a person putting clothes into a suitcase

Having a sustainable holiday is easier than you might think

02 Aug 21 5 minute read

If you’ve filled up your bag with travel-sized toiletries, bought clothes that can only really be worn on Spanish beaches once a year or grabbed food and drink on the go wrapped in single-use packaging then you’re not alone. 

Reducing waste on holiday can be a little more challenging than it is at home, but with a bit of planning, you can still make a difference.

Here are some ideas for keeping up with sustainable living on your next getaway...

Reducing waste on holiday can be a little more challenging than it is at home, but with a bit of planning, you can still make a difference. #HowToWasteLess

Just the ticket

These days it’s rare to be sent paper copies of tickets - most information is digital - yet it’s still tempting to print it off “just in case”. 

You should be able to access all the details on your smartphone or tablet, and if you’re travelling with someone else, send them a copy of the booking details so that you have a digital back up just in case your device fails.

Pack like a pro

Do you really need new clothes for your holiday or do you have plenty in your wardrobe that will see you through? After all, you’re probably only going away for a week or two, so could the money you’d be blowing on new clothes be better spent on having fun?

Check out what you already have or consider borrowing from a friend or buying second hand. If you do decide to buy new, think about whether you would wear it 30 times? If not, don’t buy it.  

Before you leave check your cupboards

There’s nothing worse than coming back from holiday to lumpy milk or mouldy bread but we’re often faced with fresh food at home that we haven’t managed to eat up before heading off.

Ideally, we’d all plan our meals to use up every last crumb but in reality that can be challenging. Especially when you have more exciting things to be thinking about.

Double-check what can be frozen - things like milk, butter, bread and leftovers can be easy to freeze and will save you having to rush out to the supermarket as soon as you get your suitcase through the door.

If you can’t use it, could you give it to your neighbours, donate it to a nearby community fridge or offer it through an online food sharing app like OLIO?

Travel packaging-free

Travel-sized toiletries are a huge source of packaging waste. Not to mention those dinky bottles of hotel shampoo. Use them once and the next day they are replaced with brand new bottles even though you only used a fifth of the old bottle.

If you use shampoo in bottles, buy the biggest one you can and decant it into a smaller reusable container to take with you. Otherwise, shampoo bars make excellent travel companions. You won’t have to worry about turning up at your destination to find that your shampoo bottle has leaked all over your holiday clothes and, if you’re flying, there’s no need to try and cram them into a see-through bag at the airport. Just pop them into a small tin or container and you’re good to go.

Avoid the panic of wondering whether your mini deodorant will last the week by making your own and taking it with you in a reusable tub.

If you use shampoo in bottles, buy the biggest one you can and decant it into a smaller reusable container to take on holiday with you. #HowToWasteLess

Food and drink

Holidays are about making time for yourself. Sit in a café or restaurant and take the time to chat or just enjoy soaking up the atmosphere. It’ll save you having to deal with the packaging on those takeaway drinks and meals.  

If you can’t live without your coffee on the go, take your reusable cup. You’re reducing waste and you can often get a discount for using your own cup. 

Snacks are another packaging nightmare. Crisps, chocolate bars and sweets normally come in packaging that can be difficult to recycle.

Instead, try making your own snacks to take with you. Love Food Hate Waste Scotland has loads of great ideas like peanut butter and banana flapjacks, homemade macaroons or vegetable crisps.

family breakfast

Self-catering getaways

The joy of self-catering is having the place to yourself, being able to cook your own meals and eat whenever you want. But it does mean you tend to stock up on things like butter, herbs or tomato sauce that holidaymakers often leave behind when they head home. 

Miriam from Zero Waste Scotland went on a self-catering holiday earlier this year and shared her tips for avoiding food waste and saving money: “We were going to be away for two weeks self-catering and wanted to be more organised with some meal planning before we went. It didn’t take long and really paid off. 

“Working on the assumption that we’d eat out some of the time, I dug out recipes for half the number of days picking ones that were relatively easy to make and without too many ingredients. Taking store cupboard essentials like oil, legumes, herbs & spices with me meant that all I needed to buy on holiday was the fresh ingredients – fruit, vegetables and meat.

“Meals still felt like a special treat and we were still able to enjoy some lovely meals out while saving money, saving waste and avoiding adding on the extra pounds that often come with being away on holiday”.

Recycling on holiday

Recycling facilities vary from county to county, never mind from country to country. So it can be confusing to know what you can and can’t recycle.

Hopefully your accommodation provider will give you the information you need, but if not, a quick online search normally does the trick. The local council website is normally the best source of information – even abroad – so check it out.

There is always likely to be some waste you can’t avoid on your holidays, but a bit of planning can reduce your impact on the environment.

What can you do?

  1. Use your smartphone instead of printing off tickets.

  2. Check your wardrobe before buying new.

  3. If any food or drink can’t be frozen before you leave, pass on to neighbours or offer it online through a food sharing app.

  4. Use shampoo bars instead of buying travel-size shampoo bottles.

  5. Check the recycling information in the local area, it might be different from what you’d do at home.