Going on 7 Months: Lessons Learned Travelling as a Social Outcast.

20150820_081613 zero waste ottawa
First of all, travel, unless you’re walking or biking is not Zero Waste. Oil is the largest pollutant on the planet and we humans driving around in our fancy cars (mine’s not so fancy) is horrible for the environment. Just look at the Alberta tar sands. Not to mention all of the war because of oil. We humans are terribly flawed and are similar to pests and diseases which wipe out plants. We are terribly flawed, yet oh so beautiful, capable of making changes that could change the world for the better. 

Some days are more challenging than others to live this way and some people have even told me: “It won’t matter what we do on the planet since we’re all going to die anyway because Nature will actually just wipe us all out extinct.”

This feeling sums up the looks I receive from cashiers or servers and even my loving parents when I say no to certain items or explain that I just don’t want to make garbage.

When you say it like that, it seems like a common place thought. I don’t want to make any more garbage. Simple and plain. But to 98% of the world, it’s not.

If you want to fit in to society, becoming Zero Waste is not the way to do it. This is not a lifestyle that you choose to do to be cool. Because we’re not. We’re mocked. We’re made fun of. We’re generally social outcasts. People don’t understand us. People think we’re weird, freakish hippies that don’t shave their armpits.

But in the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estés:

“Compliance causes a shocking realization… That is, to be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.” (pg. 85 – Women Who Run With the Wolves)

In other words, I’d rather be myself than fit in.

Which is proving to be really, very challenging.

Especially when it comes to my business. Especially when it comes to my art and especially when it comes to one thing I love most in life: travel.

I’ve travelled to many places around the world and despite knowing the huge carbon footprint of airplanes, my heart and soul still dream of future destinations. I recognize that the western world still produces WAY more garbage than the eastern world – the west just does a better job of hiding it. I recognize that the beauty of the east is diminishing and it is far more polluted and exploited due to the consumption and greed of the west. I’ve noticed that while Quebec may be shunned for wanting to split from Canada, two things they do really well is take care of their land and their people. I know that there are many cities around the world trying harder than ever to reduce their trash. See: HERE and maybe travelling is just my way of finding where I can sort of, some what “belong.”

In the short (going on 7 months) of Zero Waste life, I’ve travelled to quite a few places both for pleasure and for work. Traveling a lot means I learn a lot. And fail. A lot. Zero Waste life is kind of like the world of entrepreneurship. You will fail. But you will also grow. You will take risks, but you will gain so much more. You will not be the same as all the rest, but it will bring you a certain kind of freedom.

For Zero Waste, the same old saying of business is true, “If you don’t plan, you plan to fail.”

I failed a few times travelling because I didn’t plan ahead.

In a way, I figure it is a part of my journey to fail miserably so I can learn my lessons and teach others (should they care) so they have an easier path. Should they choose to venture into the world of “out of the box”, perhaps this can be a beacon of light showing them the way.

Here are 5 lessons I have learned while travelling:

Lesson Number 1:
Know where you’re going.

In a big city like Montreal that we’ve lived in and go back frequently, it’s easy to travel around because we know most places that we can find groceries or eat out sans waste. Big cities also offer more bulk options, whereas little towns are more challenging and sparse in the bulk category. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to find farmers markets. Google is not always helpful for smaller towns, but if you can, take the time to do a little research as to what the closest stores or restaurants are that will be near where you are staying. Make notes of the places that you visit. That way you can have a hand book for the next time you go. Also, I think Bea Johnson has a Bulk Store Finder App that helps locate bulk places in different cities, but I’ve never tried it.

Eating at China House in Muskoka with my brother, who is not a Zero Waster (his A&W pop). China House is excellent minus the fortune cookies that they give in plastic.
Eating at China House in Muskoka with my brother, who is not a Zero Waster (his A&W pop). China House is excellent minus the fortune cookies that they give in plastic.

Lesson Number 2:
Remember to pack for that time of the month.

Not that everyone wants to know this, but my most recent trip I did not remember to pack for that time of the month. We were going to the cottage to visit with my parents and we were miles away the nearest town or store. I got dropped off there, so I wasn’t mobile and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) buy another Diva Cup. When I realized I didn’t bring my cup or my cloth pads, I did what any normal woman would do – freak out. After a while I casually asked my Dad for a towel no one needed anymore and told him not to ask any questions. Then, I cut them into strips long enough to fold over. When I got really heavy, I doubled up. When it was light, I used one shorter strip that didn’t need to be folded. It worked. I washed them like I would my cloth pads. To avoid waste, I’ll sew them into liners for more pads. I also forgot my razor and tweezers so I learned to be comfortable with my body (hair) and wear more clothing that covers me. I know there are numerous people that would not be ok with this because so much of what society values is physical and external. If you’re travelling make a checklist of all the things you need and double, triple check you have everything.

