Your Guide to Zero-Waste Travel with Lauren Singer

Pack with a purpose! Make your travel style eco-friendly.

Living a zero-waste lifestyle is just one way to feel well. Learn what else that can mean for you as we #ExperienceWell together at Wellspring this October! In the meantime, practice your zero-waste travel skills on your way to a Wanderlust Festival or Wanderlust 108

When it comes down to it, what do you really need for a month-long trip?

The thought of packing your life into a suitcase for a month-long trip can be daunting. Toiletries aside, it may seem that wardrobe alone will likely require at least one checked bag. But fear not: It can be done. Zero-waste extraordinaire and world-traveler Lauren Singer managed to keep a month’s worth of travel necessities in just a carry-on.

Traveling through three different continents and climates, Lauren stayed true to her life’s mission and kept things waste-free, too. Impressed is an understatement. But, OK: How does she do it, and more importantly, how can you do it, too?

All you last-minute packers take note: whether you’re jet-setting or road-tripping, according to Lauren, it’s all about preparation.

Checking In, Not Checking Bags

Before you even step out the door toward your final destination, if you have a smartphone there is one simple choice you can make to eliminate a piece of trash: Download your plane ticket. You can “get a PDF of your ticket on your cell phone as opposed to printing it out,” Lauren explains. With that simple step, you’re already off to a waste-free, start.

One of the main reasons Lauren chooses to avoid checking? “They always have that little piece of sticker tape that goes right to landfill,” she says. It’s unnecessary waste. So, too, are the paper luggage tags. If checking bags is unavoidable, opt for reusable luggage tags, or make your own upcycled version at home ahead of time. Get creative with it! Just because you’re going zero-waste doesn’t mean you’re going zero-style.

The Must-Haves

True to form, the first zero-waste travel must-have on Lauren’s list is a mason jar. Multi-purpose, a mason jar can be used to tote water, coffee, toiletries, and even waste. “I’ve used [my mason jar] to put compost in,” Lauren says, “I’ve carried around compost with me to multiples countries to ensure that I can find a place to compost it.” That’s dedication.

Not making trash is more than just not taking up physical space.

Also on the list of must-haves? Reusable napkins and bags. Napkins, like the mason jar, are multi-purpose, too—use a reusable napkin to wrap up sandwiches and snacks rather than reaching for a plastic baggie. A reusable bag is great to always have on hand, as Lauren says, “If you go somewhere and you buy something, instead of taking a plastic bag you can just use your reusable bag.” (If you’re not sure where you can purchase items like these head to one of Lauren’s favorite online shops: Life Without Plastic.)

Keep It Clean, And Be Mindful

In order to spend a month away with just a carry-on, Lauren brings the essentials to wear on rotation. Of course, this means she’s got to also clean the clothes she’s brought with her. “I always carry my laundry detergent from The Simply Co. with me so I can hand wash and dry wherever I am,” Lauren says. Made from all natural ingredients, and packaged in a glass jar, the powder laundry detergent is the perfect travel companion—and safe to go through airport security with. (Fun fact: The Simply Co recently launched a travel size bottle!)

For Lauren, “not making trash is more than just not taking up physical space,” she says, she’s aware of her environmental impact, too.

When traveling, Lauren is always mindful of using natural and organic products, as well as watching her water usage. “Definitely use products that don’t have toxic ingredients,” she explains—non-toxic chemicals are totally safe for water. Also, “be respectful of the places you’re going to,” Lauren says. In areas where drought is common and water use is monitored, be mindful. Take shorter showers, or if you’re feeling super crunchy—and a body of water is accessible—hop in a lake to rinse off instead.

For Your Entertainment

Sitting in an airport can be pretty boring, especially if you’re traveling solo. Don’t head for the magazine stands, though. You can take this down-time to meditate, or find other ways to bide your time. Lauren suggests pre-downloading podcasts before your trip so you have entertainment before, during, and after take-off (also a great companion for road trips!).

If you’re an avid reader, thanks to technology you can now download books straight to your phone. If you’re like Lauren, who prefers physical books, opt for second-hand options. While you’re traveling, keep an eye out for lending libraries, too. “A lot of cities will have a lending library,” Lauren explains, “so, I’ll leave a book [in the lending library] if I finish it, and try to find a new one.”

Snacks To Go

Sorry, JetBlue fliers, you’ll have to pass on those in-flight blue chips. In-flight meals and snacks are a “100 percent no” in Lauren’s book. Because there’s no way to truly know if an airline chooses to recycle, Lauren says “the best way to reduce trash is just to eliminate it.”

Lauren always has her mason jar with her and asks flight attendants to fill it with water if need be. “If one flight attendant says no, another will say yes,” she says. “I always like to explain and not be like ‚oh, I deserve this‘ I try to say something like ‚I like to reduce the use of plastic. Airlines use a lot of plastic, and I try to remediate that by bringing my own container.’” A simple explanation will generally suffice.

If you’re like Lauren—who claims to be voracious when she’s traveling—packing snacks ahead of time in reusable containers is a win-win. You won’t be producing any waste, and you’ll be catering to that insatiable appetite!

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to packing food, road trips are generally a bit easier. With no restrictions on what you can bring you can pack a cooler with tons of snacks and drinks to keep you satisfied. If you’re running low on supplies, or need to head to a compost drop-off, road trips make it easier for you to “change your route to go to a farmers market or a co-op or something.”

Do Your Research

If you’re looking to make your next vacation zero-waste, eco-friendly, and sustainable you’ll have to do a little research. “I think it’s an intelligent move,” Lauren says, to do your research before hitting to road. In her opinion, it’s best “to be prepared and know where you’re going and to know what stores are local when you travel.”

Download Bea Johnson’s “Bulk Locator App,” suggests Lauren. “You can literally put in anywhere that you’re traveling to and see where there are stores that offer bulk products within your vicinity.”

Don’t forget to ask the locals, too! When you head to local farmers markets speak to both farmers and fellow consumers. As Lauren says, those are the people with “the best advice for me travel wise,” and they “most likely have similar taste in restaurants and shops, too.” Don’t be shy, reach out and make those connections! You might find some really great, otherwise undiscovered, ‚locals only‘ spots.

Maggie Peikon is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine. Follow her musings onInstagram and Twitter.