We have finally gotten back into the swing of things after the chaos of the end of school and two back to back road trips. As I prepped for our trip, I made mental notes of things to share about how to travel. I really don't fancy myself to be a trailblazer or very radical in my zero waste ways, so I am going to go out a limb and say that the things we did to reduce waste on our trip are pretty accessible to a lot of people. Please note, I know these things are not accessible to ALL people. I have access to bulk snacks in a grocery store near my home and we have the means to purchase some of the items I will talk about. In addition, we were able to work a fair number of sit down restaurant meals into our vacation budget (heck, we HAVE a vacation budget - that, in itself, is lucky and something for which we are grateful). This is my long way of saying, IF you have a road trip coming up, and you have made some zero waste changes in your home already, you can road trip with less waste! Yay!!!
Trip number 1: 11 hour road trip to Florida to meet my in-laws in Disney World. Gasp if you want. Yes, we tried to do Disney World without creating an insane amount of waste. After a week of partying nonstop with Mickey for a week, we drove home, took a day to do laundry (husband made an appearance at work), then...
Trip number 2: We hopped back in the car to drive 6 hours to Asheville, NC for my cousin's beautiful wedding. We stayed in a house with 2 of my siblings, their combined 7 kids, and my parents. Two trips, two very different types of vacationing. However, with each trip, the areas to concentrate planning to avoid waste were pretty much the same.
Part of our bulk snack haul. We buy cereal in just a bag, when we can. No need to have a bag and a box. I wish more cereal was sold this way!
TIP ONE: Pack so many snacks. We stocked up on snacks, sweet and savory, from the bulk section of our grocery store. What we couldn't get bulk, we bought in the biggest container we could find (as long as we knew we would eat it all - food waste is a thing). These, we packed in tall mason jars, since they pack nicely in a bag on the floor of the back seat and don't spill easily. You could easily pack snacks in whatever container you have, though! In addition to dry snacks, we brought sliced apples, grapes, and cheese chunks that I carry in a soft bag cooler. All the snacks kept us from feeling tempted to run into the gas station for snacks
TIP TWO: Pack your drinks (or drink cup). Bring a nice big bottle of water for each member of the family. We also bring a travel coffee cup for the adults. Starbucks and McDonald's (both frequently right off the highway) fill our cups with no problem. Our kids used to get juice boxes or chocolate milk when we had to resort to fast food, but they don't even ask for it anymore. They know they have their water, so they are good.
TIP THREE: Plan ahead for meals. EITHER plan on a stretch break and a sit down meal OR pack your meals. If you will be passing through or near a town at meal time, plan to take an extra few minutes to sit down at a restaurant where you won't require packaging and will likely eat off of a real plate. We have had luck in the past by googling or searching in Pinterest, "best farm to table" or "best lunch in *name the town*." If eating out isn't in the timeline or the budget, we will pack a meal in our reusable containers. Be forewarned, if your kids are like mine, they will eat half of it and complain they are hungry in 10 minutes. But that may be a comment on the kinds of lunches I have the wherewithal to pack when I've also been packing clothing and toiletries for a household of people.
I have to acknowledge that packing meals for a trip will increase the work you do while on vacation. You will need to rinse containers, potentially in a hotel, and it can be a pain. However, if you are traveling to a rented home with a dishwasher, it is a little easier than for a hotel trip.
TIP FOUR: Pack a little bag with cloth napkins, reusable straws, and flatware. We use a little zipper bag, but it could be anything (even a ziplock bag you have washed and reused), and we were able to avoid plastic cutlery and paper napkins on the road. I made the mistake of buying bamboo sporks a while back. The kids hated the way they felt in their mouths and they molded really easily. I have started just packing some of our normal forks and spoons in the bag, which works fine for us. Learn from my mistakes - you don't have to fall into the trap of buying picture perfect zero waste stuff. Use what you have.
TIP FIVE: If you have a morning person or a night person in the driver's seat, consider traveling during the dark hours and away from meal times. We have been known to leave town or head home at 3 or 4 am. Depending on the length of the trip, we avoid traveling during so many meal times this way. AND, with the kids sleeping, I answer way fewer are-we-there-yets.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Despite our best efforts, we sometimes go to fast food spots. Our biggest rule: No drinks, unless we are getting them in our own cups. We also try to order in the least amount of packaging. For instance, if my kids ask for a big breakfast at McDonald's, I will suggest a sausage and egg biscuit (same foods, minus the styrofoam tray with plastic top). We almost always get only a sandwich or main dish from fast food, and we supplement with fruit we brought for a side dish. Far be it from me to recommend a fast food spot, but we also keep an eye out for Arby's. Their beef is, at least, grass fed, lean, and provides a non messy sandwich when we must go fast food for lunch or dinner.
DISNEY WORLD WITHOUT WASTE
Oh gosh, guys. This seems impossible when you walk around Disney. Every kid has a plastic light up toy, drinks in disposable cups with straws are everywhere, and there are a million trash cans being filled every 10 minutes. With a little planning, though, we were able to cut our trash drastically.
