Minimalist & Less-Waste Planning for Holiday Trips

This holiday had us traveling and giving and opening gifts are both of our families’ abodes, which I didn’t truly digest until a few days before we set out for our trips. As I started packing for our trip, I realized there were a lot of items we wanted to take with us that were either going to create waste by us using them or were going to create waste just by nature of what they were (such as gift wrap). For the first time we had to consider how we were going to create a footprint on our trips and how we could accommodate the issue.

Likewise, we always over-pack. We’ve gotten a bit better in our planning, but we still struggle to pare down our packing lists when it comes to clothes and items we might need. Packing for us is like making a list of what we would take in the event of a hurricane–so little space but that nagging feeling of “what if” drives us to see how much we can pack into our bags and in our car. So keeping a minimalist mindset when we pack up is always helpful, though not always as successful as we would hope for.

With all of this in mind, we came up with a few solutions to help us prepare for our trips this year. To pare down our packing, we used the following sayings:

  • Pack for the weather, not what the weather might be – Northeast Texas can range from freezing with ice to the seventies with high humidity. There’s really no way to know what to expect, and our meteorologists rarely provide any guidance. So packing for trips can be difficult in the winter. As a result, we’ve found it easier to pack for what we think the weather is going to do and stick with it. Layers are best, but packing four pairs of pants, four t-shirts, three sweaters, a cardigan, a pullover, a coat, and a rain jacket is a lot for four days. Instead we try to pack where layers will pull double-duty. Instead, I packed three t-shirts, one long-sleeve t-shirt, one pullover, one cardigan, and two pairs of jeans. Unfortunately it was too warm for the pullover, so it wasn’t worn on this trip, but one t-shirt was worn twice, and the cardigan gave me a little warmth outside and was removed inside when we were socializing. Likewise, my jeans each made it two days–because how dirty can they get in the car and sitting on the couch while I munch on desserts and open gift bags? And unlike most women, I took one pair of shoes. I love converse because they go with everything I own.
  • If you can go simple in the bathroom, do it – I’m not one for a lot of products; I’ve pared down my grooming items tremendously in the past four years (a post will come on that in the future), so my morning and nighttime routine when I’m away from home only requires a few items: soap bar and shampoo bar for the shower, contact solution/case/glasses, bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, my nasal rinse kit (plastic bottle, mixture packets, and distilled water), and medications. That’s all I have to have, and honestly I could probably make it a single night without my nasal rinse kit in the right season. On a given night at home, however, there are a handful of other items that I use, like Q-tips, Kleenex, face lotion, hand lotion, tweezers, nail clippers, floss, and so on. But unless I know I won’t be able to find them where I’m staying or I absolutely prefer my brand, I don’t pack it because I can probably survive without it. It’s a twofold method–more room in the bag for other items and fewer items taking up space in our bathroom wherever we are staying.
  • If you are concerned that you’ll need to be entertained, only take one item – In reality, I don’t have much downtime on family visits, but I always think I need to take enough to keep me busy–here comes the dreaded phrase–just in case. I’ve been known to take my laptop and two books along with my phone on a three-day trip to visit my partner’s family. That’s overkill for anyone. Instead, it’s better that I pick just one, preferably nothing digital, and stick with it. Given that I rarely go anywhere further than 30 miles without a book, that is usually my go-to nowadays, which also encourages me to leave my phone alone as well while I’m on the trip. Think about how you will use what downtime you do have and how much of it you are likely to have–and choose the one item that will keep you entertained the most. If it’s your phone, you’re already ahead on packing!
  • Consolidate – When we head home after the holidays, we always leave with more than what we started with. Every time. So we have learned to consolidate to save as much space and bring as little extra back home as possible. For example, we never bring every box and gift bag home with us because we simply have no purpose for them. Instead, we consolidate all of our gift bags into the largest one, and this year was a bonus because my partner’s new backpack she received as a gift doubled as a bag for other gifts. Moreover, any bags or parcels you took with you can be reused to fit anything from snacks and drinks to paperwork and trash from your car so that you have fewer items to carry. We still have  a lot when we arrived home, but consolidating before we packed the car helped save us a least another full trip with both of our arms full when we finally unloaded.
  • Sometimes two bags is better than one – I’ll be the first to admit it that sometimes having your own smaller bag makes a trip simpler. My partner and I have traded places when it comes to hair products. She used to have only one or two products while I had a shampoo, conditioner, root booster, body builder, and hair spray in addition to my blow dryer and straightening iron. Now its the reverse, and I like knowing exactly where my items are in my bag without having to dig through hers to find them. Two bags is more to carry to the car, but it makes the trip simpler and more efficient in the long run when you are only in charge of your items.

Likewise, we discovered a few steps to make a trip without producing all of the waste in the process. For minimizing our waste, we do the following:

  • Use reusable containers – We are growing our inventory of reusable containers, but they can be very costly as well as unreliable if you do not choose the right brand or style. So we are having to be innovative in how we pack consumables. For snacks on the road and on the trip, we used half-pint glass jars to pack nut mixes and pretzels, some of which stayed in the car and we consumed on multiple smaller drives from house to house during our holiday. We also regifted a decorative metal container to take homemade chocolate bark for others to enjoy as well. Lastly, we filled my new Klean Kanteen growler for water on the road and packed our frozen lunch box with cans of soda from home as well to keep us from buying any drinks on road, allowing us to recycle the cans once we were home.
  • Prepare to recycle – We know our families likely find us odd in how intense we can  be about wanting to recycle, but, once you begin seeing how much trash you create, it’s difficult to look away, especially during the holiday in which the most waste is created by Americans. So my partner prepared us for recycling by packing some items in a recycling bag, allowing us to use it for recycling what we could from our trip. We packed up recyclable wrapping paper, natural gift decorations that I intend to return to nature, soda cans, food cans, plastic bottles, and more, and brought it all home in our recycling bag to leave at our doorstep for the recycling collection service to take once their service resumes.
  • Use recyclable or reusable options whenever possible – Two-thirds of our gift wrap was recyclable as were most of our gift decorations (e.g. pinecones, dried pine needles, paper tags), which meant that very little of our gift wrap went to the landfill. Before we began opening gifts, we asked everyone to let us go through their discarded gift wrap once they were finished opening gifts so that we could recycle what was recyclable. In the end, it took very little extra effort, just a little sorting of what went into which bag, and we left both of our families’ homes with a full bag of recycling–two bags in total. Likewise, all of the containers in which I gifted consumables were reusable, including glass jars and glass bottles that our loved ones can reuse for snacks or canning.

Trips can easily become overwhelming, and we’ll be the first two to admit that we overdo them at times; however, planning to take less and lessen our impact in the process made this holiday simpler for us. Hopefully by next year we’ll have a few new ideas to pass along!

How do you simplify your packing or traveling? Do you have zero-waste or low-waste tips for roadtrips?


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