Last weekend I went away for a weekend trip, which was a good test to see how my zero waste practices would go while on vacation. I have not traveled by plane since 2019, which was before I started this journey, so I wanted to report on how I did!
When travelling by car, it is so much easier to maintain low waste practices. We have gone on a few trips this way and have packed a cooler and bags of food and snacks, our own rags for napkins, containers for leftovers and takeout, silverware, condiments, etc. You can bring anything with you when driving! I like to book stays in places that have a refrigerator and freezer so I can keep food longer and refreeze ice packs for a cooler for the car. You can usually find an Airbnb or motel with a kitchenette for a comparable price to a decent hotel.
When you fly, you can bring a lot less with you, so it makes this a lot more difficult. I have found that checking a bag rather than using a carry-on is more helpful when travelling low waste. When you use a carry-on, you are limited to what you can bring with you. There are 3oz limits on liquids, there are rules about food, and you just have less space to back. When you want to travel zero waste, you end up bringing a lot more with you, so checking a larger bag makes it easier to pack everything you may need. Another issue is that I use a safety razor and you are not allowed to fly with the blades in a carry-on bag. If I am going on a short trip, I may not want to pack my razor anyway, but this past weekend I was in a wedding and needed to bring it with me.
When I pack, I try to keep everything super organized. I fold all my clothes in the most compact way I can, and pack outfits that are interchangeable with lots of layers so I can re-wear items and stretch my wardrobe further. For instance, I will normally wear a pair of jeans several times before washing them, so if I go away for a couple days I will only pack one pair and wash them when I get home. I’ll bring one warm sweatshirt and/or one coat, and layers to wear underneath that are all similar colors or plain so I can make everything last and pack less. I try to pack a minimal number of pairs of shoes as well. I went to Spain in 2019 for 8 days and I brought and wore a pair of Sperry sneakers the entire trip, (they were even cute with all my sundresses) and the only thing I put in my suitcase was a pair of hiking boots. The more versatile clothes you can pack, the easier it will be to have more space in your suitcase.
As far as other things I like to pack, I like to bring containers with me. When on vacation, we eat out a lot and experience restaurants and cafes. I never finish my meal when I go out to eat, and if we are staying somewhere with a microwave where I can reheat it, I always take my leftovers to go. I have not run into any issues anywhere yet when it comes to bringing my own container to take my extra food and refusing a Styrofoam or plastic container. I like to pack a few of the same type of container so they stack together in my bag to save space. I also like to bring a silverware set. This comes in handy not only in situations where you want to avoid plastic utensils at a quick eatery, but you can then also use them in your room to eat your leftovers or food you packed with you. I bring a fork, spoon, knife, and a metal straw with me everywhere I go. These go in my checked bag when flying, and then I always keep them with me in my bag when out and about on vacation. Another thing I like to bring is a water bottle. I hate buying drinks in plastic bottles, so I pack my Lifestraw bottle so I can refill it anywhere I go. I bring it through airport security empty and fill it up at a water fountain before my flight.
Being vegan and hypoglycemic, I never go anywhere without packing snacks. I like to pack a variety to prevent myself from getting bored and becoming tempted to buy tons of overpriced snacks in an airport. I pack salty and sweet, dry snacks and try to pack them in a way that they do not get crushed in my bag. Since I use TerraCycle for most of my snack wrappers, I bring them home with me to send in after a trip. They take up less space on the way back being empty and flattened, so this is not an inconvenience at all. My husband and I usually find a grocery store once we arrive in a new city. Aside from bringing snack packaging home with you, you can always locate a grocery store and find something low waste to buy, like bulk nuts or some fruit. As discussed in the composting post, you can find places to drop off your compostable waste when on vacation, so fruit is always a good option as a zero waste snack. One thing I learned on my last trip was that it’s a good idea to bring a bag or sack or something with you that you can use when going to a grocery store. I packed a suitcase and a small pack on my last trip, and when going to the grocery store, I realized I didn’t have a shopping bag for my groceries. I will definitely be bringing one from now on, and since I have bags that fold completely flat, they won’t take up much space in a suitcase.
For personal care, I pack all my usual products in as small quantities as I can. I have a few travel bottles for liquids, so I like to refill these and bring them on trips. Since they are plastic, I want to make sure they do not go to waste and have a long life. I use those for makeup remover, shampoo, or conditioner, etc. If I am packing a bar of shampoo or soap, I put them into a small container or a silicone zip bag. This past weekend, I packed liquid aliquots of shampoo, conditioner, body wash and makeup remover, a bar of face soap, my LastSwab, my zero-waste makeup and moisturizer (which will be discussed in a later post on skincare!), my bamboo comb and toothbrush, and a small bottle of toothpaste. I have been working through my little collection of travel toothpaste tubes I’ve collected from the dentist over the years, and once those are gone, I am going to be packing a refillable bottle of toothpaste for trips, or switch to tabs. The reason I pack as little clothing and shoes as possible is because these personal care items take up a lot more space than they used to. If I use a bar of face soap every day and want to bring it with me, I only have that one bar and have to deal with the size of it in my suitcase. My husband and I do a lot of camping, and when we do that, I forego my skincare routine and just bring a bar of soap with me. We don’t always stay in places with showers or restrooms, so a bar of soap and a toothbrush are enough to survive for a weekend. I also bring a hat when we camp, so if it’s a short enough trip, I don’t have to worry about packing my shampoo and conditioner bars. I just cover my hair in a hat and wash it when I get home.
Another hurdle nowadays is the mask situation. I have been wearing cotton masks throughout the pandemic so far, washing them in my washing machine with my laundry, and wearing the same few masks for two years now. More recent studies show that the N95 and surgical masks protect best against the newer variants of covid, and my job began requiring those and not allowing us to wear our washable masks anymore. I ordered a pack of surgical masks online, and when we flew last weekend, I wore one surgical mask underneath one cotton mask for the maximum protection. As painful as it is to purchase something disposable, I have been saving our used masks because I want to try to cut out the elastics and repurpose them into scrunchies or bracelets or something. I always look for a way to repurpose something before throwing it away, so I feel less guilty for using these disposable masks in my travels now.
Honestly, the biggest thing is having enough space to pack as much as you can to avoid buying things on vacation or using single use plastics. I like to avoid takeout packaging, plastic flatware, bottled beverages, etc. when on a trip, so I bring items to prevent the need for those. Containers, shopping bags, food, reusable water bottles and more bulky personal care items (like a full-sized bar of acne soap) are all things that I never used to bring with me on a trip, so I have adjusted my routine to accommodate these. It feels great being prepared for any situation, so I take pride in this travel lifestyle. I have already adjusted to carrying a purse with me when I go out for the day rather than just a small wristlet, because I carry my little container of silverware, straws, reusable tissues and pads and wipes, and a drink with me to prevent using plastics and creating waste. This is just a way to expand that into what I might need to have with me when further from home for a longer amount of time.