TIP ONE: If you have a fridge in your hotel room or condo, get to the grocery store, stat. You may have some snacks you brought from home, but you will be glad to have some fresh snacks in the room, so you can avoid last minute, plastic wrapped, overpriced Mickey snacks (rice krispies treats, animal crackers, etc.). We also purchased breakfast items. Many were packaged, but they were less packaged than what we would get in a quick service restaurant. There is a grocery deliver service, and, if you choose carefully, you can avoid too much packaging, but your groceries will come in paper bags and certainly can't be totally package free.
TIP TWO: Plan your meals ahead of time. If you can afford it, make reservations for some sit down meals. You will thank yourself later if you plan your meals. Picking a restaurant once everyone is hungry and cranky is awful. There are plenty of sit down spots with healthy food on real plates, some with cloth napkins. If tons of sit down meals are out of your price range, pack your lunches. We didn't pack meals for this trip, but we have for other amusement park trips. Quick service restaurants, in our experience, served almost everything in disposables. Be sure you do your research. Many sit down spots serve family style, leaving so much food wasted. If you eat family style in the evening or if you will be headed back to your lodging right after the meal, consider bringing your own containers for the leftovers. My understanding is that the food gets trashed if it isn't eaten. I wish we had brought our own containers, and will definitely consider it for the next time we go.
TIP THREE: Pack big water bottles. Refill stations aren't as readily available as you might hope. We did locate a few water fountains, but we found it was more convenient to have plenty of water already packed. We, luckily, didn't need to buy any disposable water bottles.
TIP FOUR: Stay out of the gift shops with the kids. They are full of overpriced, not responsibly sourced items that we don't need. I find that spending time in shops (at home and in amusement parks) leaves my kids stressed out and wanting lots of things. The more time we spend in the shops, the more I have to tell them "no," so it causes stress for me, too.
TIP FIVE: Take public transportation. The system is awesome and well run. If you must drive and are renting a car, see if you can get a plug in electric vehicle. You will get super prime parking at every park AND you will be doing well for the environment. Make sure to ask at the parking kiosk for EV charging stations, as they will not think to tell you if you don't ask.
TIP SIX: Go easy on yourself and enjoy the experience. We try to make the rides, the environment, and the company the highlight (not the food or the souvenirs), but there are times that the other stuff can be pretty fun. Mickey Mouse ice cream is pretty awesome, even if it is packaged, and my kids were really excited to spend the Disney gift cards their grandparents gave them. We made sure to set a specific time to take them shopping to buy one souvenir with their own money. We made the mistake last time we went to Disney of letting them look around throughout the trip, and the kids stressed about what to choose and had buyer's regret after choosing and then seeing other things they may have enjoyed more. Overall, the vacation is supposed to be fun. If you spend the whole trip worrying about waste, then you have wasted your time and your money, and that's definitely NOT zero waste! Do your best, and learn from mistakes.
VACATIONING WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO ARE NOT ZERO WASTE
TIP ONE AND ONLY: You do you, but don't judge and don't force your way of life on others. No one will want to vacation with you if you spend your time nagging and "educating" them the whole time. I don't claim to have found the balance (some people will be annoyed with your less-wasting, no matter how under the radar you are), but everyone will be annoyed if you force it. For both of our trips, we were traveling with family members who care about the environment, luckily, and who are really supportive of the choices my family makes. In Disney, we had a great time with my husband's parents, despite differences in how we order our food and drinks. Although I try not get in the way of how others vacation, I do think they probably made some adjustments (less time in the shops, fewer snacks purchased in the park?) because they were with us. They didn't complain for a second, and we would have been fine if they had vacationed as usual.
On our second trip, a low key mountain rental house, it was even easier to keep it low waste. We packed a ton of snacks and groceries from home. Usually, when we vacation in a rental home, we do a fair amount of cooking and can keep our waste levels similar to what we have at home. If you are vacationing with others, just as when you are hanging out with others, kindness requires that you make your choices without making others feel uncomfortable. You won't change others in a positive way if you give zero waste or less waste a bad name. Be kind, be understanding, be welcoming. I value the Earth, but I also value my relationships with friends and family and mental health. My little family isn't totally zero waste at home, so we expect that we won't be able to be totally zero waste while traveling. Putting too much pressure on myself to be zero waste would turn the vacation into a week of tension for the whole family. In the same way that we started out small decreasing our waste at home, we start small with being zero waste around family and friends. I would hate to think that our changes were causing stress for the people we love. We never expect others to make changes just because we are, and we hope to never make anyone else feel guilty or inadequate about their own level of greenness. For goodness sake, only a few years ago, I can remember mentioning to Joe that we could really use a second huge outside trashcan for our home (that's a painful thing to admit). We have no room to judge others and truly just make the decisions that work for us.
I would love to hear if you have travel tips for us! We have one last road trip for the summer - a 10 hour drive to Buffalo, NY, this time staying with my brother and his family. My sister in law is the master of reducing food waste (she made corn cob jelly. Does that paint the picture for you?), so maybe I'll have some tips to bring back home.