Lesson Number 3:
Understand that the people you visit with, will forget or not care about your lifestyle.

As I talked about above, living Zero Waste means you don’t fit in and often no one gets your lifestyle or cares about it. Sometimes, if you’re a guest, you may just have to go with their flow. If they are the ones buying the groceries, the last thing you’re going to do is impose your lifestyle on them and chastise them for how much plastic they’re using. However, I still try to live my life according to my own values. If I’m purchasing items, I still have my cloth bags and avoid packaging. If we eat out, I still say “no straw” and bring my own utensils and napkins. Sometimes I have to remember to have a cloth napkin ready, because people always offer my son napkins. He’s a 3 year old, so of course he’s messy. He does do a good job of advocating our lifestyle though. The other day he saw my Dad with all this plastic, and he said, “We don’t use plastic Papa. We don’t make garbage.” To which my Dad replied, “Yeah. Well I do. I make garbage.” I bit my tongue. Some people are just too comfortable to change.

Lesson Number 4:
Understand that the people you visit with may not have the same eating habits as you.

It’s frustrating sometimes to be around people who don’t eat the same type of food as you and who aren’t conscious about the ingredients in their food or where they shop. It can even more frustrating when they don’t accept your offer to buy food or cook it. I’ve been places where I’ve even mentioned my lifestyle or eating habits and arrived only to have them forget. It’s not their fault, they just aren’t surrounded by people living Zero Waste. Being Zero Waste means our family ends up eating a lot more fresh fruit and veggies and very little canned or packaged foods.

I am pretty conscious of where my food comes from and what ingredients are in them. My stomach is sensitive and now when I do eat food with junk ingredients I feel it almost immediately. I get bloated, gassy, sneezy, scratchy and sleepy. We make a huge effort to make our meals from scratch and I have way more energy when we do. I once went to a potluck lunch at a Permaculture Tour and almost everyone brought their own water bottles, containers, utensils, healthy veggie and home-cooked meals with simple ingredients and there was very little plastic or garbage made. I crave this kind of interaction now, but if you can’t surround yourself with others similar and you can’t avoid it, just try your hardest to remain true to your own values and return back to your normal way of eating when you get back home.


Lesson Number 5:
Become stronger at saying no.

This can be tricky with a toddler because no matter where you go, people will always offer your child something. Most often it’s a plastic toy or some kind of candy or food item wrapped in plastic. Do you know how much hell there is to pay when your child has already seen the offering and wants it? Please to whomever is reading this – always ask the parent first if it’s ok. The ones who ask the parents for permission first are like angels.

It’s easier to say no to an adult but harder to take away the toy or candy from a child. I’ve had a full out conversation with my child (yes my 3 year old) about why we don’t need whatever thing it was, especially because that thing either came in plastic or is plastic. And the person who gave it to them is standing there feeling uncomfortable and at the same time thinking I’m a complete control freak nut job parent. Other times, I’ve just let it go because as a parent, you just know the right times to let things be. This “letting it be” includes interactions with adults.

I once forgot my container and we were out with company as guests. The counter person was using paper plates, so when my child and I were offered a treat rather than wasting a plate I asked for him to put them just in my hand since. The counter person scoffed at me and he absolutely refused to do that because he didn’t want my hand to get dirty. (He probably has never had a child). He had already put the damn thing on the plate by that point, so I adamantly told him to put both my son’s treat and mine on the same paper plate to which he rolled his eyes at me!

Next time, I’ll either say no to the treat or try harder to remember a cloth napkin or my own container.

If you’re going Zero Waste you need to have the confidence to live it. Being compliant will do you and the earth no good. That’s why it’s gotten to this situation in the first place, because everyone has become so used to accepting that plastic and garbage is just how life is. We all need to be stronger at saying no. Build your backbone gradually and never let the slip-ups pull you back down.

20150802_091208 a dream lived greener zero waste
Why can’t more restaurants just put milk/cream in a jug???


Other lessons learned are:
– Drive thru anything sucks. Avoid them and if you must do fast-food go inside. But if you’re in a pinch Tim Hortons can be great. One time they let us chat with them at the window and put their kettle cooked chips in our bag
– Coffee and milk creamers are the worst. Who the hell invented them?? And those sugar packets? You learn to be less addicted to coffee when you’re travelling.
– Pack a portable and compact cooler for food. Ours can squish flat once everything is emptied. Hotel ice is great. We store ours in our glass jars and they also end up doubling as water once they melt.

Do you have any other tips for travelling Zero Waste? Let me know in the comments below.

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11 thoughts on “Going on 7 Months: Lessons Learned Travelling as a Social Outcast.

