Traveling Consciously; Zero Waste and Ethical Shopping Travel Tips

Photograph by Tala Parker

Photograph by Tala Parker

While traveling, it can be hard to maintain a zero waste and ethical lifestyle. Here are some tips I use to stick to my values.

Planes and Trains

Bring your own water bottle and food - A water bottle is a necessity on all travels. I use a large Hydro Flask that both keeps water hot or cold for a number of hours. Most flight attendants will be willing to fill up your bottle to eliminate your need for a small plastic cup. For food, I like to bring one “meal” (usually pasta, vegetable, and meat/tofu or a sandwich) which must be eaten shortly after getting on the plane due to it needing refrigeration. In addition, I’ll bring various snacks with me to get me through my travels (apples and other fruit that isn’t easily crushed, almonds and cranberries, crackers, etc.). Remember to bring enough snacks for your days abroad as well as your return flight. If you don’t have access to a kitchen before your flight back, try to make a sandwich with what's available at the hotel buffet or buy something that isn’t wrapped in plastic.

Download your boarding pass on your phone if possible - save a bit of paper by just scanning your phone at the gate. However, some airlines/airports don’t allow this, so in that case just recycle the boarding pass.


Bring your own toiletries with you and refuse the soaps they provide - I like to leave a small note near the provided bathroom toiletries stating that I didn’t use them and to please reuse them if possible.


Refuse straws when you order your drink - It’s important to develop the habit of always asking to receive your drink without a straw, no matter what you order. Sometimes, bars and restaurants include straws in drinks you wouldn’t think would require one. Or, by not asking every time you may forget when you order a drink that does come with a straw. If you like using straws, carry your own stainless steel or bamboo straw with you.

Consider if it's worth getting a to-go box - Often I won't eat the cold leftovers and will just waste a container and the food, instead of just the food. If you are considering a to-go box, ask what it is made of. If its plastic, avoid it.

Carry your own utensils - When on the go, I often eat out or get takeout. Sometimes, restaurants only provide single-use silverware. I carry a set of bamboo cutlery with me to eliminate my need for plastic utensils.


Replace informational pamphlets from museums - Return pamphlets so other guests can continue to use them.


Consider where you spend your money - There are touristy souvenir shops everywhere, often selling plastic junk or at the least unethically made shirts and sweaters. Buy things that are made locally from artisans or don’t buy at all.

Following the prior, don’t shop at malls or shops as they are rarely ethical - In general, this means that you don’t buy much of anything at all, which is both better for the environment/people, your bank account, and for yourself in the future, not only when you have to repack your suitcase but also when you have to find spots in your home for. That being said, it is great to support local artisans.