Okay, so first things first: calling a road trip “zero waste” is a misnomer, since we drove a car and used up a lot of fuel. But when my husband and I went on a weekend trip (by ourselves!!!) for our anniversary, I knew I wanted to at least generate as little trash as possible. And we did pretty good! Here are the essentials I gathered:
- Backpack. I picked this one up for $14 on Craigslist because one, I’m cheap, and two, there was zero packaging. I was really resistant to getting a backpack for a long time (so dorky!) but I realized that if I’m going to bring gear, I need something to hold it while keeping my hands free. This Black River Camping Company model (some Amazon special from years ago) is great: lightweight, with two insulated side pockets for food and drink, and mesh pouches for water bottles, keys, etc. I’ve also been using this for our day trips to the zoo and the fair!
- Water bottle. This is a no-brainer, and yet it’s usually something I forget, filled with water and ice, on the coffee table as I drive away. Not this time!
- Travel coffee mugs. I love my Aladdin stainless steel travel mug (it’s no longer available, but here are some similar ones). The handle is convenient, it fits into my car’s cup holders, and it’s perfect for hot and cold drinks. My guilty pleasure in the summer is getting Starbucks frappuccinos, and this cup keeps them so cold. I found the National Geographic cup (classy!) for my husband–never used, it still had the washing instructions inside–at our local Goodwill.
- Extra shopping bag. This is essential in case you do any shopping (see more on that, below) or want to bag your dirty laundry. This was a gift–one of those parachute silk bags that actually tucks inside itself to be a teeny tiny bag. Sweet!
- Snacks. I brought along some La Croix and a container of chocolate almonds I picked up from the bulk aisles of our local WinCo. I could have gone healthier, but I have no illusions about myself and I didn’t want to be tempted by candy at the gas station.
- Rubbermaid containers. This was in case we had any leftovers to bring back to our room (we didn’t). I used Rubbermaid because one, I had them already, and two, I am not coordinated enough to bring breakable glass with me.
Things I could have used and will pick up before our next trip:
- Metal straws. Although my cup is great for those frappuccinos, you still need a straw to drink one. Glass scares me.
- Bandannas/handkerchiefs. To use as napkins, etc.
- First aid/medical kit. I usually have a small container ready to go with ibuprofen, Band-Aids, Pepto, etc. I did not have one for this trip, and I regretted it.
Other food-related things you can do to cut down on trash on the road are eat at sit-down restaurants with real plates and silverware (bring bandannas!) or pack your own food. But what about the other great pleasure of travel–shopping?
Once you get into the “I-don’t-need-more-stuff” mindset, shopping while on vacation can be a bummer. I’ve accepted that I don’t need most knick-knacks–and neither do my friends. I get my books from the library. So why would I enter the local boutiques and bookstores and waste their time? Fortunately, I found a couple of strategies to amuse myself.
- Go on a treasure hunt. You see, there are a few weird things I would absolutely buy on sight, if I came across them. For example, a coffee cup that looks like a terra cotta pot. I bought one for my Mom for Mother’s Day decades ago, and when we used to visit the Fish House Inn in Dayville every year, I was delighted to see they had one! I used it for my coffee every morning. The last time we went there it was gone–broken? Stolen? So while I will likely never see one ever again, the search is always fun (do not buy me one).
- Shop thrift stores. I used to do this all the time when I was young and broke. Thrift stores can be souvenir gold mines, especially in touristy locations, where people are dying to get rid of things they bought after one too many frozen margaritas. Years ago, my best friend found me an old Martha’s Vineyard sweatshirt at the Dumptique–for free. It was much cooler than the brand-new, overly rubbery options at the local tourist traps. Plus: no packaging!
- Shop local. At the very least, shop the locally owned bookstores, gift shops, and pharmacies where you travel. Use your own bags, refuse a receipt, and support the local economy!
While absolute zero waste travel is impossible, with a little preparation, you can avoid most trash and save yourself some money–and even generate a little extra fun! Who has more tips for me? Post them below!