Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and the guilt has been setting in. Guilt for not being further on my dissertation, guilt for not using my blog as a creative outlet, and now guilt for spending the last week traveling and NOT being more waste-conscious.

But…baby steps.

I thought I’d dedicate this post to all the things I wish I did better while traveling. I have a lot of ideas, but this time, I just dropped the ball. To make up for it, I’m putting a few waste-conscious vibes into the atmosphere.

Here’s what I will be doing the next time I travel.

Five Steps for-2

  1. Give yourself TIME and PLAN ahead.

If you are a last minute travel planner/packer/organizer, waste-free travel will be a difficult transition. As it is, you are essentially adding a few extra steps to your “to do list,” so be easy on yourself and start to think about how you can reduce waste before you start packing your bags the night before.

Also, the kind of traveling you will be doing will change your waste-free plans. Whether you are traveling for work, school/research, family, or vacation etc., I am convinced that you can greatly reduce your waste.


Being thoughtful of what you pack is essential for waste-free travel. Based on the kind of travel you will be doing, anticipate what your needs will be. Here are some things you can bring that will reduce waste and save you money right off the bat:

Snack Bags copy

  • Water bottle

A water bottle is essential. This is something I did bring on my last trip, and I am convinced it saved me and my travel buddy at least $100.00, and the environment a lot of plastic. I scoped the price of water at the airport and then again at a few convenient stores around New York, and bottled water ranged from $2-5! With a reusable water bottle, we were able to fill up wherever their was a fountain, or at coffee shops and restaurants all for free!

  • 1-2 reusable shopping bags (the kind that fold down or are not as bulky)
  • 2-3 reusable snack/food bags (you can fill these with snacks before you leave/see below)
  • 1-2 cloth napkins


Obviously one needs to eat and stay hydrated while traveling. Well, with a little waste-consciousness, you can also save some money too. This takes a bit a forethought and planning (see above), but it is well worth the effort if you are strapped for cash and are trying to reduce your waste.

Pack your own snacks. Period. For a small bag of nuts at an airport snack stop (complete with extra salt, fats, oils etc. and wrapped in plastic) you could be paying the upwards of $5-10. Do yourself and the environment a favor and go purchase some bulk nuts, trail mix, whatever suits your fancy and pack in your reusable snack packs. Veggie sticks, fruit, and chocolate are also great airport or road trip pick-me-ups. Whatever you usually like to snack on, purchase or make beforehand and then pack for the trip. Once you are finished snacking, you will have empty snack bags to refill once you reach your destination.

Snack Bags

Another thing I wish I did was keep a collapsable mug, or small mug in my backpack. I have never been to a coffee shop that wasn’t happy to fill a clean mug. That being said, I had coffee several times a day when I was traveling and felt sad every time I had to toss the cup, lid, and heat protector in the trash each time….next time I will do better. In the summer, you can pack a variety of reusable cups with stainless steel straws–I have never done this, but I don’t see why they would have any problem if they are willing to refill mugs.

Eating out– when traveling one does not always have the luxury of handpicking and preparing their own food. Again, be easy on yourself! These suggestions I realize are not completely waste-free, but they are waste-conscious–which is a start.

When traveling with a companion, split meals…that way there is no wasted food and no need for to-go containers.

Try to shop or eat at places where you can sit and enjoy the meal on their regular/reusable plates, silverware etc. While usually cheaper, grab-and-go establishments are heavy on the packaging. Where you can help it, ask the sandwich shop if they can simply give you your sandwich (or at the very least wrap in paper, which is more easily compostable).

Refuse the bag when grabbing a pastry, or other items that you can either carry or put in your own reusable pack. If you are not in a hurry, sit a moment and enjoy your food without all the extra to-go packaging, napkins etcs.

Pack a simple set of utensils. Most places you are eating at will have their own for you to use, however, if you happen upon a place that only offers plastic or some one-time use variety, whip out your own and enjoy!

4. Ditch the Paper

Ditch the Paper

Today, traveling and shopping of all kinds offer paperless options. For example, most airlines and trains now offer online boarding passes that you can download on your mobile devices. Also, many stores are moving toward e-mail or text receipts. Take advantage of these options in order to save paper and avoid contact with receipts, which researchers have recently linked to high levels of BPA exposure.

Finally, if you pack 1-2 cloth napkins, you can avoid reaching for those paper take-out napkins.

5. CHOOSE Attractions, Entertainment, and Sightseeing Wisely

There are many  wasteful things travelers could indulge in in any location and on any trip. Try to avoid things that require extra gas (vehicle emissions), food/package/paper waste, or attractions that exploit natural resources, animals, or human beings.

For me, this means that instead of that fancy tour that includes lunch and a bus ride around town, I opt for self-guided tours where I can walk and choose my own dining option. Apps like “Field Trip” and “Google Maps” are great for exploring new areas on foot. I’m sure there are other out there too!

Instead of spending money on tickets to a zoo or similar attraction, I’ll visit a local nature conservancy or park (usually free) and make a donation. Or, instead visit a free public institution like an art museum, historical society, or nature/science museum.

Rather than go four-wheeling in the mountains or when we visit tropical locations, I prefer kayaking or a non-motorized water-activity, or hikes.

When you travel, you “vote” with the choices you make when spending money and/or producing waste. Each time you choose a more waste-conscious option/solution, you let cities, airlines, and other businesses (like hotels) know that you prefer options that are less wasteful. If you are a frequent traveler on a particular airline, or to a specific location, think about ways you can encourage those business you frequent most to reconsider their waste production as well!

Enjoy Free (waste-Free)Adventures


2 thoughts on “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda…

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