Sustainable Travel Tips and Essentials from a Minimal Homebody

If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably noticed that I've been traveling quite a bit lately. In the past year or so, I've been to Austin, Minneapolis, New York, Australia, New Zealand, Boston, Pittsburgh, Palm Springs, San Francisco, Chicago, Ojai, Salt Lake City, Santa Barbara, Seattle, New York, New Orleans and we have more planned in the next few months. I'll admit that it feels odd for such a serious homebody to be out and about so much, but, while I do miss home, I've found ways to make traveling easier.

I head out on the road because Ross travels for work. He’s gone for over 50% of the year, so if we want to be together, going on the road with him is the way to do it. I’m not a super adventurous type, but it’s nice to see snippets of new cities, and get excuses to visit my favorites year after year.

I've collected a few of my favorite travel essentials that I recommend to everyone. Now, this isn't going to be a round-up of travel gimmicks that give you more stuff to carry around. I like to travel as minimally and as ecologically as possible, so here it goes! And in fact, I’m going to recommend you don’t buy extra stuff at all!

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Sustainable Travel Tips & Gear

Sustainable travel is kinda an oxymoron since cutting out air and auto travel is one of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. But long-distance travel is sometimes inevitable, so I have a few tips to make less of an environmental impact when you take off.

Bring a reusable water bottle, filter, and mug - Obviously, bring a water bottle. Buying plastic bottles is simply not cool. If you don’t have access to purified water, pop a petite water filter in your bottle. If you need coffee on the go, you can bring a reusable travel mug, but I prefer to just sit in a cafe for 5 minutes to drink my brew. If you want a to-go mug but don’t have a reusable travel one, bring a normal mug from your kitchen cabinets, or bring a repurposed glass jar from your pantry and put some rubber bands around it to use as a koozie.

Compost on the go - When Natasha, Alison, and I hung out in Palm Springs recently, we made a bunch of margaritas and guacamole in our Airbnb, so I kept all of the lime and avocado leftovers in a paper bag and brought it home to compost. I stored everything in the freezer so it didn’t attract bugs or spoil while enjoying the trip. I brought the bag of frozen scraps in the car and plopped it in the compost before walking in the door when I got home. When traveling further away and you can’t bring the compost home, an alternative is to bring scraps to a grocery store or restaurant that you noticed collecting compost. Whole Foods is always a good option, but it really varies based on the city. You could also look up compost options or community gardens wherever you’re visiting if you collected a whole bunch of scraps. Instead of buying compostable bags, store them in a paper bag or a plastic bag that inevitably entered your life - all zero wasters have them!

Reject single use treats - Instead of grabbing a snack from a food truck that’s surely offered on disposable plates, opt to enjoy a bite to eat at a cafe or restaurant that has reusable cutlery. You don’t need to order a full meal - in fact, my favorite way to travel is to eat small meals/snacks at multiple restaurants so I can check out even more eateries! This goes for the coffee maker in the hotel room with packaged pods - just grab a fresh brew at a local coffee shop for an even better tasting brew and without the waste. If you do end up in a pinch and absolutely must get something, I opt for things made of glass rather than plastic or paper (think a glass bottle of kombucha to quench thirst rather than a plastic water bottle). Glass has a higher recyclability and you can repurpose it on your trip (see my note about coffee mugs).

Support local companies, restaurants, artists, and organizations - Zero waste goes FAR beyond the plastic bag. The negative environmental effects from our choices most often impacts marginalized groups. Instead of giving our money to unethical corporations, giving funds to local small businesses will best benefit human beings. Shop a farmers market, stroll into a small shop, buy from a local artist, eat at a restaurant that sustainably sources their food, buy souvenirs at a shop owned by people of color.

Pack snack essentials or buy snacks - Instead of swinging by the hotel market for a plastic-wrapped snack, we like to head to the grocery store or farmer’s market to grab snacks and essentials that don’t come in packaging - or minimal packaging. I pack a couple of my reusable produce bags and a tote bag or two so I can grab nuts from the bulk bins, a few handfuls of fruit, some bulk cereal, etc. Time zones can really mess with me so it’s nice to have something handy when I get hungry at 11pm rather than going to the hotel market.

