Zero Waste Travel: Tips for a Zero Waste Road Trip

Having a zero waste and plastic-free routine at home is one thing, but making it work whilst on holidays (and away from home) is quite another. There’s dealing with new places and situations; having limited options to buy anything in bulk or recycle; and being without many of the tools that make zero waste living possible at home – and they all create challenges for keeping waste down.

Having been on plenty of road trips and holidays since I started my zero waste journey (goodness, don’t I sound well travelled?! It’s more that I’ve been living this way for 5 years rather than that I go on holidays all the time!) I’ve learned plenty of tricks along the way to help reduce my waste.

If you’re planning a road trip or holiday/vacation and you want to keep the waste down (which of course you do!), this one is for you.

Reducing Waste on Holiday: Before You Leave

As with anything and everything zero waste, planning is important. Waste tends to happen when things are unplanned, and convenience suddenly steps in. That doesn’t mean spreadsheets or anything complex. Just thinking about where you’re going, what you’ll be doing and likely scenarios, and google the options.

Check Out What Facilities Exist Where You’re Heading.

There are three types of facilities I check out before we go somewhere:

1. Shops, cafes, restaurants.

Knowing what kinds of shops exist and the kinds of food they sell is a good place to start. (For example, is there a supermarket, a service station, a bulk store, a Farmers Market?)

Considering what cafes and restaurants exist and the kinds of foods they sell is also useful (especially if you are vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free or have other dietary requirements). Opening hours are worth looking into too.

Looking at the reviews on Tripadvisor is helpful as a starting point, and we’ve used the website Happy Cow several times to find out vegetarian and vegan options in unknown places. If your friends or family that have been to the destination before, ask them to share their experiences.

2. Recycling Facilities.

In WA, not much is recycled north of Perth. Many of the places we stayed on this trip only recycle aluminium cans. My husband and dad both enjoy a beer, so whilst we were away they opted for beer in cans which we could recycle along the way, rather than glass bottles, which aren’t recycled.

(Whilst we always take home anything that cannot be recycled, glass is not truly recycled in Perth but crushed into road base, so choosing cans is a better option. There was a small amount of glass too, and that came home with us.)

3. Composting Options.

It is my dream that one day everyone with a composting bin will register their bin on the ShareWaste website. It’s a free service which connects home composters with people with excess food scraps.

I always check this service before I travel. I also search for community gardens in the ares that might have compost bins.

Sadly, rural WA is very lacking in bins on the map yet, so I knew that whatever food waste we took with us we would have to bury, or bring home.

Go Food Shopping Before You Leave

Depending on how much you intend to eat out whilst away, and the access you will have to refrigeration and cooking facilities, you might not want to take heaps of groceries with you, but it’s worth considering the basics: tea, coffee and snacks ;)

There are no bulk stores in WA further north than Perth, so we did a big bulk shop at The Source Bulk Foods (I’ve never bought so many nuts!) and bought fruit and vegetables from the local fruit and veg store to last us the first few days.

I made a big Ottolenghi-inspired salad to take with us, and also a big batch of sugar-free muesli. As well as fresh produce, I also took big jars of rice, quinoa and lentils so I could make meals at home.

Pack Reusables and Other Tools

Packing a water bottle, reusable cutlery set and reusable coffee cup goes without saying – these things practically live in my handbag anyway.

I also take a number of cloth produce bags, and either Pyrex containers, my stainless steel tiffin, or both. I have a set of round Pyrex containers that fit one inside the other so don’t take up too much space.

We take an esky with us to keep things cool in between destinations.

As well as the more obvious reusables, there are a few things I always pack for road trips. I always take a sharp knife (it makes all the difference when you’re trying to cook from scratch), our salt and pepper grinder and our coffee press. This time I took a tea strainer also.

This one might be a bit out there, but I also take our food processor with us.

I once met a lady who took her food processor with her when she went overseas. I’m not that extreme, but it is the most useful tool in my kitchen, it doesn’t take up much space, and it does so many things that now I always pack it. It’s great for making nut milk along the way, but we often use it for many other things (it has a heating function).

Dealing With Compost

If you don’t want to throw food scraps into landfill (and I definitely don’t), there are a few options: finding a composting facility locally, burying food scraps along the way, or taking them home with you.

Burying food scraps isn’t ideal, because it means using a rental home back yard without their knowledge, other private land without the owners’ knowledge, or public land. There’s the chance it could attract pests, or be dug up by dogs. A few veggie scraps from one person is one thing, but if everyone started doing this, it could be a big problem.

As I can’t bring myself to throw food scraps away, and we were away for two weeks, I did bury some of my waste.

