon Footprint website, you can easily calculate the carbon emissions of your trip and then offset your travels. I’ve made it a habit to log onto the website during my flight and offset my entire trip by donating money to plant trees. This way, I offset before I even land in my destination.