My husband and I just came back from our first big vacation since before the pandemic, so I finally had an opportunity to test out everything we’ve learned about zero waste living on a big trip! We flew to Switzerland, went through and stayed in 3 different Swiss cities, then traveled through the Alps for some hiking, then to Paris, then to Amsterdam, then flew home.
For the travel part, we had 2 flights, from New Jersey to Switzerland, then from Amsterdam back to New Jersey at the end of the two week adventure. The rest of our trip was done via train. Taking trains or buses are the most efficient ways to get around; they use significantly less emissions than flying or driving, and are also a lot less expensive. We saved a ton of money by taking trains from city to city, and we also saved ourselves from the stress of driving, navigating, stopping for gas, etc. We limited our flights, and had a very easy time getting around. We took a high speed train from Paris to Amsterdam that was fully booked, which was fast, convenient, and the most environmentally friendly way we could have traveled. Win, win, win!
There are multiple ways to offset your emissions for flights. Many airlines have an option to pay extra to offset your carbon footprint, which is the easiest way, but not always the most ideal when money is tight. Taking nonstop flights helps, because limiting layovers is better for the environment. Flying direct is preferable to me anyway, because I get motion sickness and just want to get the flying part over with as quickly as possible when I travel. Another way to offset your flight emissions is to make conscious choices while on said vacation. Since we are strictly vegan, I consider that to be enough of an offset for my one flight to Europe every two to three years for vacation. The emission savings from not eating meat or dairy, on top of everything else I do in my daily life, affords me the opportunity to fly for vacation, or at least that is how I see it. Of course, the most environmentally friendly thing to do is to not travel at all, but I am not going to miss out on opportunities to see more of our beautiful planet, and this is really the only way to do it.
If you are a traveling vegan, I highly recommend downloading the HappyCow app. It finds restaurants and eateries with vegan options and sorts them by distance based on your location. You can filter for strictly vegan restaurants, or places with options and it will lay out which dishes at which places you can safely order. We used this app everywhere we went on our trip and it made our lives so much easier. Not to mention, we found some fantastic restaurants that we never would have known about without it! I made an account and uploaded photos and reviews, and plan to continue to use this app all the time now.
A great way to avoid food waste while on vacation is to stay at hotels that offer complimentary breakfast. Rather than going out and grabbing breakfast on-the-go in the mornings, we started out each day with some fruit, bread and jams at our hotels. This saved us some unnecessary plastic and paper wrappings from going out for pastries in the morning, and was also a healthier option, which is helpful when you are on a longer trip eating out frequently.
As far as packing went for this trip, we packed everything we needed for two weeks in three countries into two backpacks and one carry-on case. Since we were traveling by train for most of the trip, we wanted to keep it compact and convenient; big bulky suitcases would not have been easy to maneuver around with and I am so glad we avoided that struggle. Since we were going to be traveling in summer and planned to hike as well as walk around cities for the entire trip, we were going to need to pack a lot of clothes. We planned out our clothing for the first half of the trip, looked up laundromats near our hotels in the middle of our trip, and planned to do laundry halfway through. This way, we only had to pack for 8 days rather than 14. Of those 8 outfits, I still only packed one pair of jeans, one sweatshirt and one sweater to be worn only when I was cold as needed. I packed a little travel bottle with enough laundry detergent for two loads, and we had the option to either dry our clothes at the laundromat or hang them in our hotel room to dry, which we did with our delicates.
Aside from clothing for each of us for about 8 days, we also each packed one book (and I downloaded more on my phone because I’m a fast reader but needed to conserve space and weight), a phone charger and adapter, toiletries and our Lifestraw bottles. You can bring an empty bottle through security and then fill it up in the airport, and our Lifestraw bottles are great because we can drink water from anywhere. For toiletries, we are very low maintenance and packed a bar of soap, a bar of shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, and toothpaste to share. The only tricky item to pack was a safety razor. Since we use those and razor refills and 2 weeks is too long to not shave (more for my husband than for me, I’m a tad lazy), we had to check a bag on our flight in order to pack razors. You can avoid this if there is a place to purchase one at your destination. Checking a bag ended up working out well for us because although we had small bags, our planes had a lot of people with too many bags and the overhead bins were too full anyway. I also was able to then pack a larger bottle of sunscreen and a silverware set. As I have written about before, I bring a little silverware set everywhere, so naturally that had to come with us. I absolutely hate using plastic cutlery so having my own set saves us from using anything disposable. We also tried to save on waste by eating large breakfasts and dinners and snacked in between so we could skip lunch a few times. The nice thing about cities in Europe is that you can go to a café and have a small plate for lunch; when we were hiking we had to pack snacks and lunches those days.
The only big hurdle we had on our trip in trying to be as sustainable as possible was the inevitable testing for Covid-19. Halfway through our vacation, I contracted Covid and got very sick for a few days. My husband tested positive a few days later. We purchased a thermometer, tissues, and self-tests, and during our quarantine portion of the trip, we ordered dinners delivered to our hotel, which led to packaging waste. We also wore surgical masks underneath our washable masks to prevent transmission to the best of our ability. However, these are unprecedented times, and staying safe and healthy is important.
Recent wins: We learned how to make our own oat milk from scratch using bulk oats, which saves money and packaging! We are also hard at work on our garden this year and are having success so far- someday I aspire to grow all of our produce for the summer and fall.