One of the things I love about travel is the feeling of freedom and how you realise that you can actually live without most of the stuff you own. But making sure you actually leave a small footprint behind you when you go home is even more important. I’m sure there are other ways to travel zero waste by hiking cross country and camping, or staying at youth hostels with shared kitchens, etc. But I’m in my 30’s and I have a young child. And I like to be comfortable. So I’m going to share what works for us.
Where to Stay
When we first book a holiday, as soon as the flights are confirmed, we go onto the AirBnB website (click here to save £25 or $31 on your first booking), check out the reviews and rent an apartment in the location where we are planning to travel. In the past we have also used VRBO and Home Away websites as well. We find this is the most comfortable, cost effective and low waste way for us to travel. By having our own private apartment we can pack light (taking one carry on suitcase each) and travel with a capsule wardrobe that we can wash every few days in the washing machine at the flat. Most Airbnb apartments provide washing powder but we bring a gentle and ecologically friendly one with us. We also shop at the local supermarket and farmer’s markets, buying organic, healthy foods in as low waste packaging as possible, and then cook our own healthy meals. We’ll usually go out for restaurant lunches during the day, but we sometimes also prepare packed lunches to take with us for day trips. We can afford to have the option to do that when we’re saving on the costs of expensive breakfasts and dinners by eating at the apartment. Another way in which renting an apartment is more zero waste-friendly than staying in a hotel is because you will be able to use the recycling and composting services available to residents, rather than having to throw your apple cores or empty glass jars in the garbage knowing they will needlessly go to landfill. You can also bring any composting or recycling waste you accumulate throughout the day back to the apartment (such as lunch leftovers or plastic water bottles in case you get caught out and are desperate for a drink – it happens) and put it in the correct bin.
This was our view from our alfresco dining table on our private balcony from our last holiday rental…not many restaurants can boast a view like this:
What to Pack
No matter how long the holiday, we allow ourselves one carry on suitcase each. Not only is travelling light easier, but its cheaper too, as we can easily use public transport and can often walk to our apartment from the train station, avoiding taking taxis. My toiletries kit is usually filled with reusable silicon GoToobs filled with my homemade toiletries or those dispensed from larger containers at home. You may also note that I mention a mason jar. Bear with me. At home I use a separate glass water bottle and a glass coffee mug which I take with me everywhere I go. But when I travel, my space is limited so a mason jar provides a universal solution. You can fill it with water and its a water bottle. Its heat resistant so you can pour tea or coffee into it, so its also your coffee mug. It also makes a great snack jar for trail mix. I pack one reusable shopping bag which folds down really tiny and a couple of the reusable produce bags, for buying fruits, breads, etc at the market. A sandwich box might be useful here if you want to buy berries or cheeses. The rest of the time you can use it for, you know, carrying around your sandwich. And finally I take half a dozen organic cotton muslins which can multi task as napkins, handkerchiefs, for wrapping your sandwich up inside its sandwich box (instead of cling film) or for wrapping up baked goods bought at the market so to avoid having to take a paper or plastic bag. Then you can clean them in the washing machine at your apartment and they dry quickly, ready to take out and use again.
Here’s an example of what my suitcase contents look like:
- Capsule wardrobe (I won’t go into detail as obviously what I wear depends on the season and destination, but I keep it pretty simple.)
- Toiletries kit (GoToobs filled with shampoo, homemade toothpaste, homemade deodorant, body lotion and homemade aftersun gel. Eye cream. Face oil. Bamboo toothbrush. Possibly sun protection cream, if required. Razor. Makeup bag. My 10 ‘first aid’ essential oils kit.)
- Mason jar
- Sandwich box
- Reusable shopping bag & produce bags
- Clipper tea bags (because finding organic tea in unbleached bags is near impossible!)
- 6 organic cotton muslin squares (yes, like the ones for your baby!)
- iPad (for movies, emails and day trip planning)
- Book (I can’t help it…I’m not a Kindle girl. I love a good real book when I travel!)
Its easy to get caught up while on holiday and buy loads of stuff you’ll wonder what to do with when you get home. You don’t need to buy anything to bring home though. Some people like to bring home their train tickets and flight stubs to glue into their journals. My husband loves to buy the tackiest, most gaudy resin magnet he can find and that is his single souvenir from each trip. I don’t entirely approve of this, as these horrible bits of resin will be probably languishing in a landfill long after we’re dead and gone. (Surely no one will want to inherit them!) But it brings him joy, so I have to have a somewhat balanced perspective when it comes to these things. As for me, I make these ‘memory jars’ filled with sand, pebbles, shells and sea glass from each of our beach holidays. I reuse the plastic ziplock bag they make you use at airport security to put your liquid toiletries in by using it to store collected beach treasures and a bit of sand or pebbles. Then, when I get home I put the contents of the bag into an old glass jam jar and add a luggage tag noting the date and location of the holiday for the contents of each jar. I keep them in my secretary desk and each time I open it, I smile, remembering how happy each holiday made me.
Traveling with Children
Traveling with children can be actually really zero waste-friendly. By staying in a rented apartment or house, rather than a hotel, you can continue to use your homemade wipes and cloth nappies because you can machine wash them as often as you need to. Its much easier to prepare your child’s snacks and meals in a real kitchen with fresh ingredients from the market or supermarket, rather than constantly having to buy expensive packaged and potentially unhealthy snacks on-the-go.
I hope you find some of these tips useful in helping you to have a zero waste holiday…or at least to help you reduce some of the waste you might normally create when on holiday. Being able to travel is a wonderful experience in life, but it is so important to keep our planet as clean and beautiful as we can so our children and grandchildren can experience it in the same way that we have. What about you? Do you have any great zero waste holiday tips to share with me in the comments below?