Zero Waste Traveling Tips

Sep, 12, 2018

Living a zero waste life may be a challenge when you are home and in your routine, but is it doable when you get out of your comfort zone?  Traveling poses more of a challenge. My family travel every summer to Sweden since it’s where I come from. Sure, the very best zero waste option would be never to travel by flying anywhere; but for most, this is not an option, so you then have to do the very best you can to reduce your impact. Here is what my family and I do to reduce our carbon footprint while traveling.

If you care about the environment and need to travel, here are options for reducing your individual carbon footprint:

Buy a carbon offset program from the airline: Many airlines today offer carbon offset programs. They are carbon calculators designed to alleviate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions that result from the use of fossil fuels from your flight by making tax-deductible charitable contributions to a variety of independently reviewed and certified environmental projects focused on forest conservation, renewable energy and avoided deforestation.After you book your flight, you will be given the option to calculate your emissions and offset your carbon, or you simply can visit the airline’s carbon offset website. Enter either your itinerary information or a dollar amount that you’d like to contribute.

Refuse a meal on the plane and bring your own: Most of the meals on a flight are packaged in lots of plastic. In my opinion, they are not even that good, so a greener option is to give them a heads up that you will refuse your meal and bring your own food instead. We always do this, so I pack homemade food in plastic-free bento boxes from Lunchbot.

Supply your own water bottle: Almost all airports these days have water bottle refill stations. This is an easy way to fill up your water bottles before your flight to avoid plastic cups onboard.

Bring a coffee cup: We always bring a reusable coffee cup and get our java to go before flying. Sometimes, if you talk nicely, flight attendants will even give you coffee in them☺

Napkins: A cloth napkin is light and easy to bring, and can be used instead of any paper napkins.

Bring your own cutlery: Skip plastic cutlery and bring your own reusable ones.

Mason jars:Mason jars with lids are amazing and can be used for so much: as a wine glass on plane or train, for ice coffee (instead of plastic) at coffee shops, as food storage, or even as a composter.

Cloth shopping bag: This is great for carrying groceries, not only for going to a farmer’s market and grocery stores, but also for going to the beach.

Cloth produce bags: For buying fruits and veggies or stocking up on bulk food when opportunity presents itself.

Stay in Airbnb or apartment: Or try HomeExchange.com to exchange homes with another family. This is how we like to travel because we can cook our own food and prepare snacks to take with us when we’re out. This saves money and lots of waste from eating in restaurants. Usually, these homes come with a washing machine, so you can do your own laundry. To make it a green laundry, I always bring soap nuts. Bonus: Our kids generally feel a bit more relaxed in a home rather than in a hotel, and they have more space to move around and play.

Supply your own shampoo, soap and lotion: We bring shampoo bars and soap bars that come zero waste.

Bring active charcoal for water filters: Instead of buying bottled water, we bring active charcoal for filtering water, They are inexpensive and light to pack.

Use public transportation: If the place where you’re staying has public transportation, make sure to use it to the fullest, instead of renting a car or using a taxi to get around. Moreover, if the place is fairly small, use this opportunity to go on meaningful walks with your kids. On the other hand, wandering around on a bike will double the fun while significantly minimizing your carbon footprint.

Pack lightly and properly: The less stuff you bring with you, the smaller your carbon footprint will be. Just think about the cost of transporting your luggage, and the resources necessary to wash and iron your clothes during your travels. Even if your child is still a baby, you can be more practical with the packing of essentials. For example, there are various eco-friendly luggage bags available that can make your packing a lot easier.

It’s a fact that most people pack too much, and there is nothing more annoying than lugging around too many big, heavy suitcases when traveling, especially for a family of five. We usually pack clothes for one week and try to pack clothes that can be mixed, so there are more possibilities for changes and matches. Also, think layers for cooler days and nights. Of course, for longer trips I bring soap nuts so I can wash clothes.

Experience vs. material goods: Before the trip, make sure to have a long, yet purposeful and engaging conversation with your kids. Explain that traveling is all about the experience and family bonding, not about shopping for material things. Taking the time to encourage your kids to value the experience of travel more than anything else not only will help you stay green on your vacations but also will definitely make your children’s life more fulfilling.

Use electronic tickets for flight, transportation, events, etc.

Bring your own headphones for inflight entertainment.

Renta bike to get around, or walk whenever possible: There is no more fun way to see a city than walking or biking through it, in my opinion. These days, most cities have easy access bikes for rent.

Decline daily fresh towels and sheets if staying in a hotel.

Return plastic key to hotels.

Say no to disposable items: Usually on flights and in hotels, you tend to receive a lot of small, individually packaged items like warm towels, snacks, toothbrushes and shampoos. Most of them are either made of or packed in plastic, so I have a habit of saying no to disposable goods.

Don’t buy new magazines, books and newspapers for travel: Instead, borrow books from the library, buy used magazines, or download books onto your phone or IPad.

Decline newspapers offered on flights.

Decline plastic wrapped blankets.

Find a local farmers’ market or organic grocery store at your location: I just absolutely love visiting farmers’ markets in different cities and countries. And eating local foods is a fun experience.

The food we bring when traveling include:

  • Homemade raw granola with berries in a mason jar
  • Nuts
  • Crackers
  • Avocado
  • Bento box with salad, sandwich
  • Cold noodle salad
  • Quinoa salad
  • Hummus
  • Raw veggies and crackers to dip

Most important, don’t let your zero waste lifestyle take away from enjoying your trip. Bon Voyage!

September 13, 2018

Fredrika Syren

Fredrika Syren is an environmental activist and writer. In 2016, she founded the website Green-Mom.com where she shared her family’s journey of living zero waste. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband James and their children Bella, Noah, and Liam. Fredrika and her family were recently featured in the documentary Zero Time to Waste. Fredrika is also the author of Zero Waste for Families - A Practical Guidebook (which you can buy on this site)


  1. Reply

    travel planning

    February 20, 2021

    What’s a good amount of zero waste entertainment, snacks, drink options for a toddler who is 2.5-3yrs old potty trained but not comfortable in public potties and now refuses to wear any diapers/pullups?
    Going to be traveling by plane, 6 hour flight with possible lay overs.

    On the way back my child’s father will be taking our toddler alone (yikes!) back so I can stay behind an extra week.


    Travel planning mom

  2. Reply

    travel planning

    February 20, 2021

    I should add my toddler is quite destructive, who will do surprising things like chomp on glass (and chew it), or even dry wall if there is a window sill near, let alone anything else usually “toddler safe”, and can tear through things/pick up things that look to be half my kid’s weight! Messes spread far and wide.

    I just can’t seem to get the right balance of zero waste vegan yet also travel safe and quiet…toddler is in the loud noises phase.

    • Reply

      Fredrika Syren

      May 22, 2021

      I feel your pain. One of my sons was like that and could on top of that scream like nobodies business not making him to best traveling partner.

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