Zero Waste Travel: Everything You Need to Know

Is it hard to be a zero waste traveller? Not particularly – you just have to be aware and prepared. Here are some easy tips for zero waste travel.

zero waste travel

Sunset in Kyrgyzstan.

Zero waste travel – it seems like an impossible goal. And with the way industry and the world is currently set up, travelling 100% sustainably is a real challenge.

However, you can aim for zero waste, with the use of simple tips and tools. It takes a little preparation and a touch of mindfulness.

In time, it’ll become habit and you’ll find you’re a greener traveller as a consequence.

I’ve been learning how to travel more sustainably for almost five years now and here are the tips I’ve accumulated on my zero waste travel journey.

Read more: 30+ Best Eco-Friendly Travel Products

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zero waste travel

Rubbish lining the streets of Havana, Cuba.

Tips For Zero Waste Travel

You might be wondering what the zero waste movement is.

It’s essentially a push to live without creating any waste. No single-use items, no plastic. The main goal is to send nothing to landfill.

That in essence, is the goal of a zero waste lifestyle.

Seems impossible while travelling, right?

Not entirely, as you’ll see.

india bottles

Reusable bottles in Goa, India.

Before you go

Here is some pre-planning to consider when you start to plan your trip.

Where to holiday

Think about where you want to go. Are you heading overseas? Is there a way you can get there without flying?

If you just want a break, don’t mind where you go and are concerned about your carbon footprint, consider trying a backyard holiday, in your own country.

Catch public transport, or even road trip to your destination (particularly in Australia, which has some amazing road trip routes).

If you are heading abroad, consider extending your time there, or sticking to one destination. Slow travel – don’t plane hop, or try to squeeze everything in.

Consider whether your destination of choice is suffering from overtourism – if so, lend your tourism dollars to somewhere else that needs it more.

House prep

Go through your fridge. Batch cook any leftover veggies. I usually chuck in noodles, hoisin and soy sauce to liven up the taste.

Freeze what you have and you’ll have a meal ready when you’re back from your trip!

Chuck anything uncooked but freezable in the old ice box, such as meat and fish.

Compost anything you won’t use, or gift it to friends, family, colleagues and flatmates.

Unplug anything you won’t need to be on – I usually do this to all appliances, bar the fridge. It’ll help save on electricity.

zero waste deodorant

My favourite cream deodorant.

Packing

If you’re interested in zero waste travel, what you pack before your trip will be of paramount importance.

Pack lightly and pack efficiently. Think about what you really need and follow these tips:

  • Pack what you wear at home. Don’t buy new clothes for your trip.
  • Wear your biggest, heaviest items on the plane (if flying) and layer up.
  • Don’t pack travel-sized toiletries.
  • Pack neutrals. I generally stick to black, white and grey and add a pop of colour.
  • Only bring the jewellery you’ll wear daily.

Toiletries

Toiletries can seem like the hardest thing to change. However, I think re-evaluating your beauty habits is the easiest part of zero waste travel prep.

As you finish off your conventional toiletries, swap them out for zero waste travel products. Solid or powder products are key.

You can get products with plastic-free, compostable packaging, such as shampoo and soap bars, toothpaste tabs, cream deodorant in tins. These last for ages, don’t spill and are easy to get through airport security, unlike liquid toiletries.

Here are a few eco-friendly toiletry items I always take travelling:

I’ve listed the rest of my eco-friendly toiletries here.

zero waste travel

Exploring Western Australia with my zero waste travel kit.

While you’re travelling

Some tips for zero waste travel to consider while in transit.

Pack a zero waste travel kit

A zero waste travel kit will help you immensely in your planning.

In essence, it’s a kit that will include everything you need to avoid single-use plastics, such as a lunchbox, reusable bag, reusable bottle, bamboo cutlery and straw. Many of these items are perfect for plane travel, too.

I received mine from Australian company Senda Essentials, who offer a 10% discount to Birdgehls’ readers – use the coupon code ‘birdgehls10’ at checkout.

Here’s a worldwide option for other readers.

Bring snacks for the plane/transportation, if you can

Not easy when you’re flying long-haul from Australia or NZ, I know. But every bit counts.

At the very least, I’ll take some fruit and nuts (NOT peanuts), to snack on at the airport or on the plane. Pop a sandwich into a cloth bag if you’re flying for a few hours and want something more substantial.

Once onboard, I ask for water in my lightweight reusable bottle (I’ve compared popular eco-friendly water bottles here). Tea and wine, I drink out of my KeepCup.

Say no to single use straws, napkins and those annoying stirrer things.

With companies like Qantas looking to operate zero waste flights, hopefully the amount of landfill produced by airlines will start to diminish.

Go paperless

Only print documents if it’s necessary, which it rarely is, these days. Just whack your ticket on your phone and off you go.

Most airlines and other forms of transport tend to have apps, so you can purchase a ticket online and scan it off your mobular device.

zero waste travel

Flâneuring around southern France.

