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Episode 16: Leave Only Footprints (Zero-Waste Travel)

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Exeter chapter.

Welcome to 3 Changes a Week: your weekly update on how to save the planet. 

Travelling poses several issues for someone passionate about the environment. Is it okay to travel abroad – specifically by air – if you really care about the planet? Does this mean we can’t ethically experience other cultures and places? What about the fact that many beautiful natural places, like reefs, will probably disappear in the next few decades

Will we never get the opportunity to see them? Is it our responsibility not to try?

These questions could easily fill an entire article, and I hope to share my thoughts on them in the future. 

In short, I cannot bring myself to avoid travel altogether – instead, we must be responsible, and mitigate our actions. This might mean not flying (or at least not far) and also by making sure we don’t drop every positive change we make in reducing our personal carbon and waste footprints as soon as we get away. 

To start, I want to share three key changes that are especially useful when travelling (although hopefully already implemented in your everyday lives) and will mean that you truly follow the “leave only footprints” mantra of the zero-waste life style. 

The key thing to remember is to, as always, be prepared, and be able to provide your own reusable alternatives to any single use items you might be offered.



Ease: ****

Cost: you probably already own all these items

Firstly, you’ll need to make your own daily kit which you carry with you while travelling; many people in the zero-waste community will already have this, to some extent.

At its most basic, this could just include a large jar, and a cloth napkin. The jar is large enough to take either food or drinks, and the cloth can also serve as a mat to place larger items on, like sandwiches. I stole this idea from Going Zero Waste.

However, you might find this is not enough. Other items many people carry are water bottles, cloth bags, collapsible bowls, keep cups (like a mason jar this can carry both food and drink), sporks or reusable/bamboo cutlery sets, and bamboo or steel straws.

Keep these essentials on hand to offer for containers – most of zero-waste is about attitude, and volunteering your reusables whenever possible.



Ease: *****

Cost: See Episode 4: (Bath)Room for Improvement for prices and recommendations

They don’t leak. They’re small and light. No problems with liquid amounts in hand luggage. They are long lasting, so great for extended trips. And, on top of all this, they produce no waste. Solid toiletries are ideal. 

My washbag would include: shampoo, conditioner and a bar of soap (all in one tin), a solid deodorant bar, a small solid facewash (as Lush have launched a great new range), solid toothpaste (like this one from Georganics), as well as a bamboo toothbrush.

These items will not need replacing and are super practical for keeping your luggage light.


Ease: ****

Cost: £0!

Everywhere you go, especially uber-touristy spots, make sure to pick up and bin any litter you find. Not only does this keep places clean for the next traveller (even if you didn’t make it dirty in the first place), but when people see you, they will be less inclined to drop litter themselves and probably more inclined to follow your lead. 

Picking up rubbish might not be exactly what you want to do on holiday, but if you’re visiting a place, I believe we have a duty to show concern for it. 

glass orb and city
Anika Huizinga

If you are out in nature and sadly find litter, and there isn’t a nearby bin, simply pop it in your bag (maybe keep a bag for this purpose) for when you next find a bin.

For more on this, (re)read Episode 5: Not a Waste of Time.



Work out if any of your tickets for travel or accommodation can be simply viewed on a smartphone rather than printing them out. This doesn’t have the biggest impact, but collectively it could reduce tons of paper being used. There is of course always a risk something might go wrong with your phone, but for most people this isn’t a higher risk than losing or damaging a paper copy. 


Made these changes or already doing them? Tag your pictures to #3changesaweek and spread the word!


Zoe is an English Literature student at the University of Exeter, U.K., and therefore necessarily spends a large proportion of her time with her nose in a book. When someone drags her away from this, she can be found painting messy masterpieces, spending way too much money online, or pole dancing.