Steer clear of touristy souvenir tchotchkes - These souvenirs are often plastic and not ethically made. Consider buying art from a local artist for your souvenir!

Purchase carbon offsets - Since that plane ride or car trip had a negative affect on the environment, consider buying carbon offsets which funds programs that “reverse” human effects on the environment, support ethical farming, and encourage sustainable energy practices. Learn more about how and where to buy carbon offsets here.

Use public transit, walk, or use carbon neutral ride shares - My first choice while traveling is always to take public transit - I love a good subway ride! Opting for trains or subways is a great way to reduce environmental impact, but when those aren’t available and we have to take a car, we opt for Lyft. I boycott Uber for multiple reasons, so I’m glad that the alternative, Lyft, is carbon neutral. Walking in a new city is always the best!

Brush up on local recycling and waste rules - I’m used to not getting plastic straws at restaurants, so I need to remember to ask nicely to not get one while traveling. Additionally, I’m used to putting nearly all plastic with a recycling logo in my San Diego recycling, but that’s just a regional luxury. Do a bit of googling in the city you’re visiting to see what can and can’t be recycled to avoid contaminating a whole batch of otherwise recyclable items.

Avoid food waste and energy waste at home - Prep your home before you leave to save energy and reduce waste while you’re away.

Pack reusable utensils - I always like to bring reusable utensils so I can enjoy grub without my home kitchen. Even when we’re in a hotel without cookwares, this comes super duper in handy. You never know when you want to eat ice cream from the hotel bed while watching Forensic Files, or when you’d rather eat granola in the room before heading out for the day. You could buy reusable bamboo to-go utensils, but I prefer to just grab a few from my silverware drawer and a few cloth napkins from the dining room. I also like to pack at least one Pyrex container so I can bring restaurant leftovers or items from the bulk bin back to the hotel. Hot tip: pack your airplane snack in the container, wash it out, then you have an empty container on the go!

Avoid the tiny travel sized toiletries - Those itsy bitsy travel-sized single-use containers are such an environmental bummer. If you don’t already have reusable TSA-approved silicone squeeze bottles that you decant your daily shampoo into, I recommend bars. Traveling with a shampoo bar and chewable toothpaste is a great way to pack light and sustainably. Not to mention, you can get more washes out of a bar than a 3oz container, and they will never explode in your bag by accident. You can store a shampoo bar inside of an old Altoids tin. If you don’t want to do a bar and don’t already have reusable squeeze bottles, I like to repurpose existing containers. For my latest trip, I poured my face serum into my empty vitamin jar.

Use a compostable toothbrush - I have a toothbrush in my travel kit so I don’t need to pack my every-day home one. I use these compostable toothbrushes at home and on the go.

Remember, zero waste isn’t perfect. Nobody is. It’s not realistic to fit all of your trash in a mason jar - you will inevitably produce waste even when trying your best not to (we don’t live in an ideal circular economy). Travel is extra hard because you’re not in your normal routine, so don’t beat yourself up when you ask for a glass of water at a bar and they bring it to you in a plastic cup (this happened to me the other day). Try to reduce what you consume, avoid buying stuff, and try to avoid food waste.

Tech Gear & Tips

Protect your online information - I get the heebie jeebies about my digital info getting stolen, especially while traveling. So I use to create secure VPN connections so I can feel comfortable connecting to wifi networks at coffee shops, hotels, airbnbs, airports, etc. There’s an app for the phone and my laptop so all of your electronics are covered. We additionally use 1Password to organize all of our passwords. It will generate impossible-to-guess passwords and then keep them encrypted so you can access them from any of your devices. We use this constantly and it provides so much peace of mind.

Enjoy the same movie as your buddy - A headphone splitter is a MUST if you’re traveling with a pal. Ross and I can watch the same movie on the plane by plugging the headphone splitter into the iPad and then into each of our headphones. We watch the same show but get to use our own headphones to enjoy the same media together. Get this one for newer electronics with lightning adapters and this one for older ones that still have a 3.5mm auxiliary headphone jack.

