Less is more protester sign eco-friendly zero waste

Zero waste tips for travellers

Feb 8, 2024
Reading time: 6 minutes

What is zero waste, you ask, and how can you become a zero waste traveller? We chat about the idea of zero waste living and give you a handful practical tips on how to become a zero waste traveller. ♻️

Let's take a quick look at what zero waste is and isn't, and then we'll chat zero waste tips for travelling.

What is zero waste?

The phrase zero waste refers to sending as little material as possible to landfills and other dump sites (and you can't burn it either!). It also means not adding to the quantity of microplastics floating in our water systems.

Almost nobody achieves a 100% waste free lifestyle. Society just isn't geared to allowing this to happen. The aim is to come as close to living a zero waste lifestyle as possible.

rubbish / trash in the ocean with a fish

 

For concerned individuals wanting to lead a zero waste lifestyle, this then means:

  • Buying as few single-use plastics and other toxic or non-recyclable materials as possible, or none at all
  • Buying fewer things in general
  • Avoiding detergents and hygiene products containing microplastics
  • Eschewing fast fashion for long-lasting or secondhand items
  • Shopping locally (as less packing – recyclable or not – is involved)

People who follow a zero waste lifestyle tend to live by the code of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Zero waste helps communities too

The zero waste movement is part of the larger global movement towards more sustainable living. While the primary focus of zero waste is on protecting the environment, it also incidentally supports local communities and economies, as zero waste individuals and companies tend to shop more locally. This is because local farmers and businesses tend to use less packaging for transporting and delivering goods.

Nepal Farming in annapurna Circuit

 

Is zero waste travel possible?

Zero waste travel is not about being completely waste-free, as that's not really possible in today's world. Rather, it's about making certain strategic decisions to drastically minimise your environmental footprint.

On a practical level, zero waste travel is therefore about:

  • packing reusable items where possible to reduce your consumption of packaged items
  • shopping thoughtfully
  • recycling items as much as you can
Recyclable reusable eco  zero waste living shop

 

Let's look at some specific ways in which you can work towards achieving these goals.

How to become a zero waste traveller

With that understanding in place, here are some tips on how to become a zero waste traveller ...

1. Go paperless

While plenty of paper is recyclable, it's even better when we can avoid printing things unnecessarily. Nowadays there really isn’t any reason to print out your travel itinerary, plane tickets, travel insurance or hotel reservation when you have everything available to you on your phone.

Smartphone and charger and two-pin plug

 

We're sure you're planning to travel with your phone and a power bank anyways, so having your documents on your phone is enough.

2. Pack your own reusable items

The less you can pack and consume on your travels in terms of plastic and other throw-away items, the better. One way of doing this is taking along your own reuseable items. Here are a few things to add to your zero waste packing list:

  • Headphones or earbuds. Bring along your headphones or earbuds so that you don't need to use the airplane's plastic-wrapped earphones.
  • Reusable water bottle and mug. In locations where the tap water is potable, you can avoid buying bottled water by having a water bottle or two to fill up. A hydration pack is a good option for active holidays. A water bottle with a built-in filter is a great asset. Having a mug or thermos mug is also fantastic as you can give the barista or whomever is making your drink that to use instead of a disposable cup.
sustainable traveller mug and thermos zero-waste

 

  • Reusable cutlery and straw. A reusable cutlery set (or spork) and a reusable straw help you to cut down on the use of disposable utensils when travelling. Bamboo is a good material for both. Stainless steel and silicone straws are also popular options. Good Housekeeping has a list of the best reusable straws.
  • Organic soap, shampoo and conditioner bars. By bringing your own hygiene products like these, you won't need to use any provided by hotels, which are usually wrapped in non-recyclable plastic and often contain microplastics. All-natural, solid bars are the most eco-friendly versions of soap, shampoo and conditioner. To keep your toiletries bag light, consider a soap bar that doubles as shampoo. You can also purchase biodegradable soap boxes for storing the bars. Alternatively, store them in a natural fibre, mesh or string bag – you just then need a waterproof toiletries bag.
  • A reusable shopping bag. In many locations you won't be given any option but plastic bags should you ask to purchase a carrier bag. So whether it's made from fabric, mesh or recycled plastic, a reusable shopping bag is a must for the zero waste traveller. It can double as a tote bag for the beach and other outings too.

If this list has sparked your interest, you can learn more in our comprehensive packing list for the sustainable traveller.

3. Stay somewhere that shops locally and recycles

Where you stay on a trip plays a large role in your environmental footprint. If you want or need to stay at a hotel, a locally owned one is more likely to use local farmers and other suppliers. As mentioned before, this reduces packaging involved (while also supporting the local economy and reducing fuel emissions!).

Another great option is to stay at a B&B, AirBNB or hostel. Such establishments tend to be environmentally friendly (for instance, you use your towels for longer, and every condiment like jam or vinegar isn't individually wrapped). Smaller establishments are also more likely to source their produce and other necessities from local suppliers.

Uganda sundowners with friends Lake Bunyonyi

 

If you're keen to take things even further, you could research the recycling activities of your preferred accommodation.

4. Shop and eat thoughtfully

As with so much about the zero waste lifestyle, research is invaluable. You can make better decisions that are more in line with your zero waste ethos when you know about the different options available to you.

For starters, carry your reusable cutlery with you so that any takeaways don't require you to use plastic or disposable utensils. Ideally find somewhere that packages such food in recyclable containers.

If you're on a self-catering trip, try whenever possible to buy your food from local markets or independent grocers where things aren't heavily packages. You can bring along your own reusable bag as a carrier.

Train to Kandy smiling man

 

In terms of souvenirs and keepsakes, do your research. Such research might just be asking your hotel concierge or tour guide where the best local designers, craftspeople and tradesmen sell their wares. Beware that sometimes items that appear local – like souvenirs – are actually made abroad and have been shipped in.

Every destination has its own local farms, chefs, craftspeople and designers who are eager to share their produce, cuisine and wares with you. If you shop and dine out thoughtfully, you can enjoy a much more zero waste holiday.

Any other ideas?

We’re passionate about sustainable travel at Follow Alice and we’re learning more every day alongside you about how to live a more zero waste lifestyle when on the move. Have you got any other ideas and tips you could share with us? We'd love to hear about them and then include them here so that we can all learn and grow together.