Road tripping means not always knowing the plan. Detours are welcome - encouraged even - and the uncertainty of it all can seem daunting when planning to minimize your trash output (especially considering the gas you're burning to do so). Every rest stop is filled with convenient packaged snacks vying for a weary traveller's attention, but with a little imagination and planning you can road trip in style without chucking a trash bag at every gas refill. Here are my tips for a trash-free road trip!
This goes without saying. My rule of thumb is to focus on getting a general feel for what to expect (types of activities, locations, weather conditions, etc) and then pack the basics (food, shelter, tools) based on these intentions.
For this post I documented my road trip to Maine with Drew. Since this was an end-of-summer trip, I knew that I'd want to be outside soaking up the sun, camping and taking in the beautiful national parks. I also knew I'd want to dine locally on the gorgeous summer harvest as much as possible. I fancied a lobster (or two) and was on the lookout for a new cast iron pan.
MESS KIT ON STEROIDS
(Read my post on the necessity of an everyday mess kit.) Based on my desire to camp and dine en plein air, I knew I'd have to bring some bare minimum of tools with me for cooking. So I took my regular every day "mess kit" and super-sized it, adding key reusable items like the following:
- Wooden spoon
- Multi-tool (knife, scissors, etc)
- Small wood cutting board
- Foldable spork
- Multiple cloth napkins & cloth bags
- Brown paper bags for composting
- Mason jars
- Water canteen
- Pot scrubber
- Bamboo skewers
- Other ideas: stovetop coffee percolator, tea balls, skillet
I devised a flexible meal plan that would take care of most of our snack, breakfast, and lunch food needs. The bulk of what I brought initially was pantry goods I already had on hand that could be rounded out with fresh, package-free food found at local food vendors on the way. I made sure snacks were able to do double duty as toppings for breakfast (trail mix or peanut butter over morning oatmeal) or lunch (olives can be a car snack or go into a salad). A homemade marinade was versatile enough to be used on tofu, tempeh, or veggies. I brought a small bottle of my own olive oil (in a reused mini liquor bottle) as well as spices. Everything fit into a small tote (the same size someone would fill with pre-packaged snacks for the road).
- Homemade marinade: soy sauce, peanut butter, toasted sesame oil
- Peanut butter & jelly
- Homemade trail mix
- Olive oil
- Bulk mint tea
- Bulk snack mix
- Popcorn kernels (in the burlap pouch)
- Vietnamese coffee (my travel/camping indulgence)
Before we left I looked up the info on a few farmer's markets along our route. There you can round out the items needed for your meal plan like we did with fresh bread, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, beautiful heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and onion. It's the best way to get to know local tastes - maybe you'll even try something new! Use your tiffin, mason jars, and cloth sacs to store fresh goodies - even a napkin can be used as a simple bag or wrap if you tie it up.
This is also a good place to drop off any compost you've created along the way. I store my compost in a brown paper bag or a tiffin if it's on the wetter side. In a pinch you can also try Whole Foods for a compost dump.
Speaking of local food, Drew's family treated us to a wonderful home cooked meal one night and after many dishes and drinks they put the lobster leftovers in my reusable container. Lobster omelette and day-old blueberries made a wonderful breakfast the next morning. Nothing went to waste!
We spent a lot of time outside appreciating nature during this road trip - what better way to remind ourselves of the importance of reducing our ecological footprint? At a beachside national park we made an impromptu lunch combining heirloom tomatoes, bulk olives, cheese from a Wiscasset farm goods shop, and some hearty farmer's market bread. We also camped in the shadows of a quarry mill-house on our friend's property. I don't consider it a real road trip unless you spend at least one night in a tent outside.
TOUCH SOMETHING OLD
There were so many wonderful second-hand and antique shops in Maine, we had to be picky about where and when we stopped to peruse. This Roman Glass from 100 AD (which I was allowed to touch!) shows how sustainable is beautiful. Wouldn't you rather leave behind something cherished that can be used over and over again versus a landfill of plastic?
I eventually found my cast iron skillet in an antique shop on a random backwoods highway. The woman who ran the shop took over the business from her mother who passed away years ago. The price tag on the skillet (in her mother's handwriting) said it dated to the 1910's. It felt great to find the perfect, second-hand and affordable skillet with a bit of history while also giving back to a local business.
LEAVE NO TRACE.... EXCEPT MAYBE A GIFT
Whether you're cleaning up after yourself at the campsite or staying with friends, remember to be courteous. We left a bundle of handmade soaps for our family hosts in Wiscassett. A handwritten note is nice too.
WHAT TO DO DIFFERENT NEXT TIME
- Next time I will ditch the aluminum foil. Even though the brand I used was better than most I didn't really need it.
- I will look into bringing stainless steel skewers versus the bamboo ones we burned in the campfire because the bamboo ones come in packaging.
- I will try to purchase a local oil in a bottle I can reuse. I didn't expect to see so many oils at the farmer's market and if I had know I would've left mine at home. They also can double as moisturizer and shaving cream if you get a high-quality oil.