Right now it’s summer time, which in my house means family trips! Traveling opens doors to new experiences and perspectives and I really value our family trips. It also changes up our routines and takes us from the comforts of home, which creates a few challenges for our zero waste goals.
So, to help us all cut down travel waste, I’ve put together my top 4 tips for zero waste travel. These steps are simple enough for even the busiest families and individuals, so check them out and give them a try!
Here are my top four tips for zero waste travel.
1. Prep a simple travel kit.
If you’re traveling with your family or friends, it’s a great idea to have at least some of these things for each person. Here’s what we pack in our zero waste travel kits.
Water bottle – and fill it up after security if you’re traveling by plane!
Napkin, handkerchief, or both – say ‘no thanks’ to paper napkins and tissues. You can even wash this in a small sink during your travels if you can’t easily run a load of laundry. Check out my napkin & hankie offerings here or find some at your local thrift store!
Small fork, knife, and/or spoon (or, my personal fav – a spork)! Note that you don’t want to bring knives if you’re traveling by plane! Airport security doesn’t like that :). I got us each a little set at a local camping/outdoor gear store in Santa Cruz.
Mason jar – perfect for leftovers, a smoothie, juice, you get the idea :). We usually bring one with us when we go out to eat to avoid the doggie bag/box, which can be made of plastic.
Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap – great for bringing along a sandwich or picking up a pastry or cookie when your out and about. You can buy a sandwich bag made by me here and a beeswax wrap here.
Travel coffee mug – if you need some caffeine in the morning like me, this is a great way to get it to go and avoid disposable coffee cups and lids. Your kids may not need to bring one along, but hey, maybe they’d like some hot cocoa in the morning!
Market bag – again, maybe kids don’t need this, but I would recommend bringing along at least one bag for shopping. Our market bag often doubles as our kit bag. I’ll ask the kids to carry their own water bottles, and usually I’ll toss a few napkins, utensils, mason jar, etc., into the market bag. I try to bring this along for our outings in general, and especially if we are going to be out and about for the day or going to eat somewhere. And of course, I make a market tote that you can see here.
2. Bring extra snacks.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to buy some last minute packaged treat because we didn’t have enough snacks! For example, ever have a morning bike ride that was supposed to end before lunch? And suddenly it’s 1pm and everyone is losing it? Been there. Or that flight that was delayed now that you’re in the airport surrounded by shiny packaged treats? Been there too. So, I try to bring snacks that travel well (i.e., the opposite of a peach). Think nuts, granola, carrots, apples, and banana chips. What’s available in your local bulk bins or farmer’s market that will hold up well on a journey? Or, can you squeeze in an hour to make a tin of cookies or granola bars?
One more thought about snacks – I try to bring snacks that are a little extra special – good enough to compete with roadside and airport junk food. I’m sure that’s different for every family, but try to find some options that everyone will get excited about.
3. Check out nearby bulk foods, farmers markets, and natural food stores.
Look into bulk shopping options wherever you’re headed! There might be some fun and unique offerings, and I’m pretty confident that you can find bulk options almost EVERYWHERE. Bea Johnson of zerowastehome.com has a cool bulk finder app to help you find something wherever you’re headed. Check it out here.
If you’ll be visiting somewhere long enough to shop for food, you might want to bring along some reusable bags and jars to avoid waste. I’ve got some made by me with love for sale here, but you can even use an old pillow case or make your own!
4. Consider your compost options.
Anywhere you travel, you have some compost options. Some cities have curbside compost pick up, making it super easy (yay, San Francisco!). Other cities have composting services you can check out. Santa Cruz, for example, has a local business that will come pick up your compost for you – by bike! How cool is that? Check them out here. The local farmers market might collect compost as well. If you’re staying with friends or family, maybe they have a little compost pile you can add to, or maybe you can inspire them to start something simple. You can purchase some compost bins for under $50. Some folks also recommend burying your non-meat, non-dairy food scraps (think eggshells, fruit and veg peels) in the dirt, at least 10 inches deep. My cautions, though: 1. You need to be aware of possible pest issues – you don’t want to burden your host with an onslaught of new critters in their yard. 2. You need to be careful of nearby plant roots and landscaping.
Another option, which we do whenever we camp or road trip, is to collect your scraps in a bin or bag and bring them home to compost. We’ve done this for up to a week of waste scraps with no issues – no smell, no pests. We’ve used a big cooler as our bin before, or a big plastic tupperware, or even a big plastic bag when we forgot our bin in the past. Back at home, we just add it to our compost bins and voila! Soil! (months later 🙂 )
So there you have it – my top 4 tips for zero waste travel. I hope you found these helpful! Do you have any to add? Have you tried any zero waste travel tips? I’d love to hear, so share in the comments below!
