Zero Waste and Backpacking

Backpacking to me is more than just a way of travelling. It’s a way of life. I’ve always had a constant need to explore other places, to seek out the unknown and to learn about what’s different. Travelling the world as a backpacker has allowed me to quench that thirst.

I have been lucky enough to meet and engage with people from all over the world. I’ve been able to immerse myself in different cultures and participate in foreign ritual practices. I’ve seen incredible natural and man-made wonders that have left me speechless. I now know how to say hello and thank you in several different languages but I’ve learned that a smile is truly universal.

If you’ve ever wanted to explore the full spectrum of emotion then backpacking in a foreign country is guaranteed to introduce you to parts of yourself you never knew were there. Backpacking has allowed me to grow as a human being in a positive way. I have learned so much from the people I have met and the cultures of the countries I have visited. Travelling the world has certainly brought the best out in me and I am forever grateful.


As a backpacker, it may seem a little difficult to be taking on such a big endeavour whilst travelling around the world on a tight budget and my personal journey is still a big work in progress; but I have realised that you can be zero waste on any budget.

I am currently living on a very limited budget. I definitely recycle more items than I would like but I do my best to buy as little recyclable items as possible. I still eat a balanced diet, which to me is very important.

Probably the best thing I did before starting the current trip I’m on was to prepare. I assessed the areas where I create moste waste and prepared alternatives for those to take with me.

For example: my toiletries bag –

– I purchased enough natural soap (that will wash my hair, face and body) to last me 6 months.

– I traded my hair conditioner, make-up remover and body moisturiser for coconut oil. This oil can generally be easily found in bulk.

– I pre-made my own tooth powder to use instead of toothpaste. I made a fairly large supply that should last at least 6 months. If I’m in a place where I can’t source the ingredients to make more, I can just use baking soda which can usually be bought in a recyclable cardboard box (if not in bulk).

– I purchased a safety razor to use instead of disposable razors. The blades last a minimum of 6 months and I have a small altoid tin to store them in. Once I have enough to dispose of I’ll contact a local scrap metal company (it may not be easy to find one and I may have to hold on to them till the next time I’m home).

These are just a few examples of how I prepared my zero waste toiletries bag for my big trip.

The area where I create the most waste whilst travelling is definitely the kitchen!!! I also find that eating can sometimes be the most expensive part of travelling too. So this addresses two issues – zero waste and the financial situation.

My zero waste food journey so far has taught me that bulk options are everywhere and budget options are everywhere. You just have to be prepared to do the research, get ready for the inevitable trial and error and put in the effort to find the bulk options and learn about the waste policies of the place you are visiting.

You may have to go to more than one shop. This is a huge pet hate of mine so I have learned to work it into my schedule for each day. For example if I am going to a Yoga class, I’ll stop at Chinatown for some veggies on the way back to my hostel. I always keep my reusable shopping bags in my handbag so if I happen to come across a grocery shop, I can buy something if I need to.

You may have to change some of the ways you do things or some of the things you eat in order to go completely zero waste. Sometimes I can’t find bulk rice so I go without it until I find it again. Same goes for pasta. It actually becomes a bit of a treat when you do find it again.

To be a backpacker, you have to be prepared to adapt easily. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, including myself once upon a time. However once you give in to your surroundings, life becomes so much easier and brighter. The same goes for living a zero waste lifestyle whilst travelling. If you are readily able to adapt, then there will be less hassles and things will run a lot smoother. If you try to stick to the same ways you did things at home, then you may find your journey to be a lot bumpier.

I still consider myself new on my zero waste journey and have so far only had the opportunity to explore zero waste options in developed countries. However I have distinct memories of bulk foods in all the South East Asian countries I visited last year as well as some other less developed countries I have visited in Northern Africa.

To be able to live as a backpacker and travel the world is such an honour. I have also found that pursuing a zero waste lifestyle whilst travelling personally gives me a real sense of purpose. It is teaching me that it is totally possible to live in a sustainable way no matter the situation. Our Earth is beautiful and valuable and provides us with life, going zero waste is the perfect opporunity to give back a little.

Love Kat xx