I was earth friendly… except when I traveled

Traveling was once the death knell for my zero waste and earth friendly habits. I used the little hotel soaps. I guzzled Starbucks from disposable cups on long haul drives. I relied on fast food upon late-night arrivals. I tossed napkins and plastic silverware and water bottles galore. 

I created the most waste on work trips. Long hours, long drives and work stress meant something had to give. And that something was typically my eco-friendly habits (in addition to physical fitness and healthy meals). For more personal travel I would remember to do some things, like bring reusable bags and a water bottle, but not others. 

I needed to change

In the last year, because of several large work projects, travel became the norm rather than the exception in my daily life. At a certain point I recognized that my eco-friendly habits needed to keep up. And in an interesting and fortunate turn of events, these earth friendly travel habits have actually enabled and encouraged me to take better care of myself on the road too. 

Below I’ve compiled a list of my tips and suggestions for being greener while on the road. It’s actually a pretty simple list. For me, it was mainly a matter of creating the checklist and deciding to implement it, rather than making excuses. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section as well!

The greener travel survival kit:

  • Reusable bag 
  • Coffee thermos
  • Water bottle 
  • Silverware set
  • To-go tupperware for leftovers, prepared foods or bulk section snacks
  • Hand towel to replace paper napkins
  • Handkerchief
  • Shampoo bar
  • Body soap bar
  • Snacks if possible

*Depending on whether you’re flying and how much baggage you can take, some of these things might not make the cut. If you’re really traveling light, a travel carry on like a backpack or large bag could double as your reusable bag, and your coffee thermos could also function as your water bottle with a little rinsing.

*For a truly greener travel kit, consider buying these products used (except for the body bars of course), or made from repurposed materials. Etsy and eBay are great resources. Or take a trip to your local thrift. You can find lots of ideas on this blog post about buying secondhand and why it’s important.

On-the-go travel tips to avoid waste:

  • Eat in diners and restaurants instead of fast food. This eliminates the waste associated with fast food like paper bags, paper wraps and plastic containers.
  • Use your own to-go container for leftovers after a restaurant meal.
  • Use your own coffee thermos at the hotel breakfast and at coffee shops. Some establishments like Starbucks will even give you a discount for bringing your own.
  • Consider sitting down at the cafe and having your coffee in a mug instead of taking it to-go. (Double check upon entering that you can be served in a mug at all- a number of places these days automatically use disposable containers.)
  • Refill your own water bottle before leaving your accommodations in the morning and anytime you see a public drinking fountain. Turn down offers of free water bottles from hotels and clients. This can be a great money-saver too!
  • Stop at a grocery store rather than a convenience store for waste free snacks like fruits, veggies, and bakery items. If you can find a place like Whole Foods or Sprouts, they’re great because you can actually use your own container in the prepared food section. (Make sure to get it tared first). 
  • Resolve to use your re-usable bag, even if it’s just your backpack or pocketbook. For me, it was more intimidating to do so in new places. I was surprised to discover that people were much more open to it in other parts of the country than in my hometown.
  • Opt out of disposable silverware and paper napkins if you do find yourself stopping at a rest area or fast food restaurant, and use your own reusable versions instead.
  • Bring snacks from home so you need to buy less convenience food on the road. This is most practical on personal trips involving a car, and is also a money saver!
  • Save your recycling. I often had difficulty finding a recycling bin at my hotel. Sometimes I couldn’t find one anywhere in town. I would rinse and save all of my recyclables in one of my reusable bags and discard them when I found a bin, or take them home with me in my car. Your ability to do this will depend of course on your own travel situation.
  • Don’t use the hotel toiletries. Rely on your own stash that you brought.
  • Use handkerchiefs instead of tissues on the road or in the hotel. This zero waste step was one of the last ones I adopted, even in my daily life. So no judgment if you hold off until you really want to go for it!

But Can Travel Even Be Green?

Of course, many of you may be thinking, “But car and plane travel really aren’t very green at all. What’s the point in eliminating one plastic bag in Denmark if you took a passenger jet to get there?” This is something I’ve been wanting to look into, in the interest of making better transportation choices overall, and I recently came across this great pdf from the Union of Concerned Scientists. To address that concern, it’s definitely worth a read.

One Step at a Time

Like any eco-friendly action, changing your lifestyle can take a little time. So even if you just do one or two of these things to start- like staying in at a coffee shop instead of taking a to-go container- you’ll be making a dent in the waste stream and setting a great earth friendly example for others. Just remember that when it comes to saving the planet slow progress is better than no progress. And if you’ve got any suggestions that I haven’t mentioned here I would love to hear about them. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section below!