Zero waste road trip – Maybe that’s a counter intuitive title, because road trips require energy like gasoline or electricity. But even so, taking a few extra measures can help you avoid excessive waste while you’re on the road!
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Having a zero waste routine at home is one thing, but practicing zero or even low waste while traveling is a whole other beast.
A smooth (and sometimes very rainy…) 16-hour road trip separates Colorado from Wisconsin. We just made this trip for a wedding and family reunion—great times! As we prepared for this trip, we wanted to share our tips for planning a zero waste road trip.
Before our travels, we always ask ourselves a few questions
- Planning Ahead – what can we find out about our destinations?
- Will they have cooking tools?
- Do local grocery stores sell in bulk?
- Are there real food cafes we can stop at if needed?
- Where to stay
- Are there places to stay that make it easy to cook our own food?
- How can we make healthy and low waste choices with limited options?
- How can we enjoy quality coffee/tea/water AND avoid unnecessary waste?
- What toiletries should we pack to reduce the need for disposable ones?
- Reusable tools
- What tools can help us reduce waste while traveling?
The answers to these questions helped us develop a game plan for our travels!
Where to stay
Where are you staying along your road trip? Will you be camping? Staying in hotels? AirBnb? Camper van?
For us, the determining factor for where to stay comes down to one simple question – can we cook there? Cooking at home is the easiest way to control what’s in our food AND how much waste we produce.
In the summer, we often opt to camp, though that’ll call for a bit more gear. Tent, sleeping bag, cooking tools (cast iron, cooking grate, serving utensils, etc.). Camping is a great way to connect with the land as you go! You can often camp for free or cheap and you can cook over a fire.
Airbnb is another great option. Many Airbnbs have kitchens or at least some basic cooking tools. This makes it easier to prepare dinner, freeze or refrigerate items, wash dishes, etc.
Hotels will also do the trick. But we’ll generally only stay in a hotel in a pinch. Reason being, they make it difficult to cook. Eating out for every meal generally costs more money, piles up the waste, and can just plain leave the body feeling crappy.
The best way to nourish your body while on-the-go is to plan ahead. Failing to plan is planning to fail, after all. We planned ahead for this trip by getting our meals and snacks put together the day before.
Also look ahead on the map. Are there cafes, quality restaurants, or grocery stores with bulk along the way?
Pack the pantry basics. Traveling by car means we can bring the basics with us. We enjoyed our zero waste road trip with the following foods:
- Spinach crepes filled with carrots, turkey, lettuce, and an avocado chipotle hummus sauce
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Snap peas
- Farmer’s market cherry tomatoes – so good!
- Tropical trail mix
- Avocado and crackers – easy to eat with these travel utensils
- Cold coffee in a mason jar – always nice to have backup coffee in the cooler
- Overnight oats with fresh bananas
- Seeded Vegan Bliss Balls – or oatmeal energy balls to cure that chocolate craving
Preparing our food ahead replaces those cheap fast food or gas station snacks. We all know none of those are doing the body any good and won’t keep us energized and awake while driving. Stay healthier and feel better with your own delicious food.
Eat healthy, save money, and reduce waste while you’re at it!
Bring a cooler – food safety people!
Especially in the summer months, we make sure to keep our food cold and safe to eat. A sturdy cooler with a bag of ice is all we need. But those 10 lb bags come with a plastic price tag… Does your freezer make ice cubes? Turn that baby on and save up for your travels. Or use reusable ice packs.
Coffee & Tea
We’ve all had that awful gas station coffee… How long ago do you think that was ground? It’s generally low quality, and probably comes with a styrofoam cup. Not the best way to reduce waste, or to enjoy a cup of coffee for that matter.
My favorite new ability? Zero waste coffee on-the-go. Thanks to our french press travel mug, all we need is coffee beans and hot water. And we’ve found free hot water at every gas station to date. I’ll let you know if that fact changes.
We just pour our coffee grounds in the mug (we grind beans at home and bring a mason jar full of freshly ground coffee) and top with hot water. Zero waste coffee that actually tastes good. A necessary ally for road trips. More on zero waste coffee here.
Love tea? We also bring our reusable tea balls and a tin (or two) of our favorite loose leaf tea. We get hot water like we do for coffee. Easy zero waste tea.
Bring plenty of water
Whether you’re car camping or road tripping, it’s important to have plenty of water. Run out of water and you’ll find a limited travel selection. I’d rather not buy a plastic water bottle or fill from nasty gas station bathrooms…
We generally bring our handy 5-gallon water jug or large metal growler. It’s great for camping and road trips alike. I’m not sure we’ve ever finished a full container, but it provides an easy way to refill our water bottles no matter where we are.
No more gas station bathrooms, plastic water bottles, or water fountains that hardly leave the spout. You know what I’m talking about, always annoying. Don’t have a 5-gallon jug? Get creative! Find your own sealable container. Clean milk jugs, a few big mason jars, and our camelback hiking bladders have all done the trick.
Zero waste toiletries are easy to find nowadays. With plenty of bulk stores and zero waste markets popping up, it’s much easier to find all your shampoos, conditioners, oils and lotions with minimal packaging. Lush comes to mind for zero waste shampoo and conditioner bars.
And consider getting a small bottle of all purpose soap like Dr. Bronner’s. You can wash dishes, hands, or your body if you wanted to. A great tool for camping and road trips alike.
Essential Reusable Tools
By bringing a few simple items (bamboo eating utensils, glass containers and a napkin) we can eliminate the need for most wasteful items, like plastic silverware, paper napkins and Styrofoam containers. It’s the little things that add up in the battle for zero waste.
- We love our trusty bamboo utensils, but regular silverware works just fine.
- Bring a napkin or kitchen towel.
- Handkerchief (or 7) – we got a set of our own we never looked back.
- Mason jars come in handy all the time. Get them online or hit local garage sales and thrift shops.
- Glass or metal tiffins work great to keep food together.
- Water bottles – truly love my hydroflask.
- Travel coffee mugs
- Cloth grocery bags – the trigger to our zero waste journey.
- Bulk & produce bags – pass on plastic, bring your own bags.
- Food wraps – a great replacement for plastic sandwich bags.
- Cooler – no matter our destination, camping and road trips call for a portable fridge.
It doesn’t have to be perfect!
That’s okay! We don’t need a few people that are perfectly zero waste. We need lots of people doing zero waste quite imperfectly. It’s the small efforts that truly add up.
What are your go-to zero waste road trip strategies? What snacks and supplies do you have?
Comment below – I’d love to hear your ideas!
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