Zero Waste Travel Packing List | What To Pack + Zero Waste Travel Tips
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Living a low waste to zero waste lifestyle is something that has been important to me for years. Since I was a 13-year-old crying to my parents about the depleting ozone layer, I have cared about what is happening to the environment and how we can do more. Obviously, I am not perfect and am still learning new things every day. All I know is there is always room for improvement. If I can send less to the landfill and be as zero waste as much as possible, I would hope I am making a difference. On my last trip, which was to see my family in Spain, I packed a little differently. By sharing this zero waste travel packing list, I hope that you might be able to make some changes in travel packing as well.
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Zero Waste Travel – Items For Food & Shopping
Reusable Tote Bag
By now, everyone should have a reusable tote bag. Even my late parents had them in the late 90s when grocery stores started charging for plastic bags in Canada. You might have many of these from special events or conventions. Now I am declining them because I have enough and I end up sending the extra bags to charity shops.
There are always a few bags in my car for grocery shopping and always one in my purse for random shopping moments. When Baggu first started (in the Del Mar area of San Diego actually), I bought a few bags from them and I still have them. They are the best bags and I use them for shopping, carry dirty laundry, wet swimwear or dirty gym clothes. I packed a couple for my round the world trip and all subsequent trips after that. They are pretty perfect.
One thing I hate is plastic bags and I avoid accepting them at all costs. If there is a rare occasion my shopping or food needs to be corraled, I ask for paper. It is a very rare occasion though.
In the past, I used a lot of Ziploc bags. Sadly, I even wrote a post about how great they are (I’ve since deleted the post.) Now I’ve changed my ways and try not to use plastic. A few years ago I bought a Stasher Bag and have bought more because they are great. When I went to Spain I used the sandwich size to carry and organize my plugs and used a snack bag for my….snacks.
The bag also came in handy when I went shopping at bulk stores which are plentiful in Madrid.
Reusable Cloth Produce Bags
In Europe, when you shop at grocery stores you have to weigh and tag your fruits and vegetables. To reduce the amount of plastic I was consuming in Spain, I bought some cloth produce bags in Madrid from a plastic-free shop called Unpacked. Occasionally I could get away with not using a plastic bag. For example, when I bought bananas or a single apple, I could put the sticker on the fruit. Sometimes I was able to skip plastic altogether when I was at a farmers market or fruteria (small produce only shop). There are always ways around plastic, we just have to plan and make the choice.
These weigh next to nothing so I will definitely bring these on trips. They can be used to organize things in my bag too.
The cloth bags I bought are not see through which is fine but it helps the cashier to see the items inside if they are mesh or more transparent. Just a recommendation if you are looking to make the switch.
Reusable Water Bottle / Coffee Mug
My brand of choice for a reusable water bottle is Hydro Flask. It keeps the water hot or cold and I bring mine with me everywhere (gym, exploring, etc,). At an event, I was given a Yeti tumbler in a gift bag and now I use it for coffee or other hot beverages. For Christmas, I also got a Hydro Flask coffee mug. Unless I know that I’m going to a coffee shop, I usually don’t carry this around as much. The water bottles also keep drinks hot so they are perfect if a coffee shop trip is unplanned.
Water in a bottle is something I don’t buy anymore. Tap water suits me fine. Occasionally I buy sparkling water and I try to buy canned before plastic since cans and glass are always recycled.
Cutlery Set or Chopsticks
When I was in Spain, I either ate at my family’s place or I dined in. It was very rare that I take-out food in Europe. If I did, I would definitely bring my travel cutlery set. I’m a huge fan of sporks and had one for my round the world trip. At a travel conference, I was given a set of reusable chopsticks which are great. They work for most things, maybe not soup haha.
If you do a lot of takeouts, do get a set of reusable cutlery. In my car, I have a cutlery set with a fork, spoon, and collapsible chopsticks. It’s handy when I’m hungry after the gym and spontaneously buy food. Of course, if you know you’re going to get food and don’t mind carrying cutlery from home, by all means, do that instead. No need to buy a set.
At our house, we bought cloth napkins for dinner parties but now we also use them for daily meals. If you’re travelling or going out, bring one to use when you’re eating out. No need for paper napkins.
Do you eat a lot of take-out food? If you know you’re going to get take-out food, bring a container that you already have. If you don’t have one, then buy one that you can use all the time. Glass containers are great because it makes reheating easy and also becomes an extra serving dish if need be. Take-out is something I don’t do a lot of. If I am not eating at home, I dine in the restaurant. Of course, if you want something more lightweight, then go for something like silicone.