I recently did a three day bike tour in Big Sur with my partner and a couple of dear friends. At the writing of this post, about 30 miles of Highway 1, which winds along stunning mountain cliffs above the ocean, is very difficult to access due to a mudslide on the south end and a broken bridge on the north end. This makes it an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bike with very few cars on the road. So we did! And I am so grateful to have done it. Special shout out to my in-laws and my friends’ parents for watching our kids during this time and letting us experience this beautiful ride.
One of my goals, other than enjoying the amazing views, good food, and cold beers, was to tour without creating waste. I was pretty close, but had a couple of “I’m starving!” moments and some of my planning was off, which led to some waste.
Here Are my zero waste successes
and failures from this awesome trip.
We started in Carmel, CA, and biked about 30 miles to Fernwood Resort in northern Big Sur (before the first road closure). Here are our stops along the way:
DIY Bike Tour Stop #1:
We started with lunch in Carmel at a taqueria. They served us on real plates with real serving ware and my partner and I used our own reusable napkins. Zero waste success! The tacos were awesome, of course. And we were full and ready to bike!
Stop 2: We biked several miles down the coast, stopped briefly in Point Lobos State Reserve, and for a photo here and there. Our main second stop was the Rocky Point Restaurant. We had to get a cocktail it was – the only stop for the rest of our day along this beautiful coastline, and it has gorgeous views and famous bloody mary’s 🙂 . We decided to get a round of bloody mary’s to help power us up the hills 🙂 and I forgot to say “no straw, please”! Ack! I don’t get drinks out too often, but you’d think I’d remember this by now! So, here’s my reminder when I place my order (say it with me): No straw, please. No straw, please. No straw, please.
Stop 3: We biked several more miles (who’s counting??), up to the top of Hurricane Point and then back down again. Although far from a hurricane, Hurricane Point is quite a little micro-climate of fog and strong winds. We felt a little like we might get blown off the hillside. We stopped for a quick photo and snacks from New Leaf bulk bins (cacao energy nibs, fancy nut mix, and sesame sticks). Nothing to buy, nothing to throw away!
Stop 4: After another several miles we were nearing our destination! But we had to stop and check out one of our favorite state parks – Andrew Molera – before calling it a day. We visited Andrew Molera Beach by walking and riding our bikes over a wooden bridge and about a mile along a dirt path. We shared some the same snacks from bulk. We also had a beer that we recycled AND we picked up some garbage on the beach. Leaving things a little cleaner feels great.
Stop 5: At the end of the day we made it to Fernwood Resort and checked into our room. We were all starving and a little desperate for showers, so we got a bag of chips to hold us over while we all showered and let our little ones/grandparents know we had made it safely the first day. Why do potato chips have to be so delicious??? In hindsight, it would have been smart to plan a special treat for the end of each day so we could have resisted the delicious potato chips calling our name at the resort mini-market. After chips and showers, we ate dinner at the Fernwood Resort restaurant, which uses real plates, cutlery, and napkins. Yes.
Day 2 of our DIY, Low Waste, Big Sur Bike Tour
The second day we biked from Fernwood just a few miles to the northern road closure on Highway 1, which is the result of a broken bridge. We carried our bikes and gear about a ½ mile and 150 steps UP to the other side of Hwy 1. Phew. Then we biked about 30 miles along the most gorgeous, jaw-dropping part of Hwy 1 to a cabin. Here are the stops we made on day 2:
Stop 1: I thought we’d be able to eat breakfast at the Fernwood, which was a silly thought because Fernwood doesn’t serve breakfast. So we checked out Fernwood’s mini-market again. They had breakfast muffins, which came in a paper wrapper and coffee, which only came in a disposable cup. Doh! Reusable coffee mugs are zero waste 101! I can’t believe I failed on that one. But I did. If I’d done a little more research I could have figured this out. We didn’t bring coffee mugs since we were trying to travel light. But maybe I could have squeezed one on board just in case. Heck, it’d keep beer cold too! This also made me wish we had some sort of traveling composter…some way to transport and start the breakdown process when you travel. That’s a project for another day. Back to our journey…
Stop 2: So, we had to get a real breakfast. A quarter of a store-bought muffin was never going to get us over those mountains. We headed to the closest spot, the Lodge at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. I have to share, and I do hate to complain much about service since I was a waitress once and I know it’s a tough job, but this was literally the worst service I’ve ever had. EVER. In my LIFE. The four of us never received silverware or a napkin. We shared one fork, one knife, and one napkin between the four of us. Seriously. I am not joking. We got creative and used toast as a utensil, but it was pretty pathetic. And I can’t blame the crowd since there were probably 4 other tables seated at the time. I would not recommend the lodge for dining to anyone. But, on the plus side, we had one napkin and it was fabric, and fewer utensils to wash – so I guess it was a super eco way to eat :).
