I’m finally getting back to the daily grind in Houston after a two week vacation to Croatia and Turkey. I’m aware that traveling thousands of miles by plane isn’t remotely environmentally friendly. But what I didn’t prepare myself for was the amount of waste involved in air travel.
For the past few months, I’ve been steering more and more towards a zero-waste lifestyle which basically involves reducing waste, recycling, and reusing products to benefit the planet.
This trip was different from past travel experiences, because I was very aware of the wastefulness associated with traveling. Reiterating what I said before, I know I wasn’t helping the environment by flying across the world, but I definitely noticed some changes that could be made to help reduce waste while flying.
It’s about doing what you can, even if it’s something small! I want to be more prepared for my next trip. I created this blog post with my best zero waste travel tips to help you reduce your waste while traveling!
Avoid Single-Use Plastics by Bringing Your Own
There’s a lot of single use plastic involved in the travel industry. Consider bringing a zero-waste travel kit of reusable essentials if you have the space! Here are a few items you might want to have with you to help reduce your personal waste:
Reusable Water Bottles
Airlines use SO many plastic cups on flights. You get a drink in a fresh plastic cup with a paper napkin every few hours on a long flight. So much waste! I think it’s a good idea to bring a reusable water bottle to refill or ask to have a whole aluminum can of your drink of choice and avoid the plastic cup and napkin altogether. You can carry your reusable bottle at your travel destination and refill at a water fountain. In this way, you won’t have to purchase single use plastic bottles over and over again.
As soon as we sat down for our flight, we were handed a plastic wrapped set of headphones which I was grateful to have. I would’ve been bored out of my mind for the 10 hour flight. However, I wish I remembered to bring my own pair. That would’ve been such a simple way to reduce waste. So don’t forget to bring your own headphones on your next trip.
Layers of Clothing
I wore a really comfortable cotton dress for the flight and remembered to bring a sweater because I’m always cold. But guess what? I was STILL cold. So I broke down and used the blanket provided by the airline to keep warm. Of course these blankets come wrapped in plastic bags. Next time I will bring a few more layers so I won’t need to break open the blanket.
Pack layers but be mindful not to over pack. When you pack light, you carry less weight which means that transportation requires less fuel and produces fewer carbon emissions. This is especially relevant when traveling by air, where every pound of weight carried requires a significant amount of fuel. Every little bit helps!
Not only is packing light more eco friendly, traveling with less luggage makes getting around a lot easier!
I actually remembered to bring my neck pillow (1 point for Jessie!). But just a reminder to bring yours on your next flight as well. This will save you having to open the individually plastic wrapped airline pillows offered by the flight attendants. If you don’t already own a travel neck pillow, consider borrowing one from a friend or family member. You could even check your local Buy Nothing group to see if someone might want to give away their own neck pillow. Shopping secondhand first is always a great option when trying to live more sustainably.
I definitely ate the plane meals provided, and they were actually not so bad. Sadly though, they were saturated with tons of plastic wrap. Plastic containers, plastic straws, plastic cutlery wrapped in plastic, muffin wrapped in plastic, bottle of water in plastic, etc. I wish airlines would consider using more eco friendly disposable utensils at the very least.
In the future, I’d like to pack my own meals and bring my own snacks in reusable containers. This way, I can avoid using the individually packaged snacks provided on the plane. It would be useful to have a cloth napkin and reusable straw on hand as well!
Even something as simple as a mason jar could be good to bring while traveling. You could use this jar as a reusable water bottle, reusable coffee cup, to carry snacks, or for leftovers. It’s pretty versatile.
Don’t forget to have a reusable bag on hand as well!
Plastic Free Toiletries
I use mostly plastic free toiletries at home, so it was no trouble packing up these sustainably made goods for my trip. A few things I pack in my toiletry bag include:
- Bamboo Toothbrush
- Zero Waste Toothpaste
- Zero Waste Deodorant
- Safety Razor
- Zero Waste Sunscreen
- Wooden Hairbrush
- Menstrual Cup
Purchase Carbon Offsets for Sustainable Travel
If you’re going to be flying, consider purchasing carbon offsets. It’s a simple and effective way to reduce your carbon footprint and help combat climate change. There are a variety of companies that you can support, but purchasing carbon offsets is basically supporting projects and organizations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These projects might include renewable energy projects, energy efficiency programs, or reforestation efforts. Your carbon offset purchase helps to fund these eco friendly projects!
Carbon offsets can be purchased for a variety of activities that contribute to carbon emissions, such as air travel, driving, or heating and cooling your home.
Support Local Communities
As responsible travelers, we need to consider the impact of our travels on the local communities we visit. One way to ensure that our travels have a positive impact is to support local communities.
Supporting local communities can take many forms, from buying locally produced goods and services to volunteering with local organizations. By supporting local businesses, we can help to sustain the local economy and promote the unique culture of the community. We can also learn more about the community by interacting with locals and hearing their stories and perspectives. I especially love visiting local farmers markets and supporting local farmers!
Eat in local restaurants and order vegetarian/vegan meals for extra sustainability points. Plant-based food is usually more eco friendly because these foods require less natural resources to produce and are less taxing on the environment.
Eco Friendly Transportation
When it comes to traveling, it’s important to consider the impact of transportation on the environment. While you may need to travel by plane to reach your destination, if possible, use more eco friendly transportation options in the city you are visiting.
Eco-friendly transportation options like biking, walking, public transportation, or electric vehicles can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your trip. By using sustainable modes of transportation, you not only reduce emissions but also get to experience your destination in a unique and memorable way.
If possible, choose eco friendly accommodations when traveling. There are many eco conscious hotels these days!
Eco-friendly accommodations usually employ various eco practices like using renewable energy, reducing water usage, recycling, and sourcing locally produced goods to reduce their carbon footprint.
Additionally, eco-friendly accommodations often provide unique experiences that allow you to connect with nature and the local culture, offering a more authentic travel experience.
Also, during your stay, consider setting out the “do not disturb” door hanger so that your room doesn’t get cleaned every single day. Reuse your bath towels rather than getting fresh towels each morning.
Some environmentally conscious hotels have large, refillable containers of soap, shampoo, and conditioner in their showers. However, if your accommodations only have small single use soaps, bring your own solid shampoo bars and facial cleanser bars instead!
Traveling sustainably is crucial for reducing the negative impact of tourism on the environment and local communities. We can easily prioritize practices that minimize our carbon footprint, preserve natural resources, and promote social and economic development.
This includes choosing eco-friendly modes of transportation, staying at sustainable accommodations, engaging in activities that respect local culture and wildlife, reducing waste and consumption, and supporting local businesses.
By adopting these sustainable travel practices, we can ensure that our trips have a positive impact on the places we visit!
For more great zero waste tips for your next flight or road trip, check out our Zero Waste Lifestyle Pinterest board!
Author’s Note: This post was originally published in 2015 but we’ve since updated content with more great zero waste travel tips for you!