Zero-Waste Traveling

Recently I packed up everything my boyfriend and I own and we headed out east for a new adventure.  Relocating from South Dakota to New Hampshire was a three and a half day trek, which required some planning to pull off with minimal waste. While it took some work, I am happy to report that I packed and traveled for three days without creating any trash, except for food scraps.  Here are some of the tips and tricks I used for zero waste packing and moving.

Instead of buying packing supplies try these easy alternatives:

  1. Instead of buying new boxes: Try going to your local grocery store or gas station to ask for boxes. They were more than happy to give us as many as we could take, because it meant they didn’t have to deal with them. Or, use your luggage and other bags to pack items.

If you are taking furniture with you, load up any empty drawers with clothing and other items. This will save space and keep your breakables from moving during the trip.

  1. Instead of buying bubble wrap or packing peanuts: Use your clothes, bed sheets, towels, and any other fabrics you have around to wrap your valuables. Not only does this save you money and space, it also helps the environment.


Another handy tip is to pack small articles of clothing like socks, underwear, sports bras, and scarves into your shoes before loading them into a box or suitcase.  This will save space, while keeping the shape of your shoe so it won’t be squished.


And don’t forget to pack breakables that you may still be using like lamps. My dad used to drive a moving truck, and he said that lamps are one item people always forget to pack until the last minute.  It’s easier to pack the base and the shade separately. Pack the base in tight with your clothes, and pack the shade in a box with fabric or old newspaper crumpled around it.


  1. Instead of buying packing tape: Select boxes with flaps and fold them closed. This can be easily achieved by first folding down the right flap, followed by the bottom flap, then the left flap and finally the top flap. Take the right corner of the top flap and fold it under the top corner of the right flap. Sounds complicated, but really isn’t and it will hold your boxes closed sans tape!


Plan ahead for drinks and food:

  1. Bring your own water bottle.

This is such a simple alternative to buying multiple plastic ones, but can be easily forgotten.


Oddly enough, it can be hard to find water in soda dispensers anymore. This was the case multiple times on our trip, so we either went into the bathroom and used water from the sink or we stopped at rest areas, which usually have water fountains, and we filled up there. This can start to seem like it isn’t worth the hassle unless you are aware that there will be some limitations and plan accordingly.

  1. Bring your own coffee cup.

Again, such a simple alternative to reusable cups, but so easily forgotten.


**If you decide that coffee is just not cutting it and you choose to buy a packaged drink, opt for an aluminum can rather than plastic. It is more likely to be efficiently recycled, and it doesn’t leach chemicals into your drink.

  1. Plan how you want to eat your meals:

When I moved, I packed up three days of food into a cooler and we didn’t have to stop for food at all. This was to save money and time, and because the weather was warm we could picnic outside with our packed lunches.

If you decide to pack your own food, that is awesome!


Some great snacks for your trip can include:

  • Fruits and veggies. These can easily be cut up and kept in jars until snack time! I like to keep some veggies like 11950768_10153042669657019_422001833_ncarrots and celery in water to keep them crisp.
  • Bulk peanut butter: This can be used to dip your fruits and veggies.
  • Guacamole: Simply chop up all your ingredients (minus the avocado) ahead of time and keep them in a sealed bowl. When you are ready to eat, slice open that avocado and spoon it into your bowl. Mix together and enjoy!
  • Homemade tortillas or tortilla chips. These can get stale after a couple days so keep sealed in an airtight container.
  • Candied nuts. Sometimes you just need a bite of something sweet, and these are just the thing. Plus these are protein packed to keep you going. I munched on some all the way through Pennsylvania.
  • Cheese. It may seem weird to bring a block of cheese with you, but, if you already have a cooler, it’s easy. Simply bring a block of unpackaged cheese, and slice off a piece as a snack whenever you may need it.  Alternatively, you can melt it if your hotel room has a microwave and eat it with avocado….Although I may be the only one who does that.

Whether you choose to make your own food or not, packing a few essential will make zero waste meals a breeze:


  • Reusable bags. It can be really handy to have an empty bag available if you decide you want to grab some groceries for lunch.

I also find it nice to have one bag full of all my zero waste essentials so they are all in one place and easy to use.

  • Cloth napkins: I brought a couple of these and washed them in the hotel sink when they got dirty. These are great for grabbing donuts on the go without using any waste.
  • Multiple glass or metal to go containers: I say multiple because you never know when you will be in a restaurant and want to take your leftovers with you to eat later, and this way you will have an extra or two if one is dirty. Again, you can wash them in a hotel or bathroom sink if they get dirty. These are also handy if you bring your own snacks. I brought empty containers and made guacamole in them every night.
  • A fork, a knife, and a spoon: I suggest bringing a sharp knife (unless you plan on flying), along with a butter knife, just in case you want to cut up some fruits or veggies…or the leftover steak from supper the night before. You know, whatever.

I actually like to wrap my silverware in my napkins to keep everything clean inside my bag.

  • A metal straw. This one is completely optional, but it can make life easier. I made my whole trip without a straw, but now that I have one I can never go back to my straw-less life.


While it can seem daunting to travel waste free, it can be made simple with just a little planning. And if you happen to buy a bottle of water or a candy bar, don’t freak. I may have made it waste free, but my boyfriend did indulge in the occasional slice of pizza and breakfast sandwich. The learning curve for this lifestyle is huge, but every time you try it gets a little easier.

Good Luck!


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