Stop 3: After our leisurely breakfast we carried our bikes up about 150 steps and some very steep hillside to the other side of the downed bridge. It. was. hard. Luckily, we helped each other out and made it happen.
At the top of the hill was a pub with fresh made sandwiches and cold beer on tap. Of course we had to stop for both. The one bummer about this stop was that the pub used plastic cups instead of glass. What the heck? Who wants to drink cold, fancy, $6-a-pint beer on tap out of a plastic cup? Well, we did, apparently. We left the cups there to get “recycled”. I’m not sure what the fate of those cups was, truthfully. This and coffee-gate, above, are making a strong case for bringing a travel mug on all future bike tours. I think they come in pint sizes too. Drat! Next time…
Stop 4: We made it about 1 mile to our next stop. Note that we stopped 4 times in the first 5 miles or so. We weren’t making any speed records, here, people. But don’t worry, we made it to our ultimate destination before dark (that was my main concern) and were having a lot of fun. Back to stop 4. There was a cute, random, road side taco stand 1 mile down the road from the pub. We HAD to stop and check it out and get some tacos. These came on paper plates. Ugh. This gets me thinking about folding, lightweight, travel plates. Another project for another day…
Stop 5: There was basically nowhere left to spend any money after the taco stand. Just miles of open, beautiful road. We stopped at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and ate the sandwiches we bought at the pub while we overlooked the most magical beach and waterfall. It was stunning. The sandwiches were awesome. We had another beer, of course.
Stop 6: There was a look-out spot further down Hwy 1 where we stopped briefly to enjoy the view, but at this point we were also hoping that the cabin was close and the ladies in the group were getting a little antsy to press on, so we did.
Stop 7: The cabin! It was super beautiful, with a small creek and beach, amazing views, and a full kitchen.
We came prepared to make our own dinner – pasta (from bulk) and pasta sauce in a jar (which we recycled) and nutritional yeast (from bulk) and texturized vegetable protein (also from bulk). The pasta was delicious. We slept hard that night.
Zero waste dinner success!
Day 3 of our DIY Bike Tour
On our last day of biking, we went from the cabin back north toward Carmel through Pfeiffer Big Sur State park again, where friends left our car (funny/not funny story about that in a bit). We woke up in the cabin and made breakfast. I’d brought fixings for fancy oatmeal: oats, raisins, chia seeds, chopped walnuts, coconut cream and apples (all of it from bulk except the can of coconut cream). I also brought coffee and the cabin had compost! Zero waste breakfast success. We had some leftover coconut cream, which we put in our coffee; and leftover oats, which we carried with us. We still had a good number of snacks for our last day: cacoa energy nibs (our FAVS), sesame sticks (second favs), fancy nuts (third favs), and plaintain chips (least favs. Sorry plaintain chips). So we set off on our journey. Our goal for the morning was to make it to Post Ranch Inn by 1pm for a fancy lunch reservation, an anniversary treat to all four of us who were married within about 10 days of each other, 11 years ago. It is a spendy kind of lunch, so it’s got to be a special celebration. And it meant we didn’t need to pack a lunch – just continue working on our tasty snacks. So, here are the stops on day 3.
Stop 1: We were a little nervous about making it to our reservation on time, so we hustled quite a ways before making a mandatory snack stop, somewhere near Esalen Institute (an amazing place, everyone should go!). We ate some of the leftover oats on the side of road and then pushed on through. Another zero waste pit-stop success!
Stop 2: We were making some pretty good time, eager and a little desperate to make our lunch reservation. We stopped again after another hour or so of biking. No businesses in site, so we just enjoyed our snacks on the side of the road again, enjoying the amazing views. We probably shared a beer too. 🙂
Stop 3: That super cute taco stand called to us again! Despite the fact that it is only a mile from our destination/lunch reservation, we had to stop and check it out. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whose side you were on), it was still closed since it wasn’t quite noon. We took a couple photos and pushed on up the hill toward Post Ranch. We realized we were still pretty early, so we went to a spot a little further up with a great view of the coast and sat on the side of road again (so many amazing views on this trip, it was absurd).
