Some days are more challenging than others to live zero waste and some people have even told me: “It won’t matter what we do on the planet since we’re all going to die anyway because nature will actually just wipe us all out extinct.”

This feeling sums up the looks I receive from cashiers or servers and even my loving parents when I say no to certain items or explain that I just don’t want to make garbage.

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When you say it like that, it seems like a common place thought. I don’t want to make any more garbage. Simple and plain. But to most of the world, it’s not.

But in the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estés: “Compliance causes a shocking realization… That is, to be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.” (Women Who Run With the Wolves)

In other words, I’d rather be myself than fit in. Which is proving to be really, very challenging. Especially when it comes to my business. Especially when it comes to my art and especially when it comes to one thing I love most in life: travel.

In the short (going on seven months) of zero waste life, I’ve travelled to quite a few places both for pleasure and for work. Traveling a lot means I learn a lot. And fail. A lot. Zero waste life is kind of like the world of entrepreneurship. You will fail. But you will also grow. You will take risks, but you will gain so much more. You will not be the same as all the rest, but it will bring you a certain kind of freedom. Below, you can see the picture of all the waste I’ve accumulated, in a tiny mason jar. While it might not have been easy, I managed to do it with these helpful tips in mind.

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Lesson Number 1: Know where you’re going.

In a big city like Montreal that we’ve lived in and go back to frequently, it’s easy to travel around because we know most places that we can find groceries or eat out sans waste. Big cities also offer more bulk options, whereas little towns are more challenging and sparse in the bulk category. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to find farmers markets. Google is not always helpful for smaller towns, but if you can, take the time to do a little research as to what the closest stores or restaurants are that will be near where you are staying. Make notes of the places that you visit. That way you can have a handbook for the next time you go. Also, Bea Johnson has a Bulk Store Finder App that helps locate bulk places in different cities.

Eating at China House in Muskoka with my brother, who is not a Zero Waster (his A&W pop). China House is excellent minus the fortune cookies that they give in plastic.

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Lesson Number 2: Learn to be comfortable in your natural skin.

We were going to the cottage to visit with my parents and we were miles away the nearest town or store. I forgot my razor and tweezers so I learned to be comfortable with my body (hair) and wear more clothing that covers me. I know there are numerous people that would not be ok with this because so much of what society values is physical and external. If you’re traveling make a checklist of all the things you need and double, triple check you have everything.

Lesson Number 3: Understand that the people you visit with won’t always understand your lifestyle.

Sometimes, if you’re a guest in someone else’s home, you may just have to go with their flow. If they are the ones buying the groceries, the last thing you’re going to do is impose your lifestyle on them and chastise them for how much plastic they’re using. However, I still try to live my life according to my own values.

If I’m purchasing items, I still have my cloth bags and avoid packaging. If we eat out, I still say “no straw” and bring my own utensils and napkins. Sometimes I have to remember to have a cloth napkin ready because people always offer my son napkins. He’s a three-year-old, so of course he’s messy. He does do a good job of advocating for our lifestyle, though. The other day he saw my dad with all this plastic, and he said, “We don’t use plastic Papa. We don’t make garbage.” To which my dad replied, “Yeah. Well, I do. I make garbage.” I bit my tongue. Some people are just too comfortable to change.

Lesson Number 4: Understand that the people you visit with may not have the same eating habits as you.

It’s frustrating sometimes to be around people who don’t eat the same type of food as you and who aren’t conscious about the ingredients in their food or where they shop. It can even more frustrating when they don’t accept your offer to buy food or cook it.

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I’ve been places where I’ve even mentioned my lifestyle or eating habits and arrived only to have them forget. It’s not their fault, they just aren’t surrounded by people living zero waste. Being zero waste means our family ends up eating a lot more fresh fruit and veggies and very little canned or packaged foods.

I am pretty conscious of where my food comes from and what ingredients are in them. My stomach is sensitive and now when I do eat food with junk ingredients I feel it almost immediately. I get bloated, gassy, sneezy, scratchy and sleepy. We make a huge effort to make our meals from scratch and I have way more energy when we do.

I once went to a potluck lunch at a Permaculture Tour and almost everyone brought their own water bottles, containers, utensils, healthy veggie and home-cooked meals with simple ingredients and there was very little plastic or garbage made. I crave this kind of interaction now, but if you can’t surround yourself with others similar and you can’t avoid it, just try your hardest to remain true to your own values and return back to your normal way of eating when you get back home.

Lesson Number 5: Become stronger at saying no.

This can be tricky with a toddler because no matter where you go, people will always offer your child something. Most often it’s a plastic toy or some kind of candy or food item wrapped in plastic. Do you know how much hell there is to pay when your child has already seen the offering and wants it? Please, to whoever is reading this – always ask the parent first if it’s ok. The ones who ask the parents for permission first are like angels.

It’s easier to say no to an adult but harder to take away the toy or candy from a child. I’ve had a full out conversation with my child (yes my three-year-old) about why we don’t need whatever thing it was, especially because that thing either came in plastic or is plastic. And the person who gave it to them is standing there feeling uncomfortable and at the same time thinking I’m a complete control freak nut job parent. Other times, I’ve just let it go because as a parent, you just know the right times to let things be. This “letting it be” includes interactions with adults.

If you’re going zero waste, you need to have the confidence to live it. Being compliant will do you and the earth no good. That’s why it’s gotten to this situation in the first place because everyone has become so used to accepting that plastic and garbage is just how life is. We all need to be stronger at saying no. Build your backbone gradually and never let the slip-ups pull you back down.

Other Lessons I’ve Learned

  • Avoid anything drive thru. It is very rare that you will be able to leave a drive-thru without some form of waste. If you must do fast-food, at least go inside.
  • Pack a portable and compact cooler for food. Ours can squish flat once everything is emptied. Hotel ice is great. We store ours in our glass jars and they also end up doubling as water once they melt.

Traveling zero waste can be challenging, but with these simple tips in mind, you can start to reduce the impact that you have on the world around you. Even just incorporating one of these examples can make a huge difference!

Do you have any other tips for traveling zero waste? Tell us  in the comments below!