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How to Travel Elegantly, Zero Waste Style

How to Travel Elegantly, Zero Waste Style

This morning, bright and painfully early, Josh and I are braving Denver International Airport. As a gift to our families, we will be spending the holidays in Washington state and splitting our time between the east side and the west side.

We are so excited! I love airports, packing and everything about traveling. My motto is: be prepared, be yourself, and be endlessly comfortable in every way. 

Now, maybe you’re picturing a slovenly, hangover-worthy chick in harem pants and an XL sweatshirt. That’s not how I do airports. To me, “airport comfort” means something more like “smart casual.” I always feel more confident (and more ready to tackle an international airport during the holidays) when I feel like I look polished and put together. 

So, without further ado, here are my best tips for how to travel elegantly, Zero Waste style!

Create the Perfect Outfit for Your Flight

There is nothing worse than being stuck with scratchy, uncomfortable jeans on a long flight. Instead, opt for sustainable garments that are comfortable but well-tailored – think denim with a lot of stretch and a dark-colored peplum sweater or longline cardigan

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Knowing that you’ll be sitting in the same position for hours, pick out a top that won’t bunch uncomfortably under your seatbelt. And anticipating that you’ll be freezing your booty off, grab a large scarf that can double as a blanket on the flight. It’s a wonderful accessory!

To complete your ensemble, wear footwear that provides a great deal of comfort and support but is not a pair of sneakers. Why? Because there’s nothing worse than struggling with shoelaces at the front of a very long security line. 

Be Proactive at Security

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Speaking of security: there’s nothing more important than being prepared! Josh and I have a tradition of picking separate lines at security to see who can make it through the fastest. Not to brag but…I’ve always won. And for good reason! I’ve got a system.

My Pro Tips:

  • Keep your passport, boarding pass and ID in an easily-accessible, zippable pocket of your jacket or purse. Don’t fumble with your wallet. Just keep them close.
  • As soon as you get in line, go through a mental inventory of any no-go’s you’ll need to remove: laptops, liquids, medications, etc.
  • Once you know your list of no-go’s, count the number of bins you’ll require ahead of time!

Arm Yourself with the Essentials

I never leave my house for a flight without a lip balm, ibuprofen, lotion, a sleep mask, an empty stainless steel water bottle & my keep cup for the inevitable cup of coffee I’ll need! These few items will make any flight infinitely more bearable. 

To find a water bottle that is Zero Waste approved, look for one made from sustainable and recyclable materials, that is unlikely to break because it has too many complex, moving parts.

Stainless steel is a great choice! I really love the Miir model because of its simple, elegant design. 

Prepare for the Inevitable Hangry

Navigating airport food under Zero Waste restrictions can be extremely challenging. Everything is designed to be eaten on-the-go, so most meals or snacks come packaged in plastic. 

Here’s how we navigate meals in the airport while avoiding plastic:

  • On short flights, skip the crappy snack food and bring an apple if you’ll need it. Most of the time we just take the munchies out of boredom! 
  • For long flights, stock up on zero waste snacks. Chop up some carrot sticks, pack snow peas in a travel container and bring some protein-rich snacks like mixed nuts or roasted chickpeas.
  • Leave yourself enough time to eat a real meal at a sit-down restaurant before boarding. Just say no to the paper napkin and straw and you’ll be good to go!
  • Make a sandwich before you leave. Keep in a reusable sandwich tin so it won’t get crushed in transit. 
  • Pack nuts or granola bits to munch on while you wait for your flight. And be sure to drink lots of water so you’re hydrated ahead of time.
  • Avoid anything sticky like citrus fruit. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck with sugary fingers in the middle of an airport.
  • Avoid anything smelly that will irritate other passengers. Prime example? Tuna.
  • Pack a cutlery wrap (fork, spoon, knife, stainless steel straw) in your purse or backpack so you won’t be forced to accept plastic ones.
  • Pack a water bottle so you can say no to complimentary plastic water bottles on the flight. Most of the time they’ll refill it for you mid-flight! I’ve never had a problem.

Travel Light

I have a bad habit of thinking that I’ll be exceedingly productive on flights. Truth is I’ll probably never even touch that novel, coloring book, or strategy project that I’ve been lugging around for the past three hours.

I also am a notorious over-packer. I think I’m being prepared, when in reality I’m just burdening myself at the airport. This year, I relegated myself to a carry-on suitcase only, and I succeeded!

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Skip the excess and travel lean. Your shoulders and your neighbors will thank you for it. So there you have it. My best tips for how to travel elegantly, Zero Waste style. Happy traveling! 


Have you ever tried to get through an airport plastic-free? Do you have any other ideas for how we can waste less on a plane?

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