zero waste road trip: how to avoid trash and save money

zero waste road trip - car
I love road trips. For the longest time, long car rides meant weekend trips, summer break or skiing vacation, laughter, endlessly passing landscapes, dreamy silence, catchy tunes and freedom. Who wouldn’t be excited about this?

Only downside: cars are only in the rarest case a really eco-friendly travel option. Fuel your electric car with green electricity and you are good to go! However, even then you can benefit from the following ideas to give your eco-consciousness a little rest while traveling.

Whether you are on a day trip, a weekend trip or on tour across the US, here are a few tips to make sure you can have a sustainable zero waste road trip:


zero waste road trip - crossings

choose your car and route wisely.

the smaller, the better. A smaller car is not only better for your fuel bill. It is easier to find parking spots and to reach destinations where bigger cars do not stand a chance. What do you want to do on your trip? What do you need your car for? And how big does it have to be for that reason? Ifyou want to sleep in your car, you most likely will not choose a MINI. Although, this one looks really sweet 🙂

less is more. Even when you think about your itinerary. If you decide to spontaneously pack your bags and hop in the car, just ignore the next few sentences. If you more like me and like to have some kind of itinerary for your holidays, I recommend spending a little bit more time on your route planning. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? And how much time do you have? Once again, less is more. You will be significantly more relaxed during and after your journey if you keep your to-do-list to a minimum. Another bonus, you will save gas for each kilometer/mile not travelled.

Tip: It is nice to switch it up and hike or rent a bike to get around if you are staying longer at the same place.



zero waste road trip - library

borrow before you buy.

Things you do not use the whole year are suddenly essential for your travels. We do not pitch a tent in our living room often enough.

Luckily, we do not need to buy everything new to enjoy our holidays.

The library has so many books, they are lending them 😉  Easy books for inbetween, travel guides and road maps – whatever you need!

In “Libraries for stuff“ you can find backpacks, adapters, camping gear & co.

You don’t have one of these close by? Ask your friends and family. I find it really surprising how much stuff can be found in basements and wardrobes.



zero waste road trip - campgrounds 

sustainable accommodation.

You will save a lot of resources if you sleep in your car or in a (borrowed) tent. The resource consumption on a campground in terms of water and energy will be a lot less than in a hotel. Furthermore, you are solely and completely responsible for your own trash. No excuses, what ends up at your campsite, is what you brought there yourself.

Zero Waste nerd has the ultimate guide to zero waste camping on the blog.

Hotels can be sustainable as well. Check for sustainability criteria before you book to avoid any nasty surprises.



zero waste road trip - packing


minimalistic packing list.

A minimalistic packing list pays off: your luggage is easily manageable, you can choose a smaller car and you will use less gas because of the lighter weight.

I love to support local businesses but it is eco-friendlier to bring your own stuff if you already have it at home. For example, it might not be necesssary to buy your shampoo (bar) or clothes on the spot.


Related: alternative: shampoo 



zero waste road trip - drinking bottle


bring your own (dishes, bottles, containers).

The same is true for you zero waste essentials. It is easier to avoid plastic-coated coffee-to-go cups when you bring your own thermos cup. Some coffee shops even offer discounts for your own cup! Don’t forget your reusable water bottle, countless (grocery) bags in all sizes and cloth tissues. To be on the safe side, throw a dishtowel in there as well. It is the ideal substitute for bags or tissues.



zero waste road trip - wind turbines


use sustainable energy.

The best way to charge your electronics is a solar charger, no doubt about it. Use the power of the sun to listen to your playlist all day long. No need to plug it into the car outlet.

Our rented campervan had solar panels on the roof for the fridge. Awesome!

Another possibility: just keep your laptop and phone turned off. Get outside. You are on a road trip after all 😉



zero waste road trip - food


food & eating out.

My boyfriend and I have a pretty obvious main goal for our vacations: food. We do not like some random snack in between, oh no. Our meals are celebrated. That is why our most frequent search request was: where ist he next Whole Foods market. Buying in bulk can be so easy! This amazing dispenser are not common in Europe. How great would it be if all supermarkets in Europe would have these too?

Another easy way for package-free shopping is to go to farmers’ markets or these fruit stands at the roadside.

Take every opportunity to use your own grocery bags and to refuse plastic bags!

Restaurants are a little harder for me. We tend to choose those with the most people already sitting there and if the ambiance does not scream: cheap, plastic, disposables! As soon as I spot mountains of trash on the tables, we are out of there. It also helps to repeat “no straw, please” when you order more than once. Unused paper napkins go straight back to the waiter instead of just leaving them on the table.

Look at the food people are eating (not in a totally creepy way if possible) and check for disposables before you order. No dressing or dip on the side as they tend to come in plastic (in the US, not so common in Austria).

One more tip: make the most of the new Zero Waste App, which will make your zero waste lifestyle so much easier while you travel. You can look for bulk stores, water dispenser, zero waste friendly restaurants, compost options and a lot more. Go, check it out!



zero waste road trip - recycling


recycling and composting on the go.

Even if you do your best, you will most likely end up with some kind of recycling or composting material. Try to figure out the local recycling options or just take your trash home with you.

Use the space in your car and bring one more container with you to store your organic waste. Makes it a lot easier to dispose of it without having a smelly car all trip long. More tips on that one has Celia on litterless.


Have you been on a road trip this year? Or do you have any fun plans? What are your favourites tricks to make less trash on the road? I would love to hear from you!  


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