It’s become increasingly clear that the idea of shopping as escapism is not solving the world’s problems. If you’re on (or considering) a Zero Waste journey, you might have moved away from the habit of shopping, or of consumerism as a response to boredom, loneliness, or -frankly- any emotion at all! As an offshoot, it is becoming mainstream to reject ‘stuff’ in favour of experiences.
At first glance, this is a positive change; however, when we take a look at the travel industry, have we replaced piles of things for short trips to far-flung places? Is the way we consume travel any different than how we consumed stuff? Is this cause for concern?
To help, here’s my guide on How to Plan Your Vacation Zero Waste Style (and still have a great trip!)
Related Post: A Beginner’s Guide To Eco-friendly Travel
Don’t get me wrong: I love to travel. It fuels most of my life’s decisions, having spent almost 3 out of the last 10 years abroad. I have quit no less than 4 jobs because I decided I was better off travelling for a long time frame rather than working and taking a short holiday. I am an advocate of travel as an opportunity for transformation. However, here’s my concern: rampant, thoughtless consumption led us astray with material objects, and as a society, we’re drowning in plastics and flash sales as a result. Let’s interrupt the cycle when looking at travel.
Since the tourism industry uses the same tricks to sell us travel, I propose we cycle through the 5 R’s of Zero Waste when considering a trip- especially when going international. Considering Zero Waste principles may facilitate choosing a vacation around depth of experience, not breadth of experience.
Come with me as we take another look at Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and -as a last resort- Rot!
How to Plan Your Vacation Zero Waste Style (and still have a great trip!)
In Zero Wasteland, “Refuse” starts at home by changing a routine. We can intentionally move away from spending time in shopping centers for “entertainment”, gently requesting no material gifts for certain holidays and events, or suddenly questioning certain purchases, like a recent napkin conversation at our house:
“We’re out of napkins.”
“Put it on the list!”
“Wait, why don’t we just buy cloth napkins?”
… and they never ran out of napkins again.
For your next vacation:
Identify you’re ‘easy no’s so that you can change how you respond to prompts that make you crave impulsivity. Question trips that are under a certain period of time, especially when going international. If the ratio of time enjoying the destination is overshadowed by the travel time, that’s a great indicator that you may be able to find a much more satisfying, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible way to spend those days.
- Sit down and consider your list of ‘easy no’s. These are the trips that are literally too short, feel like an obligation, or you know that you won’t enjoy but do it (or are tempted to do it) anyway.
A few zero waste travel essentials, kitty not included!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is to reduce my food purchases and food waste by creating a meal plan. It takes more planning but is very worth it when you consider the time and money saved.
Applied to Travel: Plan! Take the time to think your vacation through with some intentional questions surrounding why you want to go and what you want from it. Chances are, a vacation may be escaping from certain stressors in your life that will still be there when you return.
Experiment with a local vacation: spend a few days at home for stress management and self-care, combined with a rented cabin that you can drive to, or some really unique experiences in your city. As you get used to smaller and more local vacations, you may find that you schedule them before you get stressed, since they’re not a major commitment.
- Ask yourself a few intentional questions to make sure that the vacation you’re going to take will add to your life: Why do I want to go away? What do I want to get out of this trip? Do I have time prior to build anticipation about where we’re going? What are some memorable vacations I’ve taken in the past, and why were they memorable?
This is the trusty mason jar that you carry around, ready to be filled with snacks or leftovers at a moments notice. It’s just the right size and infinitely useful. Going zero waste, we shift from needing the new, the best, to reusing what we have and getting creative as our needs change.
Related Post: Eco-Travel Guide: Quebec Road Trip
Applied to Travel: Why not focus energy on enjoying the same place for a deeper, more meaningful experience each time, rather than seeking out brand new vacations over and over?
Search for a local, affordable, 4 seasons vacation that you can default to, and reuse it all the time. This is your guilt-free trip – when you’re feeling over (or under) whelmed, make a plan to go to that place and layer in some new experiences. This can particularly apply to staycations or quick trips out of town.
- Experiment with some new destinations within a few hours of where you live, that you can easily enjoy for a quick weekend away. If you loved it, book it again while it’s still fresh in your memory. If it’s open during all 4 seasons, even better!
Just as when you finally recycle the envelope that became scrap paper with ink all over it, give yourself permission to move away from certain travel concepts. Nothing will work for you forever ‘as is/where is’, and it doesn’t have to.
Applied to travel: I rarely travel in groups of more than two. Once I realized that there are a lot more variables that I can’t control on trips and that I take responsibility for too much, it was easy to let go of that piece in my travel plans, and quit feeling like I should be into it. I’ve also learned that trips to cities hold a lot less interest for me than they used to. I end up feeling like I didn’t see ‘enough’, regardless of how much I did.
- Consider your style of travel, and ask yourself if previous practices/traditions are ones to let go of temporarily. It doesn’t mean it will never recycle back into your life, but it will create space for new opportunities and ideas.
The last stage in the zero waste lifecycle is “rot”, also known as the very last resort: disposal. To me, that’s the carbon offsetting option: a last resort, as it shouldn’t justify excessive travel or skipping the first 4 R’s.
We need to be acutely aware of our travel’s impact on the environment and the carbon footprint and to also take responsibility for it. Carbon offsetting can be greenwashed into a marketing ploy for ‘guilt-free travel’, but if you cycle through the first 4 principles of Waste Reduction, then you’ve likely reduced your air travel significantly and discovered more time and money in the process.
- If you are flying, use a carbon calculator and offset your footprint. Once you know how much you need to offset, David Suzuki recommends following the Gold Standard criteria so that what you’re investing in is being used to its’ fullest extent and not ‘greenwashed’. For example, tree planting is not included in many Gold Standard projects since planting trees does not directly reduce the use of fossil fuels.
- To search Gold Standard projects by scope, by region or by Sustainable Development Goals, click here.