After a bit, we decided we had time to also go to Nepenthe, which was just above us, and have a drink before our fancy lunch. It seemed like a great idea at the time :). It was though, really. We had a lovely cocktail on their beautiful outdoor patio. They used paper napkins and no straws in our drinks. No waste! Then it was time to go.
Stop 4: Only about 15 minutes late, we rolled in to the Post Ranch Inn – Sierra Mar restaurant – for our lunch reservation. This place is awesome. The ranch land itself is just gorgeous and makes you want to spend a week (and your retirement savings) there at the ranch. Then you get to the restaurant, which is ridiculous – beautiful views of the ocean and coast, and the building itself is build into the cliff, which makes you feel like you are standing above the ocean. Just incredible. You feel like you are up in the clouds when you eat there. The water below is just stunning – black rocks edged in white sea foam jutting out of the turquoise Pacific, with patches of cinnamon-colored kelp swaying just under the surface. Seriously, deliciousness for your eyes. So wonderful. Actually, that is the water all along the Big Sur coast. If you’ve never been, you need to go. Anyway, this little restaurant has been cut off from its regular suppliers due to the road damage, but they are doing a great job of maintaining awesome offerings and a wonderful atmosphere. We had wonderful meals and fancy cocktails and just an all around lovely, leisurely, well-earned lunch 🙂 . And, this place is way too classy for any sort of disposables. Another zero waste success!!! Way to go team!!!
Stop 5: Okay, here is where the end of trip got a little discombobulated (remember I talked about the car being in the parking lot?). So, for some BIZARRE reason, I got it stuck in my head that the car would be at the Andrew Molera State Park parking lot, which is about 5 miles north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. So, we biked through the park, and another 5 miles to the wrong place. Ugh, Liz, read your dang emails!! Luckily, there was a shuttle back to the park AND the dudes had the energy to bike back down and didn’t even want to take the shuttle. So, that’s what they did. And they finally found the car. And we finally got it in it. Phew. Sorry, guys.
Stop 6: I’m not sure if this counts as a stop or not but we slept our last night together at our friend’s cousin’s house. She is a professional chef and let’s just say it was an AMAZING dinner. It was like eating at home, if you were married to a professional chef. And way to classy for disposables. Is that classist? Well, you know what I mean. Another zero waste meal, with wonderful company.
So that’s it. Such a wonderful experience. I am so glad we took advantage of this rare time in Big Sur history to have the road to ourselves. It was just jaw-dropping view after jaw-dropping view. So much beauty. And the time with friends and hubby was so rejuvenating. To all you parents of young ones out there: if you can make it happen to slip away for a night or two, go for it! And to my last goal – I did a pretty good job of minimal waste on the trip. Other than a couple of oversights, I kept my carbon footprint to a minimum. Did I mention we drove 4 people and 4 bikes in a Toyota Prius? It’s do-able.
We just finished our first family backpacking trip and it was amazing! I’m proud to announce that my kiddos hiked 14 miles over 2.5 days with their packs, thanks to all the training hikes my partner did with them. And my accomplishment is that we had awesome (near) zero waste food and snacks all the way! We even carried out our compost (not much) and picked up other people’s trash during our trip. Here’s my proud kids near the end of the hike.
I noticed that lots of campers bring freeze-dried, single packaged items for their meals, and individually packaged bars for their snacks. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to backpack without all of that packaging. 🙂
Just as an overview to our trip – we went to Big Basin State Park in California. On the first day, we left for the trip after work to park and camp near the trail head. We brought dinner with us, pre-made, so didn’t have to cook that night. On the second day, we hiked 6 strenuous miles along the Sunset Trail and camped at a back country campground called Sunset Camp that night. On the third day, we hiked 6 miles along Berry Creek Trail and Skyline to the Sea Trail and camped at a second back country site called Twin Redwoods Camp. On our last day, we hiked out 2 miles along the Skyline to the Sea Trail and ended at Waddell Beach, where we got picked up by Grandpa. The trails were beautiful and Berry Creek Trail has three stunning waterfalls along it. Well worth the effort. In the picture you can see how large the falls are in relation to us.
So, to the food! Backpacking food doesn’t have the best reputation for being delicious. It is one of the trickier parts of the experience – you want to have enough to eat after serious hiking, but you have to pack light. In planning for this trip, we searched the bulk bins at our local health food stores to see what we could find that would be tasty, filling, and easy to carry and cook. We put everything into plastic bags that we re-use, since plastic is light and water resistant.
