Zero Waste Travel: Good For Mother Earth And Good For The Soul

How to participate in zero waste travel

Zero Waste Travel may sound like a daunting and impossible feat at times, but it doesn’t have to be!

I wrote in more detail about what Zero Waste living is and how it applies to our home in a recent post, How to Make Your Home Zero Waste. The ultimate goal around Zero Waste is to do as much as you can to eliminate unnecessary waste by decreasing consumption, decreasing the amount of waste you throw away, and finding alternative uses like reusing and, when necessary, recycling. 

As a parent myself, I know as well as anyone that when traveling with a kid, the first thing we are all thinking about, is how to have as smooth of a travel experience as possible, not necessarily waste. But with a little planning and preparation there are many things you can do to minimize your waste on your adventures. 

In my own traveling I’ve found that the lighter I pack, the better I feel. There are also only a few Zero Waste items I need to bring that make a world of difference. In this article I’ve included a list of some of my favorites, as well as a few tips to help reduce your carbon footprint while traveling. 

Travel Responsibly 

Both flying and car travel are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s important to be conscious about how often you fly. If it’s possible to take fewer trips, that’s great! But more often than not you just need to be able to get where you’re going. Here are some ways you can help lower the impact of flying: 

  1. Fly Direct: Take off and landing use the most fuel so if a direct flight exists, it may be worth paying a little extra. 
  2. Purchase Carbon Offsets: Some airlines offer the option to donate to programs that remove carbon from the atmosphere (like planting a tree). Delta, United and JetBlue all have this option on their sustainability pages. Not all carbon offset programs are created equal however, so be sure to check for third-party certifications like Gold Standard, Verra, and Plan Vivo
  3. Pack light: The less weight there is on the plane, the less fuel is used. This may seem insignificant but if everyone packed like this it would make a huge difference! Not to mention it helps to cultivate a Zero Waste mindset. Start by bringing smaller luggage. The larger the bag, the more likely you are to fill it up. A great packing tip is to choose only one or two neutral colors so everything you pack matches and has multiple uses. 
  4. Manage the way you eat/pack food: Though you can’t pack any liquids, you can still bring your empty drink containers to refill once you’re through security, and you can pack as many snacks and meals as you like. See the list below for a few products that can help you pack and store your own food. Some of my favorites for flying are homemade wraps and granola bars. Note: Covid-19 certainly complicates the ability to refill water bottles or use travel coffee mugs. While it’s always good to be prepared with your own water bottle, know that you may not be able to refill them in the airport

Learn more about sustainable zero waste travel tips where we go into more detail about Reducing Your Carbon Footprint on Family Vacations.

There are lots of small things you can do to help the environment and participate in zero waste travel

Bring your own Reusables 

When you come prepared, it feels great to be able to say “No, Thank you” to that straw, plastic silverware, and even to-go box. Many places won’t put your food or drink directly in your own containers, but you can always order your food to dine-in and transfer it to your own containers yourself. Here are a few tips along with my favorite Zero Waste products to travel with: 

  1. Reusable Bags:For traveling, I love the kind that stuff into a tiny pouch. These are super compact so you can bring a few just in case one is already in use when you need to pick up some groceries or bag up something for the kiddos.
  2. Three-Tiered Stainless Steel Food Container:It’s so nice to have a hard-sided option with you for fruits and things that can’t get squished, and the clamp-on top is so helpful to keep your food from spilling while bumping along in your bag.
  3. Stasher Bags: I like to pack these with dried snacks from the bulk section. 
  4. Utensil Pouch: Let each of your kids pick out their own pouch so they can get involved in making sustainable choices and feel excited about getting to use their special set.
  5. Thermos or Reusable Coffee Mug: Don’t forget your travel mug for that caffeine you’re going to need. A thermos is great because of the low spill risk if you just need to throw it into your travel bag. Note: While traveling during Covid, the ability to refill travel mugs may be difficult, although a handful of coffee shops will pour the beverage from their metal carafes into your mug. It’s always worth it to ask.
  6. Water bottle: With handy water refill stations, airports making it easier to refill water bottles (no more wrist gymnastics trying to fit the bottle under a drinking fountain spout). Note: during Covid refill stations might be limited in airports.
  7. Cloth Napkins: I love to roll one into each of my family members utensil pouches so their meal time tools are all in one place. 
  8. Wet Bag: A wet bag has a million applications, but I find it especially helpful with kiddos wet clothing, damp cloth wipes and cloth diapering. I love the double zipper design because you can store your fresh cloth wipes and glass spray bottle in the front compartment, and then solid cloth in the back. 
  9. Solid Bar Toiletries: Face and body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and shaving cream are all available in bars and make such a difference for traveling light. Instead of plastic bottles full of products you’re only going to use a small portion of, you can eliminate the packaging completely. Your solid bars can even be cut up into smaller pieces, and you can count out your toothpaste tabs so you only bring what you need. 
  10. Refillable squeeze pouches: We love using these all the time, but especially while traveling. There’s no denying how convenient squeeze pouches are. No silverware, less mess. We were so excited to find a sustainable version. We primarily use them for applesauce but for little babes any pureed food is great.

Prep your house before you go

Another Zero Waste travel tip is something you can do before you even leave. Ensure your house isn’t churning out the energy while you’re gone by making a few small changes. Here are some ways to get your home ready for your trip:

  1. Avoid Food Waste: Rotting food that ends up in landfills is a significant source of methane that greatly contributes to our green-house gas emissions. Plan ahead to use up any perishable foods left in your fridge before you go. Prepping fruits and veggies to freeze, making soups and juicing are some easy ways to help.
  2. Unplug lamps and other electronics: Many people don’t realize that your lamps and electronics are still pulling power when they’re plugged in, even when they’re off. Be sure to go around and unplug everything before you go.
  3. Turn your thermostat down: Heating and cooling your house uses a significant amount of energy. Due to the potential for frozen pipes (depending on where you live) it’s not recommended to turn your thermostat off completely in the winter, but lowering it to 50 degrees or so can help. 

As you start to practice these things, they will become easier and easier until you’re looking at every aspect of your life through a Zero Waste travel lens. Every little bit counts and we can all do our part to protect our environment by reducing our carbon footprint and feel good about the way we travel! 


Ariel Russell is the founder of Saged Home, a sustainably focused Etsy shop that provides handmade reusable alternatives to single-use home products. She’s by no means an expert in sustainability, just a crafter, maker and mother on the life-long journey to living in harmony with the earth. Visit her Etsy shop at


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