Waste-Less Travel

“I’m not going to use this,” I said to myself in the middle of the kitchen store as I was holding a coffee tumbler. I reasoned; I love coffee, but I normally make it at home or sit in a coffee shop. I put it back on the shelf and walked out.

Then, there I was, at the airport, looking for a cup of coffee, with only single-use plastics available. Cringing at the thought of another cup in a landfill, I turned and went to my gate.

Going zero waste isn’t meant to make you miserable. As a traveler, you look to minimize your weight wherever you can. When we aren’t tied to a home or belongings, we tend to think that we are unattached; that we are free. It’s easy to leave the things that weigh us down behind, it’s harder to think about the impact of our action in leaving it behind. I know, carrying a mason jar, produce bags, a coffee tumbler, or utensils don’t take priority in the packing department. But, they should. It’s a simple change to make that, not only reduces your waste but instills a sense of preparedness and eco-consciousness that every traveler hopes to carry with them.

Shopping for utensils at an outdoor market in Tulcea, Romania

So where is the compromise? Do I have to sacrifice my cup of coffee or my minimalist backpacker lifestyle? Can I only justify buying something if I can reuse it? Should I go buy everything in a minimal waste kit?

The answer is no.

This doesn’t have to happen all at once.  Take small steps towards the minimal waste traveler lifestyle. Introduce a cloth napkin, a tote bag, some to-go utensils, a bamboo straw, and a jar or stainless steel container into your luggage. When your plastic toothbrush is ready for a change, opt for a bamboo toothbrush.


First Attempt: Minimal Waste Travel Kit

  • Cloth napkin
  • Utensils
  • Waterbottle with filter in lid (Brita or Lifestraw are great options for this)
  • Tote bag


Minimal Waste Travel Kit:

  • Tote bag
  • Brita Waterbottle with filter
  • To-go utensils
  • Cloth napkin
  • Cloth handkerchief
  • Beeswax food bag
  • Bamboo or stainless steel straw (keep this in your ‘going out’ bag for those cocktails)
  • Jar w/ Lid

Jar: For coffee, drinks, and leftovers

Beeswax food wrap: For sandwiches, pastries, or on the go snacking and leftovers

Easing into zero waste like this helps you to realize just where you’re creating the biggest paper trail. It wasn’t until I sat back after a meal and saw the pile of napkins in front of me that I realized just how much waste I was creating.

What’s the secret to all of this? Hold yourself accountable!

There is no ‘waste police’ standing by to hit you with a fine.  Like anything, realize you are not perfect, learn from it, and move past it. If you REALLY need that cup of coffee and you don’t have your tumbler, go for it. I can’t tell you how many times I reached for a paper napkin out of habit or realized mid-meal I wasn’t using the cloth napkin in my bag. You are already winning through the realization that you ARE creating waste. You are conscious of your actions and where the products you use will end up. That’s the first step in moving towards a minimal waste lifestyle.

The traveling lifestyle gives us so much; memories, experiences, love, purpose, freedom, adventure, and so much more. It’s only right we try to respect it in return by leaving nothing behind but our footprints and seeds of change.

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