Beyond the Straw: Packing for Greener Travel
By Molly Elwood, KEEN senior copywriter
It all started with a reusable coffee sleeve. I saw it at a thrift store in 2008 and became fanatical about saying no to paper sleeves. Since then, my on-the-go essentials have graduated to a small thermos, a shopping bag that rolls up like a sock, and a car trunk stocked with reusable grocery bags and clean jars for shopping in bulk.
It’s fun discovering workarounds in my everyday life, like bringing a KEEN pint glass to the smoothie bar up the street. But when it comes to travel—ugh. Sure, I have my bamboo knife/spork combo travel pack and a metal straw, but a lot is still out of my control—like those single-use coffee cups on airplanes. (I always ask them to use my thermos, but usually, they can’t for health safety reasons.)
Sometimes, it’s enough to make me want to throw my good intentions into the recycle bin—at least until the end of my vacation. However, one of my favorite sayings is that perfect is the enemy of good. Or put another way, better is always better than nothing. The one thing I can control when I travel is what I pack. This is one of the reasons why October’s KEEN Master Class on making zero/low-waste products was so timely. Beyond making shampoos and lotions for holiday gifts, my mind immediately went to using them for holiday travel.
Green from head to toe
KEEN Master Classes are monthly peer-to-peer events covering everything from camp cooking to spreadsheeting. When asked why she taught October’s class, KEEN Partner Service Rep Dana B. said it was the result of another KEEN-wide activity, the October Eco-Challenge.
“Since October is Eco-Challenge month, I challenged myself to share what I’ve learned by aiming toward a zero-waste lifestyle,” she said. “Hopefully others will see how easy it is and make these small changes in their own household.”
Dana lives in a tiny house and champions a low/no-waste lifestyle. Because she reuses her gray water in her garden, she avoids using toxic chemicals around her home and in her toiletries.
“Once I learned how easy it is and how much more earth-friendly I can be, making my own was an easy choice,” she explained. Not only did we learn how to make our own shampoos and lotions (and foot scrubs and lip balm and more), Dana also introduced the group to the concept of shampoo and conditioner bars. These are perfect for travel (no liquids to spill or keep under 3 oz. for TSA!); besides, shampoos and conditioners are 80% water, so why buy and pay for storage of that water if it's condensed and concentrated into a bar? We also learned about solid deodorants, which can be stored in jars—meaning no more plastic push-up containers.
Toiletries might seem like a small part of travel, but those tiny hotel lotions and soaps add up—in fact, California is working to ban them. While bringing your own store-bought health and beauty items seems like enough, you’re still dealing with packaging—and, as it turns out, your soaps can still end up in rivers and oceans.
Interested in learning more? Dana recommends the book, Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.
To DIY or not DIY
This can take a lot of ingredients, which may not be practical if you’re just trying out a recipe. Consider getting together with friends to a make big batch to share—this is also great for holiday gifting.
If DIYing isn’t your thing (and I’m not sure it’s mine) swapping heavily-packaged products for eco-friendly bulk items is an easy step a lot of us can make. Many larger grocery stores (as well as health food stores) offer bulk soap, lotions, and more. Bring your own jars or get creative with reused plastic containers—even your old tiny plastic hotel shampoo bottles. You can also find unpackaged bar soap as well as bar shampoos and conditioners.
Just be sure to check the labels for natural ingredients (hint: if you can’t pronounce it, Google it—or consult the Environmental Working Group’s database, Skin Deep).
How to pack to lighten your impact
1. PACK LIGHTER: The weight of your luggage contributes to how much fuel the plane burns, which impacts the amount of CO2 emitted. If you don’t need it, don’t pack it! (KEEN tip: Pack versatile, season-specific shoes that can take you on adventures and out to dinner.)
2. BRING REUSABLES: Beyond reusable silverware (sporks are great!) and a metal straw (daiquiris!), I especially love those items that can do double duty, like an insulated water bottle that moonlights as a coffee cup. A collapsible shopping bag can be used for groceries or souvenirs or carrying a wet bathing suit. And be practical: If it's too big to carry (I'm looking at you, 64 oz. water bottle), you probably won't. Choose items that are reasonable to keep on your person.
3. CHOOSE MINERAL SUNSCREENS: Whether hitting the oceans, lakes, or rivers, swap out traditional sunscreens, which contain chemicals that are toxic to sea life, for reef-safe mineral sunscreens. Be sure to apply 30 minutes before use, otherwise it just washes off onto the coral reef you're trying to enjoy and protect. Physical barriers, like rash guards, are also great alternatives.
4. ADVENTURE WITH LESS PLASTIC: One of our European ambassadors SUPed the length of the UK (1,000 miles) and has 10 tips for reducing plastic while out in the wild.
Be the change
Back to the zero-waste class. Before it was over, Dana shared her two favorite quotes. The first is one we all know, from Mahatma Gandhi. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The second comes from Anne Marie Bonneau of Zero Waste Chef, which brings it all together:
We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.
“It can be overwhelming to make changes,” Dana said. “But you don’t have to be zero waste, you can just do what you can a little bit every day that works with your lifestyle and your daily routine. It’s not as hard as you think—and those little changes do make a difference! It makes me feel better knowing I’m making the best choice for me, at that moment in time.”
At KEEN, our teams work every day to decrease the footprint of our shoes. Learn more about what we mean when we say "Consciously Created," and the steps we’re taking to reduce our impact.