Zero Waste Travel – Items For Personal Hygiene
When I was planning for my trip to the Sahara Desert, I thought I was going to get my period (If you’re a guy, you can skip down or read too). The idea of having to change tampons at an overnight camp in the desert made me cringe. So I switched over to a menstrual cup. For some time I had thought about switching and I really wish I did ages ago. Less trash to the landfill and money could be in my pocket instead.
My Blossom Cup
I will be transparent and say that I use a Sonicare. Dental hygiene is very important to me so my I bought a Sonicare set of two for my late husband and me over 13 years ago. I replace the heads every 4-5 months. Of course, I would like to switch to something like bamboo brushes but my toothbrush is still in good condition and I don’t want to send it to the landfill until both toothbrushes die.
If you are not using an electric brush, switch over. Bamboo breaks down, unlike regular toothbrushes.
Floss is still a tough one for me. I go with unwaxed floss but I am not sure if it biodegrades. There are floss companies that make biodegradable floss but then there is still plastic packaging. If you have a recommendation please post in comments for me!
Reusable Makeup Rounds
To remove my makeup in the past, I used a lot of cotton rounds. So much water is used to make cotton and a lot of pesticides are used for farming. While I was in Spain I bought reusable organic cotton rounds from Unpacked Shop. Now I just put them in a delicates bag (so I don’t lose them) and wash them with my regular laundry. Now I bring them along with me on the road too.
In my storage, I found my old epilator which I bought over 15 years ago. I stopped shaving my legs and let my hair grow in and now I use my epilator to go hairless.
Do you need to shave (I’m looking at you guys)? Get an electric razor instead. It would be better than sending razors to the landfill. A handful of people I know went back to straight razors.
Bamboo Nail Brush
A nail brush goes into my toiletry kit along with my nail cutter and glass file. Who knows what your hands touch when you’re out and about so I like to soap under my nails with a brush to clean them.
Zero Waste Travel For Tech
Earbuds or headphones with a jack
When I’m on the plane, I’m honestly surprised people ask for the earbuds when the flight attendants come around. No need to ask for the cheap crappy earbuds on the airplane, bring your own. When I travel I have my noise cancellation headphones for the plane trip. Sudio is my go-to brand for everything sound-wise whether it be for travel/working or the gym.
Some Zero Waste Travel Tips
- Pack Snacks. Instead of buying tons of plastic-wrapped snacks, I bring my own that I buy in bulk (bigger bags or in the bulk section of my local market). Apples are great for the plane rides. I also love snacking on nuts and granola.
- If you are packing toiletries, fill bottles from large containers rather than buy travel size items. Travel sized items are such a rip-off. I got some containers from Muji which I have been using forever. Lewis N Clark is another brand I like.
- If you get cold on planes, bring a scarf. Don’t use the blankets wrapped in plastic. They are not always clean.
- Boarding Pass – Who really prints things these days? Everyone has a mobile phone. Get your boarding pass on your phone via the airline app or email.
- Mason Jar – Because I already have reusable bottles, I don’t try to pack glass in my suitcase. Even though Mason jars have so many uses, I don’t bring one when I travel on a plane. I was recently in Spain for 3 months visiting my family. If I purchased a jar, I would clean them, remove the label, and reuse them for bulk shopping.
- Bring a reusable coffee mug/cup
- Try to avoid eating at restaurants that use paper or plastic plates
- Bring a reusable container for food if you know you’re getting takeout
- Don’t drink beverages with straws. Do you really need to drink through a straw?
- Take note of a city’s recycle or compost program.
- If I can’t find a recycle bin on the street or in a place of business, I will bring trash or recycling home with me.
- Look for bulk stores or sections. As an example, in Spain they were plentiful and they use paper bags rather than plastic (I’m looking at you America). In America, grocery stores like Sprouts or Winco have bulk sections.
- Support local markets and farmers markets
- Eat plant-based as much as you can – still working on this!
- Walk everywhere!
- Staying in rentals like Air Bnb are great because you can recycle, save money, cook etc.
- If staying in a hotel, decline daily housekeeping
- Less consumption. I stopped washing my hair daily and only do so once or twice a week. This way I’m saving water, money for hair product, and buying less plastic.
As I mentioned above, I’m not perfect when it comes to being zero waste. I am still learning and making switches. But I’m trying my best by doing things like always saying no to single-use plastic and educating myself constantly. Not everything on this zero waste travel packing list will work for everyone. Remember you don’t have to buy any of these items. Many things you probably already have in your home. But if we all make small changes, it’s better for the earth and the future generations, right?
If you have any zero waste travel tips to share, please leave them in the comments
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