I store food scraps in the freezer (in a Pyrex container) until I’m ready to bury it. I also blended some of it in the food processor to break it into smaller pieces, to help it compost more quickly. I tend to dig a few holes rather than one big one, as deep as I can, and ensure the waste is well covered with soil.

I do feel a little guilty, but I figure it is the lesser of two evils.

Once we hit the half way mark of the trip, I decided that we’d take what we created back to Perth with us. There was more room in the esky for food scraps, which were kept frozen.

Avoiding Single Use and Travel Items

Because we bring our own tea and coffee making facilities, we never use the single-serve tea and coffee. If any other single-use items are provided, like biscuits or breakfast cereal or UHT carton milk, we leave it in situ.

We always bring all of our own toiletries too, to avoid using individually wrapped soap or mini bottles of shower gel. There was a time when I’d clear out the place we were staying of anything miniature, but those days are long gone. They stay where they are.

I’ve also learned to bring our own dishwashing liquid, dish brush and cleaning cloth with us. The cloths provided are always plastic, and will be thrown away as soon as we leave, even if it’s one night. Should we need to use them, we take them with us so we ensure they are used until they wear out.

Our holiday packing isn’t the most minimal, but because we never take much clothing or footwear, there is always room to include reusables. I know I’ll have a much more relaxing holiday if I’m not creating waste. Funny that these days my priority is packing Pyrex rather than extra pairs of shoes!

Remembering reusables is something that just takes practice. The hardest thing is dealing with food scraps. If you have a compost bin at home, please consider registering it on the ShareWaste site. It’s free to use, and even if you don’t think you live in a touristy area, you never know who might be passing through.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can go on a road trip and there’s more compost bins to stop at along the way than service stations ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! What tips for zero waste road trips do you have? What challenges have you faced whilst you’ve been away from home or on the road? Which tips can you see yourself adopting – or not?! Anything else to add? Please leave a comment below!

34 replies
  1. Dóri
    Dóri says:

    Hi, great suggestions for normal holiday goaways, although I wouldn’t say a blender is taking not much space. Any tips for long term bike travel? :) (long term, like this will be our way of life for quite a few years, you know my story :D )

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Dori, ah, the blender isn’t THAT big! It does often sit in the middle passenger seat. We hired a car for the four of us so it was big enough to accommodate ;)

      Long term bike travel – now that’s a completely different game! But you have plenty of time to plan (at least, I think you do). I think you’ll get so good at it by the end. Looking forward to hearing more :)

  2. Kathy Tyler
    Kathy Tyler says:

    We did find compost a problem on a trip to Fiji. I put it in out side bins at the resort eg not using the plastic bag lined bins in our room so by not using these we saved 14 plastic bags. .eg they clean daily . Aventually I bought a coconut to drink and decided to return it too the wild as there were lots coconut trees with coconuts lying about about and i tthen decided to stuff it full of banana skins and fruit scraps etc. I put it in an out of the way place to quietly rot with other coconuts , I was very pleased with my self but like burying, it was creative but no the best solution if everyone did it. They actually also supplied bottled water in the room, so I wrote a note saying no bottled water thanks and why. . . I also found the tap water had a lot of chlorine in it so filled the ice bucket , let it air for 24 hours to get rid of the chlorine and filled my reuseable bottle. this was a daily ritual. You do have to get creative . Fiji is drowning plastic bottles its very sad I sent info to the resort owners on approaches they could take. so edcuting along the way is another approach . Hopeyou ad a greta road trip anyway.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Kathy this is an awesome story, thanks so much for sharing! Yes, we did the same thing with bins. My folks eat meat and although my mum played along as best she could, we didn’t bury the meat scraps. They took them to a public bin or straight to the main bin: as you say, it reduces the person replacing the bin liner every day. They also had medicine packets, but I think that was it. It’s easier to take recycling home in a car than on a plane!

      A lot of the places we stayed were AirBnB type places and provided milk in UHT cartons with straws attached. My mum commented on it – and then opened one for her tea! (That was the only time as we typically bought milk from the store – less packaging overall. We even found milk in glass bottles in Exmouth!)

      We stayed in a resort place in Exmouth: they had some “eco” touches and then some totally contradictory ones too. The lack of joined up thinking is something that I keep mulling over… Of course anything is better than nothing, but I can’t help but want more ;)

      • Jean
        Jean says:

        Bringing the veg scraps back home from a road trip is fine if you only stayed in WA. Coming back into WA from NT or SA, you are not allowed to. Or from overseas of course. Outside Laverton, we had to dump the whole lot in the quarantine bin. Plus the fruit & veg & nuts & muesli we hadn’t consumed yet …..

  3. Janet Holttum
    Janet Holttum says:

    We won’t buy the bottled water (very expensive) when we go on a cruise. We boil the water in the kettles provided and use our reusable bottles.