  1. This is a great post which ticks all my own problems one by one. Especially saying ‘No’. We’re so used to grabbing what is handed to us, and accepting anything as long as it’s free. I have to constantly remind myself that just because it’s free doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with a price. If I refuse, people around go all nuts: “Yeah, but it’s FREE.” And I’m like: “Yeah but I don’t NEED it.” I meet to many people these days with full-on robot-mode.

    One question to you: How to you behave if YOU are the person visiting others? Most of the time, you cannot influence anything if you stay with others. Apart from doing the shopping maybe. Do you accept their, say, bottled water, how do you feel if you prepare food with them and they don’t do any recycling/composting so you have to throw it in their garbage, and do you actively ask them to pack food when you go out together (rather than ‘grabbing something on the go’)? At home, it’s easy, as I can do it my way, but at somebody else’s place, you can’t tell them what to do. Any advice?

    1. Hey thanks so much for taking the time to read my post. Your question is a good one! It’s really hard to live your lifestyle in the company of others who don’t think the same way as you or have the same values as you. So many of us are just following what we were conditioned to do and sadly, most of us do what is considered “normal” for fear of looking like a weirdo. There isn’t anything wrong with this, it just truly does make being yourself that much harder when you are going against the grain. This being said, try as hard as possible to be true to your values. I never travel anywhere without my water bottle. I say no thank you to any offerings of these or any drinks that are packaged. When I travel I still bring all of my own containers and bags, so if we are going out somewhere I pack them all with me that way if we do go out, I’ll still order food items I can put in my containers. If we are preparing food for the road, for example, a picnic, I do try my best to be actively involved in packing the food but for the most part we have to remember that it’s not our home and also be kind to their choices because we were all heavy garbage producers before we became aware. So if they use saran wrap, I won’t chastise them or say much, but if it’s appropriate, I’ll say – oh I have this container or do you have a container that we can put it in, instead? If they’ve already used plastic bags or saran wrap, I try not to let it bother me. There are times when a conversation about waste will be beneficial and there are other times when you will know that no matter what you say, the people around you will not change. If it will cause tension, I’d rather enjoy the time with them than stir up unnecessary arguments. However, if the person I’m visiting with asks – then I’ll explain my life choices and my reasons behind them. Sometimes they will make an effort to adapt to your lifestyle, but other times, we just have to gently remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can living and travelling Zero Waste and hope one day society makes it easier for everyone to follow suit.

      1. That’s a great and insightful reply. I think I will follow suit and make sure Ihave my own ‘gear’ to do as much as I can in those situations.

  2. Loved this:
    “If you want to fit in to society, becoming Zero Waste is not the way to do it. This is not a lifestyle that you choose to do to be cool. Because we’re not. We’re mocked. We’re made fun of. We’re generally social outcasts. People don’t understand us. People think we’re weird, freakish hippies that don’t shave their armpits.
    ….In other words, I’d rather be myself than fit in.”

    My parents have told me that I’m ruining my little baby girl’s life by being zero waste because she’ll be a weirdo and not fit into normal American society…it’s ridiculous but still hurts. Your words were very comforting to hear because sometimes, I feel alone in this venture! And I couldn’t agree more with that last line!! (Sorry for all the comments…I’m binge reading while my hubby and baby are sleeping!)

  3. Hi! i’ve recently started reading your blog, and this post is very powerful. Last friday and today I went to do some shopping, I tried to be as much zero waste as I can. I’ve used rusable bags for years now, and lately started to reuse the plastic bags for the fruits and vegtebales I get (that’s what you call produce, right? English is not my native language and I’m not familiar with this word). I still use plastic that I have in home because I don’t want to through them away, so I’m reusing them as much as I can. In these two last grocery shopping trips I shopped more zero waste then usuall, and although I got compliments from two sales woman, I still had a weird feeling, something like you’ve described in your post, about being an outcast. I don’t like this feeling, and I hope it will pass, because I don’t want to go back on this, I want to move forward and improve.
    I really like your blog, it’s inspiring. I’ve been reading “trash is for tossers”, “zero waste home”, “my plastic free life”, they are all great and inspiring also, but Bea Johnson and Beth Terry have been doing this for years, and Lauren Singer makes it look very simple and fun, which again all of them are great, but yours is different, you talk about the struggles and about how it’s not that simple but worth it. I hope you continue writing, I will defintley be reading.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Anna,

      Thank you for sharing this with me. I appreciate you trying to write me despite English not being your native language – I think your writing is great! I hope you are proud of yourself for making an effort. It is important that you sit back every now and then and tell yourself that. It’s not easy to feel like an “outcast” and I hope that overtime those feeling for you, become less. I will tell you though, that there will always be situations where you will feel that way because our world wasn’t designed for it and not everyone is doing this. Keep going through these situations. Stick to what you believe and try to find those that support you or have similar values. That way you can have people to fall back on when you’re having rough days. Much love and support to you on your journey.

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