Here’s the food we took:
3 Breakfasts (everything from Staff of Life bulk bins):
Quick cooking oats
Raisins, dried cherries, and chopped dried apricots
Two pears (from our tree ☺️)
Dried hot cocoa mix
Dried soy vanilla protein powder – we mixed these last two for a type of “hot cocoa”. We need to work on our ratios because the first day it was very watery, and the second day it was like a pudding :).
This is a pic of our cooking and camping set up.
Lunches: (almost everything from Staff of Life bulk bins)
Dried hummus (delicious!)
olive oil in an old plastic water bottle
Cucumber (from our garden ☺️)
Dinner 1: (some bulk, some packaged items)
Burritos from home with flour tortillas*, home cooked beans and rice, avocados, cheese*, and cabbage tossed in Veganaise.
Don’t the burritos look cute snuggled together?
Dinner 2: (almost everything from Staff bulk!)
Instant refried pinto beans
Instant vegetarian chili (we mixed these two together)
The combo of chili and pinto beans was sooo delicious! I’m seriously going to keep those ingredients on hand at home for instant beans.
Dinner 3: (all from Staff bulk!)
Texturized veggie protein (TVP) chunks (i.e., veggie “chicken” that you rehydrate)
Instant veggie soup rehydrated and strained on top of the pasta as a sauce
Olive oil and salt
Here’s a pic of our dinner set-up for night 3.
Snacks: (all from New Leaf bulk bins)
Cacao energy nibs – like energy bar squares and soooo delicious – seriously, as tasty as dessert!
Fancy mixed nuts
We also brought plaintain chips from Staff bulk but didn’t need these at all for snacking. I also tried making coffee with my compostable filters and fresh grounds, but this was a challenge and I need to do more research for next time. Complete fail.
A note about energy bars – my kids prefer the energy nibs to just about every packaged energy bar out there. And they come in bulk! I am so stoked we discovered these. Our hiking friends brought packaged bars and my girls preferred our snacks to theirs, despite the enticing, shiny wrappers.
Not everything was from bulk – the items marked with a * came in plastic bags that we can recycle. There used to be bulk sun-dried tomatoes in town and I won’t give up my search for more sun-dried tomatoes. Or maybe this is the year I make some ☺️. I’ll also keep thinking about other items we could use in the future to substitute for the pita and tortillas (or make some tortillas for the trip if I’m organized enough!)
There you have it. Do you have fun recipes for zero waste backpacking or backpacking in general? Do share! And thanks for reading.
My family and I recently went on a trip – our first airplane trip since we’ve started in earnest to become zero waste. We did some planning on our way out to try to fly zero waste, but here’s a picture of the wreckage from the way home:
We got thirsty, we got hungry, and I needed a cocktail 🙂 . A couple of the cups got recycled already, but you get the gist.
We packed lots sandwiches and snacks. We each had our own water bottle and filled them before we got on the plane. But here’s what happened – our flight home was delayed an hour, a bunch of the sandwiches we made were “too spicy” for the kids. Also, even though our flight was nearly 6 hours, the flight attendants wouldn’t refill our water bottles and would only pour out water into their cups. We also didn’t remember to bring earbuds for everyone and our snacks (fruit) weren’t as exciting as the little mystery packets from the flight attendants.
I try to think about this zero waste fail as a learning opportunity for me and my family. So I took a moment to reflect on what we could do differently next time to minimize the waste the next time we travel.
Tips for flying zero (or near zero) waste with kids:
Bring larger water bottles!
Bring snacks from bulk that are as enticing as the junk food in the airport.
Remember to bring earbuds for everyone.
Bring some extra food – flights get delayed all the time! Better to have too much than run out and end up buying at the airport or on the airplane.
Talk about our food and drink plans at the airport and on the airplane before we get in the situation.
Offer a juice option before or after the flight as a replacement for the juice we won’t be having on the plane.
Bring a variety of sandwich/wrap/whatever options. If one turns out too “spicy”, there’s a back up.
On a side note, learning to say “no” to the flight attendants’ offers of drinks and snacks is an ongoing process in my house. These little prepackaged snacks and fruit drinks are perceived as treats to my kids, and saying no is not our natural inclination. We are working on this 🙂 .
That’s what I’ve learned this time around. Do you have any tips for traveling zero waste with kids? I’d love to hear them in the comments!