  4. Taylor Springett
    Taylor Springett says:

    Very helpful post- thank you! I’m currently living in Paris for 6 months on an exchange trip so I’m finding it a bit tricky to keep up my habitats from Sydney in my host family’s life. I’m starting to sus-out the local markets and bulk shops though (there are a lot more than I originally thought!) Definitely feeling a bit more inspired now! Thank you Lindsay!

  5. juliamaurus
    juliamaurus says:

    We went on an overseas trip this year. We couldn’t pack much food with us, but packing a container full of nuts for the plane trip meant that we could refuse all of the pacakaged snacks that were offered. We also took a drink bottle so we could refuse the single-use plastic cups, KeepCup for hot beverages on the plane, fabric napkins and my Tupperware cutlery (which got through security fine) so we could refuse the cutlery and serviette set that comes with every meal. It’s the least waste I’ve ever produced when flying by plane, so it was worth taking these small actions.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      We do all of these things too Julia, I know that it’s small but I still feel that it is significant – showing others of the alternatives and opportunities. Plus a KeepCup of hot drink on a flight makes so much sense – they always serve hot drinks in those low, wide cups and there is always turbulence! And a water bottle is way better than the 20 cups of water you’d need to request to drink the same volume. Of course I do it for the waste, but I actually think it makes the whole experience much better too :)

      (I take my bamboo cutlery through security, it has always been fine.)

  6. Leanne
    Leanne says:

    Thank you Lindsay for the timely ideas. My husband Bill and I are holidaying on Lord Howe Island (4th visit March 2018) off the coast of NSW and world heritage listed, so a pristine contained environment. Like you, on previous holidays I have always cleared the bathroom of the goodies and collected kitchen consumables too.
    No more, I now have a job to do and that is to plan my waste free vegan holiday. Both a first for me, as it wasn’t until I got back from a long overseas holiday in July that I attended a couple of your workshops and have since been inspired to do more. I have been very successful thanks to your coaching and encouraging emails in my ‘war against waste’ (vegan since August). I find it quite challenging being vegan and leading a waste free life, but we do our best.
    You are a great help and inspiration Lindsay, thanks again.

    • Cassandra
      Cassandra says:

      Leanne – I’m a trainee waste free vegan too – you should be so proud of yourself for being so much to help the environment heal :)

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      That is so great Leanne – plenty of time to plan and think and get ideas. How exciting! (And seriously, did you ever even use those toiletries?! I know I used to take them home, but I just stored them in a cupboard for overnight trips or short holidays, and it took me years to use them up once I went plastic-free! What a waste [facepalm]!)

      I didn’t even attempt to be vegan for a couple of years after I went plastic free and then zero waste, it definitely adds another element to the challenge. We had to compromise this trip, but we knew we would as we were travelling with my parents, who love meat, love eating out and dislike vegetarian food and picnics. Lots of places had vegetarian options, but there weren’t that many vegan ones. Actually, Exmouth was pretty great!

      Let me know if you have any questions with the planning and I will do my best to help!

  7. Ashleigh
    Ashleigh says:

    I have just created a donation point for Esperance on the Share Waste site!
    If I’m good and get prepared early, I do make food to take with us when we travel. And if we are to eat out we usually sit in at the shop so we use their crockery & cutlery.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hurrah, thank you Ashleigh! You are a superstar! Let’s litter (hehe, see what I did there?!) the ShareWaste map with West Australian points!

      We do the same with eating in. If a place only offers stuff in takeaway containers (excluding paper bags, although I tend to have my own bags) then we go somewhere else.

  8. Cassandra
    Cassandra says:

    Just wondering what your blender/food processor is? I’ve been using my mums old hand me down nutribullet which is all but dead and I’m not wanting to buy one or even get one second hand that has too many plastic pieces! Does anyone have a suggestion for the best food processor with glass or stainless steel parts?

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      I have a Thermomix which has a stainless steel jug, but before that I had a Tribest blender that you can attach glass mason jars to (although mine were plastic). I would guess that you can get nutribullets very easily second-hand, but I agree, lots of plastic. I wonder if there are any others like the Tribest that allow you to attach glass to?

  9. glutenfreeness
    glutenfreeness says:

    This post makes me laugh. These ideas will only work for single people or couples who are driving to their destination. Even then, it would be a push- depending on what kind of holiday you are taking. By the time you’ve filled an ordinary sized car with bedding, towels, suitcases and so on, there is no room left to pack a week’s worth of food too! This is especially true if you have children or pets accompanying you. Let alone your blender! Talk about packing the kitchen sink. A holiday is a time to enjoy yourself and relax. I say do what you can and give yourself a break on the rest. It’s hard enough finding good destinations for day trips, without worrying about the minutiae of every meal.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Lizz, I thought I’d give you a bit of context :) There were four adults in a single hired Toyota Rav 4. That’s a mid-size SUV. We were away for 14 days (13 nights), staying at 7 destinations along the way. The holiday was self-catered, except one place we stayed at for one night provided breakfast. I always choose places that provide bedding or allow us to hire it at an extra charge because that is bulky to transport, and I’d rather be able to take food with me. (Plus I can’t be bothered carting bedding around or having to wash it myself whilst away.) Everywhere we stayed, from a caravan park, motel and several Air BnBs all provided towels – I think to not provide towels is almost unheard of here.

