How to Plan a Zero Waste Vacation

How to Plan a Zero Waste Vacation

I love going on mini vacations at least once a year. I don’t typically go anywhere fancy (maybe a quaint beach town in Jersey or a place I can hike in Upstate New York). However, I will be going on a big vacation for my honeymoon next year which is both exciting and a little nerve wracking. I always do my best to reduce waste on trips, so I’m excited to share what works for me with you. Just remember: You’re human and it’s okay for you to be imperfect or not be able to prepare for everything. Just do your best and reduce your footprint where you can. Here’s how to plan a zero waste vacation (as best as possible).

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How to Plan a Zero Waste Vacation

How to Plan a Zero Waste Vacation

First – lets talk carbon footprints

Yes, we have to talk about this. But here’s something you must know – the term carbon footprint was actually coined by the fossil fuel industry.

And, carbon emissions aren’t the only way flights warm the planet. The exhaust from planes contains a host of polluting particles, from soot to nitrogen oxides.

So what’s the take away? We should be putting pressure on fossil fuel industries AND the travel industry to make some innovative changes and stop putting ALL the pressure on individuals.

That being said, my number one tip would be to try and plan vacations that aren’t too far from home, as this won’t require flights or leave a huge carbon footprint behind. However – there are bound to be times when you need to hop on a plane to get to where you’re going.

People are always going to travel – be it to see friends and family who live overseas, for their jobs, or to simply explore. It would like putting on rose-colored glasses to not acknowledge that. However, I will say this – trying to travel less is always the best option.

Here are some sustainable travel tips to lower your carbon footprint:

  • Take less flights
  • Purchase carbon offsets (just acknowledge they won’t absolve ALL of your flight’s emissions)
  • Choose trains, buses, boats over flights if possible
  • Take local vacations (within your state or neighboring states)
  • Find eco-friendly accommodations
  • Avoid traveling to places in turmoil, or requesting no visitors (like Hawaii due to overtourism and a water shortage)
  • Eat local foods to the area you’re staying in
  • Hold fossil fuel companies accountable
  • Advocate for more sustainable flight options
  • Hold celebrities who take 17 minute jet flights accountable (ahem, Kylie Jenner)

How can I be zero waste on vacation?

To to be zero waste on vacation, you must first ask yourself what kind of vacation are you thinking of taking? This will help you determine what it is you need to pack to stay low waste.

For example, if you’re going on a ski trip, you won’t be bringing the same things you would be to a beach trip. Depending on where you’re planning on staying, the things you bring with you will differ.

It’s also important to note some places have better recycling systems in place than others. Your access to plastic-free options will also vary from place to place as well. And, of course, not everywhere you go will have safe drinking water (making single-use water bottles the only option available).

That being said, some things will always be essentials, like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant, body wash, etc. And these are the areas you should absolutely always try to reduce waste in.

After the essentials are covered, it’s good to look into the other things you’re considering bringing to make your journey more zero waste. Building a zero waste travel kit is a great idea to avoid single-use plastic on the go.

Also, you should consider where it is you want to stay. If you can afford to, I suggest looking into staying at an eco-friendly resort or lodging. I recently stood at Glen Falls House and was so impressed by their sustainable initiatives. Definitely check them out if you love hiking – here’s a preview of what to expect!

Without further ado, here’s how to have a zero waste vacation, step by step.

How to Plan a Zero Waste Vacation

Plan ahead and be prepared

Being prepared will always help you reduce waste in any situation. Getting to know where you’re going is a great way to stay ahead of the loop. Here are some things to consider on your trip:

  • Does your hotel offer any recycling or composting? If not, are there areas for you to do this in the local vicinity?
  • Do you have access to any plastic free shops, bulk food stores and farmers markets? This is especially important if you’re planning on having a prolonged stay in the area and have a kitchen you can cook at.
  • What’s the water quality like? Can you drink from the tap? If not, are you comfortable drinking from single-use water bottles during the duration of your trip?
  • Remember the 5 R’s of zero waste – can you find ways to incorporate them on your trip?
  • Consider investing in a sustainable travel suitcase – like Terra Thread duffel bag, or a Solgaard suitcase. Terra Thread is made out of certified organic cotton, fair trade, and each purchase supports Feeding America’s campaign to end hunger by helping donate meals to kids and families in need.  Solgaard’s suitcases are made from ocean bound plastic, TSA approved, and carbon neutral.

Bring a reusable bottle

Yes, you can bring a stainless steel reusable water bottle with you on a plane. As long as your stainless steel bottle was empty when it went through the security checkpoint, you should be good to go. Obviously, if you’re going to an area with poor water quality, you likely won’t be drinking from it very much. However, it can double for holding hot drinks as well.

How to Plan a Zero Waste Vacation

Pack some snacks and food

It’s a smart idea to pack some snacks for your flight or trip ahead of time to reduce waste and save money. I love ReZip and Stasher bags – they’re made from silicone and seal up perfectly. They also come in all kinds of sizes based on your needs which I love.

I recommend hitting up the bulk food store and grabbing some nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, yogurt covered raisins, or anything you know you’ll enjoy. Then just fill up the silicone bags with your goodies.

As far as food goes, if you’re on a long haul flight meals are often included and accounted for, so just plan to eat that to reduce waste. For shorter flights, have your own meal and snacks prepared (think sandwiches in a silicone stasher bag). Just be mindful all liquids or gelatinous food must be under 3.4oz (that includes salad dressing). 

If you’re on a long haul flight, meals tend to be included and are already accounted for, so just plan to eat those meals.

You can also bring with you a reusable water bottle, travel mug and a cloth napkin. You must keep these empty while you’re boarding the plane, but once you’re through security you can typically fill these up.

If you’re taking a road trip, feel free to pack some fresh fruit too. Just bring a “compost jar” for your scraps, or use the empty silicone bags! Save your scraps until the end of the trip when you can compost at home.


Toiletries are those essentials I was talking to you about that you always need to bring on every trip. Try to keep them as plastic-free as possible. And I recommend packing them in a makeup bag you have on hand.

Here’s what I recommend bringing to keep things low waste:

How to Plan a Zero Waste Vacation

Travel kit

Once you arrive at your destination, it’s a good idea to have a zero waste travel kit ready. As you explore the new locale, this will help you reduce waste. Much of the trash you’ll create while traveling will probably be related to eating, shopping and drinking after all.

Here are some reusables you’ll want to pack:

  • Reusable water bottle (if the area you’re traveling to has safe drinking water)
  • Travel mug (for on the go tea + coffee)
  • Reusable straw (you can always just ask for no straw, if you’d rather not bring this)
  • Bamboo cutlery – leave the knife home, a fork and a spoon should be fine
  • Food containers (keep leftovers + food scraps in these)
  • Reusable produce bags (great if you have access to a kitchen + will need to shop for ingredients)
  • Reusable tote bag (good for if you decide to go shopping)
How to Plan a Zero Waste Vacation

So, what do you think of these zero waste vacation tips? Are you a frequent traveler? Leave some of yours in the comments below!

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By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.

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