Bring the best headphones - Speaking of headphones, they’re a must while traveling. I like these ones that go over my ears and drown out the airplane noise (these are quality ones that Ross the audiophile picked out). But now I use these super compact wireless ones for when I sit on a train, go on a jog, or sit in a coffee shop with my laptop.

Bring cords and adapters for rental cars - Many rental cars nowadays have bluetooth, and even if they do, they often suck and are finicky. And some rentals don’t have any way of connecting your tunes to the car’s speakers. You could spend 25 minutes of your road trip scanning for a decent radio station, or you could just pack a cable to plug your phone directly into the stereo. It’s such a tiny thing to bring and makes such an impact when you can tune into your favorite podcast or album for those hours-long car rides.

Pack an HDMI cable for plugging into TVs - Similar to bringing an auxiliary jack to connect a phone to a car, we like to travel with an HDMI cable and adapter to connect our laptops to hotel or Airbnb TVs. This way, we can stream from Netflix/Hulu/HBO on non-internet-equipped TVs. But to be honest, I love hotels for their cable TV so I mostly watch my guilty pleasures or Law & Order marathons that I don’t have access to at home.

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General Travel Gear & Tips

Prepare your home for travel - I have a full blog post on how to prep your home for energy efficiency, safety, and ease. Check it out here before you head out on travel.

Quality suitcase - We got this suitcase a few years back before it became all the rage, but it is definitely worth the hype. The compressive storage inside helps me cram a bunch of stuff inside and the portable battery charger is useful for keeping my phone charged during travel and even when I’m not on the road.

Fold clothes KonMari style - I’ve been folding my clothes in the KonMari style for over a year now (here’s how I do it) and while it has made laundry and dressing at home so much better, I think the most life-changing magic of this kind of folding has been in packing my suitcase. I’m able to fit so many more items, and I’m able to see everything I packed without digging through stacks of clothes. I don’t ever need to unpack the suitcase when I get to my destination.

Backpack - I travel with a laptop backpack (this one is made from recycled water bottles!) because it holds everything I’ve listed in this post. It stores all of my plane electronics, water bottle, snacks, and little essentials. I take it on the plane so even if I check my bag, I know I have my biggest valuables all in one place. Hot tip: if you’re checking a bag, consider packing underwear and compact clothes in your carry on so if the checked back goes missing, you’re not left in the lurch.

Toiletry carry-all - Since I leave town pretty often, I have a dedicated toiletry bag where I keep my essential items at all times so I can grab and go. If you don’t travel too much, you could put everything in a tote bag, a reusable ziplock, or just dump everything in the suitcase. No need to buy a fancy bag if you don’t need one. If you want one, consider asking your local Buy Nothing Group for one.

Chapstick - It’s the only lip makeup I wear when at home but it feels so much more necessary when I go to different climates. I use this stuff which is natural and comes in a compostable tube.

Phone case to store cards - I’ve completely done away with carrying a purse at home and while traveling and it’s life changing. While I travel, it’s no different and I like to travel as light as possible. I wedge my ID and credit card in the back of my phone case, but if I wanted a dedicated case to store them, I’d get this cork phone case to store cards in the back.

Sun protection - Again an every day essential, but since I go outside way more during my travels than I do at home, sunglasses become extra important. I wear these with a prescription in them. For sunscreen, I use this plastic-free sun protection.

Versatile sneakers - I have these sustainable shoes as the sneaker and slip-on and I love them both. The sneaker is the most comfy shoe ever and it’s pretty enough that I can wear it out to dinner and not look like I’m wearing running shoes. The slip-ons are equally as versatile and they both get super compact for the suitcase.

Favorite clothes - I list all of my favorite clothes here. I try best to travel light and I pack my essentials that I can mix and match. Plus, I’ll always wear things over and over during my travels. I’m on day 4 of the same pants - no shame.

Airbnb - I like the ease of hotels, but during vacations I like staying outside of downtown areas so Airbnb lets me enjoy a charming house away from the crowds. If you haven’t used the home rental service, click here for $40 in travel credit.

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What did I miss? Do you have any travel tips I forgot to share?