Family holidays are opportunities to break from routine, relax and loosen the purse strings. This holiday was our first in eight years so it was well deserved, but despite not having any fresh travel experience, I didn’t think it’d be much of a challenge to continue our zero waste lives and still enjoy our holiday. After all, we were staying in the one location for two weeks and we weren’t travelling overseas. It would be a home away from home.
As it turns out, I was right. We succeeded in producing no more waste than we would have at home, but I did learn a few things from the experience. As well as being transported to a new location I had been transported back in time. Right from the start I felt the effects of unfamiliar people and places. Back home, I had forged relationships with businesses where they knew what I wanted and understood why. Zero waste shopping had become a pleasant experience. Now it was like I was back at week one with anxiety and fears of rejection. I suddenly realised I might not find a store willing to use my container, or one which wouldn’t automatically print receipts, or that I would have to put up with queer looks while I explained myself all over again. I hadn’t realised till then that I’d built up such a bank of information about businesses in my area. Thankfully my growing concern that this was not going to be a relaxing holiday was unfounded and we found plenty of places to get package free food – in fact, more options than at home! Probably due to the denser population.
Lesson 1: Starting out is the hardest part of plastic free and zero waste living. It gets easier over time and results in greater community connections.
This holiday was my husband’s first opportunity to try out a lot of the things I do so our family can live plastic free. It’s also worth noting that he lives plastic free because it’s important to me, not because it’s important to him. I’ve got to say he handled it with ease and didn’t have any fear of rejection. I partially attribute his confidence to my example. But when he casually commented during a stroll along the street that “it’s actually pretty easy [to live plastic free], you just have to say ‘no’. No to the straw, no to the receipt, and no to the plastic bag,” I considered how easy it is for some people to say ‘no’ and how difficult it is for others.
Lesson 2: Leading by example works.
Lesson 3: Being able to say ‘no’ is a valuable skill.
Packing for our holiday wasn’t too hard. We made sure we had our reusable items like drink bottles, string bags, and a couple of containers. We also had our plastic free personal care and laundry items, and just the right amount of clothing. Shannon and I shared a bag but I let the kids have their own bags to give them some responsibility. It meant we ended up with more stickers than necessary.
Lesson 4: On board luggage doesn’t require stickers. Reduce the number of bags you check-in to reduce the number of stickers you get.
I have to admit our inexperience with flying meant that getting electronic boarding passes slipped by us and we ended up with boarding passes made from thermal paper. I don’t think thermal paper can be recycled.
Lesson 5: Electronic tickets are very common these days. Get electronic boarding passes.
Thinking we were doing the right thing we refused our flight food which came in plastic. I asked if there was anything not in plastic and they said no. Since our holiday I have been told that our uneaten food would have been thrown out by the airline too. Whilst I don’t know if this is true, it does seem likely that they would. So, should we have eaten the food to prevent it from being wasted or was our stance against plastic worth it? Is there a better way to handle this situation? This was a domestic flight so we had our own food to eat instead; I imagine if we were flying overseas we’d have to eat the airline food.
Similarly, we stayed at the airport hotel the night before we flew so that we wouldn’t be travelling with tired children. When I mentioned on Instagram that we weren’t using the hotel toiletries to avoid plastic waste, a follower let me know that they get thrown out after our stay anyway. As we were already checking out when I got the message I asked the hotel staff if it were true and she said “oh yes, of course.” Again, I can see why they would do it but it’s so bloody frustrating! When we got to our resort I asked if they could take the toiletries out before we went into the room so there would be no concerns about tampering and they can be reused by someone else. At least I made the point that we were not happy with all the plastic.
Lesson 6: There’s not always a clear answer and it’s okay to make mistakes; it’s how we learn to do better.
We mostly ate out but we cooked some meals at our apartment too. We definitely noticed an increased use of disposables like plastic ramekins compared to eating out at home. “No disposables” became part of our dietary requirements when ordering. We are really good at judging how much food we need so we only had leftovers twice which we took home in our small container to eat later. The only compostable waste we had was some fruit cores, pips, and peel. I decided it was acceptable to bury this in the resort garden but obviously this is not going to work on a large scale in the resort. I should have asked if they had composting facilities when I asked about their recycling situation. I couldn’t see recycling bins anywhere and we had accumulated a number of beer bottles. Luckily they did recycle.
Lesson 7: When in doubt find out. It always pays to ask.
We had such a great time on our holiday and shared so many new experiences. We got to enjoy natural wonders like The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest and just take it easy for the first time in a long time. We had the amazing experience of seeing a wild cassowary sit and drink in a stream a short distance from us. I whispered to a woman beside me who I had never spoken to before that “I can’t believe how lucky we have been on this trip” and her answer astounded me. She said “Nature knows. It knows that you bring your children to places like this to learn. It knows what you do and gives back”. I thought that was a beautiful thought.
Lesson 8: We really are a family that prefers experiences over stuff.
Lesson 9: Nature knows what you do.
If you have any sustainable holiday tips, please share them with me as we’ve promised ourselves we’ll make holidays an annual priority from now on.