Happy Earth Week, Passion Passport community! In honor of Earth Day 2019, we’re bringing you new sustainable travel content every day this week, with each story aiming to celebrate eco-travelers, low-impact ways of living, and explorations that honor both people and places. We hope we inspire you to travel with the environment in mind.

So, you’re preparing for your next trip. While checking off the items on your to-do list, you realize that you need to pick up a few toiletries before you jet off. At the pharmacy, you locate the aisle dedicated to “travel-sized” products and notice that each is almost the same price as its full-sized counterpart. The brand and scent of the shampoo you settle on aren’t your first choice, but the options in the miniature sizes are limited, and at this point, you don’t have time to be picky. After your travels, you toss the plastic containers.

And when you’re planning your next trip after that, you repeat the cycle.

Sound familiar?

Though travel-sized toiletries seem like the easy option in the moment, their convenience doesn’t make up for their price hike or their wastefulness. And, unfortunately, they’re just one small portion of the waste produced during a given trip. From air and road travel to the use of coffee cups and plastic straws, travelers consume a lot of materials and energy. Being cognizant of your waste production while traveling is important, and you often need to plan ahead if you want to effectively cut back.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help make your next trip waste-free.

A man walks through a landfill
Photo by Hermes Rivera

Before Your Departure

Readying Your Toiletries

As we previously covered, toiletries can be a big producer of waste if you don’t plan ahead. But with the help of a couple of items you probably have around your house, you can stay fresh and clean while still being a zero-waste traveler. For your next trip, skip the travel section at the store and follow these tips for organizing your sustainable dopp kit.

Toothbrushes are usually made from a mix of plastic materials that combine elements of rubber, crude oil, and plastic packaging. Waste from this necessary tool can be avoided by purchasing a non-plastic, bamboo or wooden toothbrush. Making homemade toothpaste is also much simpler than it seems; just be sure to use a small mason jar or an old skincare container to store it. Not only will this reduce waste, but it will save you money and protect your body from the harmful ingredients found in conventional toothpastes. For sunnier destinations, consider reef-safe sunscreen. This helpful alternative lacks oxybenzone and octinoxate, two damaging ingredients in traditional lotions that have been proven to bleach and destroy coral reefs.

A woman sets up camp in the mountains
Photo by Eeva Makinen

Additionally, those use-once-and-toss bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and body wash you find in hotel rooms account for a mind-numbing amount of landfill waste each year. By bringing your own bar of soap, you’ll reduce the need to use those little plastic bottles — not to mention, you’ll ensure that you get to use your favorite scent even while on the road! Just transfer an appropriate amount of your shampoo and conditioner (from the large containers sitting in your shower) into small jars or reusable bottles before you jet off.

The same can be done for lotions and soaps. To avoid the excess plastic used in deodorant sticks, follow this (simple) homemade recipe that combines creative ingredients to kill bacteria and reduce odor. Reusable razors with replacement heads are also a great alternative to those pesky single-use razors, and they can reduce your plastic footprint dramatically each year. Finally, use handkerchiefs or cloth napkins for everything from wrapping up leftovers to protecting a breakable item in your bag — they always come in handy.

A reusable straw in a glass jar with lemon
Photo by The Ethical Straw Co.

Prepping For Your Food & Drinks

We tend to eat out and grab coffee to go while traveling, both of which present the opportunity for excessive waste. Packing your own tumbler or coffee mug is a huge step in reducing plastic and styrofoam waste, so even if you choose to go out for a coffee while exploring the wonderful city you’re in, bring your own container to avoid using a paper or styrofoam cup (and a plastic lid). As a bonus, some establishments even offer discounts for bringing your own cup! The same goes for water bottles — stay hydrated without wasting plastic by packing a reusable carrier.

Additionally, always travel with at least one Tupperware container; you can use it initially to pack your travel-day lunch, and then keep it for the remainder of your trip to pack up leftovers or whatever else you may need. That brings us to utensils. Easy to find in stores or online, reusable utensils ensure that you’ll never need to use plastic forks and knives on the plane or for take-out. Finally, remember to keep a metal straw in your day pack, and at restaurants, say, “No straw please!”

Packing Your Bag

Actually traveling waste-free is complicated, but the first step is to pack lightly. It may seem arbitrary, but only traveling with a carry-on will save both automobile and plane fuel. The heavier the means of transportation, the more fuel the vehicle needs to power forward — if everyone on your plane only brought a carry-on, that plane would need a lot less fuel to get you to your destination. Traveling ultralight also leads to more flexibility and fewer headaches at the airport. 

A landfill sign along a desert highway
Photo by Matthew Christopher Miller

Other Things to Remember

In order to avoid excess food waste while you’re away, do your best to align your grocery shopping timeline with your departure date. A few days before leaving, take inventory of the perishable foods in your refrigerator to ensure that you use all that you can. Freeze or eat easily spoiled foods, and adjust your grocery list accordingly, so that you can shop smart ahead of time in the future. And be sure to save any perishable fruits and vegetables to use as snacks and lunch on your travel day!

Before you head out, also remember to grab a canvas tote, handkerchief, and a blanket for your journey (more on this later).

En Route

Though trains are the most ideal form of sustainable travel, for worldly voyagers, air travel is often the only option. There are, however, guidelines that travelers can follow to offset their footprint while flying and remain mindful at 37,000 feet. Go paperless when boarding flights by electing to receive your passes electronically on your phone. Once on the aircraft, say no to plastic straws and stirrers, and be extra selective when it comes to snacks and drinks to avoid plastic and other in-flight waste. Whip out your blanket for long flights to avoid those plastic-wrapped ones provided by the airline, ask your flight attendant to use your own coffee cup or water bottle, and carry out any paper or plastic you may have acquired on the flight to ensure they are properly recycled off the plane.

Fresh zucchini and broccoli
Photo by Vanessa Mandich

While Abroad

An effective way to limit your waste while traveling is to visit a single destination. Though it might be difficult to choose, picking one city or location per trip will allow you to reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding additional flights or bus rides between areas. This will also provide you with the opportunity to embrace a slower pace and get to know the community you’re exploring more thoroughly. It’s tempting to “do Europe”  in one fell swoop, but settling in one destination for an entire trip is more relaxing and will truly introduce you to the local culture.

Another way to connect with your environment while also reducing your footprint is to eat like a local. By shopping at small markets instead of supermarkets, travelers can support local farmers, butchers, and bakers. Additionally, this reduces waste from packaging, and helps visitors enjoy authentic culinary experiences packed with locally sourced ingredients. This goes for souvenirs as well. Purchasing locally made crafts and goods may not always be the cheapest option, but it ensures proper support of the local economy — and it makes for far better storytelling later on.  

To further offset carbon emissions from your travel or other unavoidable waste you may inevitably end up making, participate in a local mission. Whether it’s volunteering in a beach clean-up or picking up litter along the street, every traveler can contribute to cleaning up around the world.

Avoiding waste production while on the road may seem like an impossible task, but with a little bit of planning (and passion), it is a totally attainable and worthwhile goal. Packing lightly and intentionally, going paperless, being mindful, and doing your research are just a few of the many ways you can make travel a zero-waste activity.

Want more Earth Week inspiration? Click here!

Cover Photo by David Coulson

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Jackie Cohen
Jackie Cohen is a budget travel extraordinaire, having backpacked her way across five continents. In constant search of local beer, cuisine, and adventure, Jackie is a firm believer of travel and cultural exchange as a powerful peace-builder between people and places. She's originally from Massachusetts.