      As for luggage, I travel light. We all took a small bag of clothing. I made sure we stayed at a couple of places with a washing machine. Aside from the fact that I don’t own that many clothes and like to wear the things I own often, the idea of coming back from a trip with two weeks worth of laundry to do is my idea of a nightmare ;)

      Packing a blender is nothing like packing the kitchen sink! It’s one appliance. I don’t have a hair dryer, hair straighteners, a travel iron or anything like that, but many people do – I don’t really think it’s that different!

      Personally, I am much more relaxed when I go on holiday and am able to avoid waste. So for me taking a few Pyrex containers and a blender on holiday is worth it. I enjoy reducing my waste, none of this stuff was much (any?) effort. Not sure what you mean about “worrying about the minutiae of every meal” – believe me, there was no worrying at all!

  10. GalyaB
    GalyaB says:

    Ok. ok, I’ve registered my compost bin. Not that I think anyone will EVER contact me to accept their scraps, since I’m in Russia :) but if you travel here, I have you covered :)
    Meanwhile I’m happy my not so zero waste parents bring me their scraps every no and then.

  11. cheliamoose
    cheliamoose says:

    I’ve been travelling interstate a bit recently and thinking about this a lot. Because I’ve been on my own and using public transport I’ve focused on small, light preparations and then adapting to the resources available on site. I brought my own museli and snacks, which was a good foundation. Lunches and dinners I shopped for locally. This meant picking options that were less likely to be plastic packaged (like bakeries) and some thoughtful cooking (stirfry with green beans for protein and sweet potato for carbs using seasonings available in my airbnb turns out to be nearo waste!). Like you, I found having my own crockery and cutlery got me out of some tight spots. I’m going to Europe next week and will be changing countries frequently so will be using most of these strategies again.
    In regards to food waste, a land manager recently revealed to me that nutrient poor Australian skills don’t always benefit from buried compost: the nutrient kick usually provides a brilliant colonising opportunity for introduced weeds :/ it’s made me much more mindful of where I deposit food waste now. One idea I’d like to try for local trips is a sealable container for food scraps with some bokashi bran added. I’d hope that this helps pickle the scraps for long enough to get them to a compost bin without the leakage fears of a normal bokashi bin with its tap.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      I hope interstate doesn’t mean Perth, Rachel, as I have not heard from you! ;) I agree, stir fries are a good zero waste option, and potato / sweet potato is a great plastic-free solution. We took a sweet potato with us, but didn’t use it, so it has made its way all the way up the coast and back down again!

      I’m thinking next time we go to Margaret River for a few days, of putting some composting worms in a tub and using that as a mini transportable worm farm. All our compost bins are heaving with them right now, so it should be easy to grab a few handfulls. Will see how it works!

      Where are you off to in Europe?

      • cheliamoose
        cheliamoose says:

        No way, you’d definitely hear if it was Perth! This Europe trip has me starting in Madrid and travelling north to Amsterdam with a cheeky side trip to London via Nantes. It’s mostly a self funded design study trip with a few catch ups with friends thrown in for good measure

  12. XLP
    XLP says:

    We travel to rodeos regularly which is pretty much just camping with horses. We have a crapload of gear with us – baby gear for an 18 month old (cloth nappies, portacot, clothes, playpen for safety reasons, high chair, etc), horse feed and tack, camping gear, our gear, drinkable water for humans as stock water is not the best sometimes. Along with the usual hot drink staples I have baked goods for snacks. Instead of packing lots of food that needs to be prepared and cooked I cook and freeze meals in pyrex like spag bog and soup which can be easily reheated and eaten with a side of plastic free and easy to prepare carbs (bread, pasta, etc). I pre cut salad ingredients at home too. This means we have almost no food waste and it’s much more convenient too. We hardly ever eat takeaways when we are there as our food is yummier and cheaper.

  13. Hoarder Comes Clean
    Hoarder Comes Clean says:

    Thanks for the great tips, especially interested in the compost sharing (though I see no one near here is on it yet, hopefully there will be some soon) since I moved and left my own bins. And, the vegetarian/vegan restaurant finder will be great for future trips (though we, like you, most often shop in the grocery stores and put our own meals together)


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