Reducing Waste Part 6: Traveling

Reducing Waste When Traveling

Each month, Kait Spielmaker takes us through her journey to live a more eco-conscious life. Here, part six of her journey in reducing waste: traveling

By Kait Spielmaker

Many of life’s benefits are connected to traveling. Lower stress levels, new worldly perspectives, being more creative and living an overall healthier life. Traveling is an existential part of living that offers profound views of the world. Like everything in life, there is almost always good with bad. Traveling, while intrinsic to our lives, can have a negative impact on the planet. There are many easy, efficient changes that can be made in order to minimize your carbon footprint whenever you travel.

On the Road

Road trips are an American staple: Road maps, snacks from the convenience store and good tunes. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked into a gas station and loaded up on Twizzlers, Cheez-Its or Oreos. Gas stations are designed for indulging when making a pit stop. Snacks give you something to do to pass the time while on the road, and sometimes you’ll buy something to munch on so you don’t fall asleep when driving through the night. Investing in a good cooler where you can pack your own meals is really helpful, especially if your trip is only a couple of days. 

Hummus, veggies, fruit like bananas, oranges and apples, overnight oats, chia seed pudding, your own trail mix, and sometimes even a slow cooker meal are perfect traveling food. These can all be prepped at home using minimal waste and taken out on the road to serve as healthy, low-waste meals for any trip. 

If you must scout out something at a gas station or fast food place while traveling, try to cut packaging as much as possible. When it comes to fast food like Subway or Taco Bell, the food wrappers are compostable. I ask for no bag and don’t grab the extra napkins. Sadly, I no longer enjoy hot sauce packets from Taco Bell or ketchup packets when I get fries from McDonald’s. Avoiding the drive-thru and going into an establishment can help cut down on waste since that’s more self-service.

In the Air

Ironically, as I write this piece, I am waiting for a flight in the Phoenix airport. What better time to write about cutting corners in waste while it sits fresh in your mind as you catch a flight?

Two of the easiest things you can do is bring your own water bottle and travel coffee thermos. Most large airports now have water refill stations located with drinking fountains to alleviate the need to purchase plastic water bottles. This becomes useful in the airport, but also on the plane itself due to the fact that you can have the reusables filled up and not waste one of the airline’s plastic cups. Situations implemented to be accommodating are usually wasteful. 

Everyone knows that the airlines do no favors for the environment when they pass out complimentary food and beverages on flights. It’s completely acceptable to bring your own food through security (something I was unaware of for a really long time). If you plan on having a cocktail, getting one from the airport bar removes the single shot plastic liquor bottles airlines use for cocktails on your flight.

Stocking up on non-perishable snacks from the grocery store (especially from the bulk section) is also a good habit to get into. Not only will this reduce your waste but it will save you money, as we know how expensive everything on the other side of airport security is.

If you are unable to make any of that happen and snacks at the airport or on a flight are your speed, minimize your waste as much as possible. When scouting out snacks inside the newsstand stores, select a banana or orange or get a muffin from a display case at a coffee shop where you can request minimal packaging.


Lately, there have been a lot of stories floating around the internet of people leaving beautiful nature spots trashed with wrappers, beer cans, cigarette butts—the list goes on and on. I have seen and picked up my fair share of garbage from the wilderness when camping or hiking; it is truly frustrating. Nature, whether it be camping, hiking or swimming at the beach, is reserved for everyone and shouldn’t be destroyed by prior visitors. 

Pack It In, Pack It Out is a principle of Leave No Trace, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting nature from trash left behind. Similar to being on the road, there are many of the same principles you can implement when camping or just being in nature that will alleviate negative human impact on the environment. 

Once again, the cooler. We purchased a Yeti cooler last summer and it’s worth every penny. More affordable ones exist on the market that serve the same purpose, and you can usually find good deals during sporting goods sales. They are designed for heavy-duty excursions in the outdoors and keep your food from spoiling for five days. Reusable bags such as Stasher bags work perfect for storing nuts or veggies. 

If any plastic is brought into nature, make sure you avoid leaving micro litter behind (micro litter is like the corner of a granola bar wrapper that’s easily left behind). If you compost at home, bringing a container to put any food scraps, banana peels, apple cores, etc., helps keep organic matter out of its unnatural habitat.


As a society we have a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. They continue to be integrated into our everyday lives as coal and natural gas fuel most modes of transportation. With that being said, it is understood that it may seem irrelevant to practice zero waste if you are still flying across the world or driving across the country. At this point in time, we are still dependent on fossil fuels but hopefully as we progress, we will gravitate more towards renewable and clean energy solutions.

While you can’t avoid taking a plane to Europe, using public transportation or walking when you get there is a conscious option. Furthermore, when you are in the market for a new car or are renting a vehicle for an adventure of your choosing, aim for fuel efficiency or an electric car. Ride shares, carpooling with friends or coworkers, public transportation and biking or walking when applicable are ways you can cut down on your impact along with reducing your waste.

Keep up with this series and find back articles here:

Part 5: Your Guide To Recycling And Composting

Part 4: Empowering Women to Reduce Waste

Part 3: Navigating The Grocery Store

Kait Spielmaker is a Michigan native who relocated to Phoenix, and is the administrative coordinator at Green Living Magazine. She is an avid hiker and is working on her master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.

Photo by Dani Cropper

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