When you reach your destination

Here are some zero waste travel tips for making your holiday on ground as eco-friendly as possible.

Research how to get to your accommodation ahead of time

See if there are public transport options for getting to your accommodation, such as trains or buses.

They’ll end up being much cheaper than taking a taxi or rideshare, plus you’ll be reducing emissions by doing this.

If you do have to take an Uber, consider using the ‘pool’ option.

Walk as much as you can

Embrace your inner Flâneur(ess) and walk everywhere!

It’s the best way to experience a new city. I walk constantly around my city of Melbourne and am always finding some new street to explore – bonus points if it’s full of street art.

Plus, it’ll count as your daily workout, too. Get those legs moving and that blood pumping!

Obviously, exercise some caution if you’re a woman by yourself. It sucks, but practicalities is that this is the world we live in. Be safe.

guest house goa

Guest houses in Goa, India.

Consider homeshares or housesit

Homeshares and homestays are one way to get a bit of the local business/actually meet locals. We did this in Cuba, staying in casa particulars and loved it.

Housesitting is another way of reducing accommodation and cooking costs, that doesn’t negatively impact the local community. You usually get to play with pets as well, added bonus. I’ve not housesat abroad, but my friend Rhiannon has and shares some tips on getting started.

What about AirBnb, you may ask? A strong hell no, from this girl.

I am wary of AirBnb, for many reasons, some listed here. As a sustainable traveller, I don’t use it. Plus, it’s illegal in some cities now. Shadynasty.

Opt for green hotels

If you love the hotel experience, research hotels that have high eco-ratings and lend them your support by booking in there.

Unable to find one? There are ways you can make your hotel stay more eco-friendly:

  • Consider cold showers – they’re upsetting at first, then get strangely pleasant/addictive. Consider water only hair washing to cut down on shower time – it makes for an excellent detox! I also don’t shave my legs under running water.
  • Use your bath towel on multiple occasions and hang it up to indicate this. Don’t leave it on the floor when you leave – think of the cleaning staff and their poor backs.
  • Put up the no housekeeping sign to save on washing.
  • Turn off lights + air con/heating when you’re out for the day.
  • Refuse single use water bottles.

Hostels are a good option, too. They usually have shared kitchens where you can cook meals and are great if you want to meet fellow travellers and party some.

Experiences over souvenirs

I do love souvenirs, but I’m careful in what I choose now. I tend to buy books, art, jewellery by local makers.

Taking lots of pictures is one easy way to bring back souvenirs from your trip. I usually take my Canon GX7 travelling. It’s lightweight, but takes really good quality photos.

Beyond that, consider spending your dosh on experiences, rather than carting back a bunch of useless things that’ll just take up space in your house.

I do allocate a substantial amount of my budget to food-related experiences, which is never regretful, rather led to some interesting experiences.

Which brings me to my final point…

zero waste travel

Trying new things in Bangkok.

Eating

Food is where you’ll encounter most of your issues, when trying to travel plastic-free. Here are some of my zero waste travel tips, for dining on vacation.

Eat in at establishments

Eating in is one way to drastically reduce what you send to landfill.

You’ll generally use zero packaging, plus you can relax and soak up the atmosphere. People watching when travelling is amazing and should never be discounted.

If you are taking away, look for places that have recyclable, or compostable food containers, or bring your own. Sometimes something as simple as a mason jar will suffice.

Refuse utensils – use your own.

Street food

Opt for local street food. Most is handheld, or packaging free. Refuse extra paper, napkins or containers – you can often ask them to pop the food into your own.

If you have a sensitive stomach, bring something like Travelan. They’re not zero waste, but it’s better than spending your entire trip on the toilet. Been there, have the slightly soiled t-shirt.

zero waste eating india

Eating zero waste in India.

Carry a reusable water bottle

Fill your reusable water bottle at drinking fountains. If you’re concerned about water, use a purifying device like a GRAYL Ultralight Water Bottle (purchase in Australia). Read my review here.

A SteriPen is another option, killing germs with UV light.

Always carry a reusable bag

Pack a lightweight, foldable tote bag. Or – use your pockets!

zero waste travel

A feast for butterflies in Costa Rica.

Recycle and compost everything

You can use public recycling bins, or ask locals where a recycling station is. Some places give back cash for bottles and the like.

Local community gardens may willingly take your food, or some places will have their own compost systems.

I hope this guide will help you on your zero waste travel journey. As you can see, it’s not a case of reinventing the wheel – just taking some steps, putting in forethought and tweaking habits.

With luck, you’ll be travelling zero waste in no time at all!

Any tips for zero waste travel that you’d like to have? Please pop them in the comments below.

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Check out these sustainable travel bloggers for more inspiration.

Pin me baby, one more time.

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LC

LC can often be found nursing a cup of green tea, with her head in a book. She is a writer, video editor and professional cheese eater. Her life's aspiration is to one day live on a farm in Tasmania with 11 dogs, a Shetland pony and several pygmy goats. Follow along on Facebook or sign up to the monthly newsletter.

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