Well, it was that time of year again. The point where if I had to shovel one more scoop of snow or wrestle my kids into their snow suits one more time, I truly think I would have gone mad. So we booked a week escape to hot and sunny Cuba! Woo Hoo!
We have always been eco conscious, but it would be the first time traveling since we started on our Zero Waste journey. Though we are nowhere near Bea Johnson level, I think we did pretty well! This is what we did to keep our environmental impact minimal:
When we travel, our goal is to bring just ONE bag for the four of us. To create more packing space, I usually roll all our clothing, stuff it into big ziplock freezer bags and squeeze all the air out. This time I used the military roll technique to pack, skipping the ziplock bags. This is a super efficient way to roll, it saved so much space!! I rolled everything and kept it packed tightly together with elastics. I was pretty pleased to finally find a use for all my produce elastics!!
I packed my steel straw and straw cleaner. I rarely use straws, but I knew at the resort I’d want to sip my daiquiri through a straw and I was not about to use a plastic one. I still have nightmares of the turtle who got a straw stuck in his nose. Youtube it and I guarantee you won’t want to use a straw again either!! I love the steel straws, but they look a little deadly, so I was sure to keep that in the checked bag!
I brought a few wet bags. They were great for the plane ride home when we had wet towels and suits! I did end up with 3 ziplock baggies. One contained emergency baby food and milk. There is no way around this as the airport requires liquids to be in a plastic bag. The other contained sunscreen and bug spray. Perhaps I could have packed those in wet bags, but I’ve had my sunscreen explode one too many times and I was not about to risk ruining all our clothes. The last small ziplock contained our medications. I know it is not zero waste friendly, but acetaminophen and ibuprofen are pretty essential when traveling with young children. Especially when one is teething.
We brought a small beach tent for the baby. We usually wrap this in cling wrap to protect it, but instead I put it into one of my re-usable grocery bags and tied the straps tight. It worked just as well!
To avoid purchasing packaged meals on the plane, I packed a meal and snacks into our tupperware containers. I use glass to store food at home, but I still have some perfectly good plastic containers. They are lightweight and I felt they were a better option for the plane. I worried that our nuts and fruit might not make it through security, but it was no problem, especially if you say it’s for the kids! We ate on the plane, so we didn’t have to worry about security once we arrived.
I was sure to have our mason jar mugs in my carry on, as well as a spoon and a small container of sugar because I knew a coffee would be in order. To avoid using the little milk/creamer containers, I asked the flight attendant to put some milk in one of my mason jars. They were happy to comply! The toddler drank most of it and I saved a little for my coffee.
We also brought reusable water bottles, which we filled up in the airport once we were through security. I had cloth napkins as well as some small washcloths that I could use to clean up the kids. I wet them with water and stashed them in a mini wet bag.
Beware! Often airlines will have small gift bags for children. In situations like these, I usually prep my daughter beforehand explaining why we need to refuse such things. But it totally slipped my mind! To avoid an epic meltdown while boarding the plane, I let her accept the gift, even though I had packed a little activity kit for her myself. We ended up gifting the airline kit to staff at the resort, so it wasn’t a total fail.
We used our mason jar mugs every time we went to the bar. The bartender liked them so much, I ended up giving them to her at the end of our trip! I was pretty pleased to see many people heading to the bars with their reusable mugs!! It seems this is catching on! Perhaps it isn’t so far of a stretch to think one day people will be skipping the plastic straws too! 🙂
At the restaurants they only had cloth napkins, woo hoo! In fact, I did not see a single paper napkin the whole trip! Awesome! It meant I didn’t have to use and wash the ones I brought!! I should have brought more of my own sugar, they only had the little paper sachets and I ran out of sugar a few days in. The only disposable plates I saw were at the beach grill, so we stuck to eating at the buffet restaurant. They set out plastic cups at the ice cream bar, but we just used our water glass or got a soup bowl to fill instead.
I always brought a container with me to meals so I could save the kid’s leftovers to be eaten as snacks later. We also insisted on reusing our same plate when going back to the buffet for seconds and were mindful of portions to keep food waste to a minimum.
In Cuba the tap water is not recommended for tourists to drink and with young children I was definitely not going to risk it. We drank the bottled water, which was provided in 1.5L bottles. At mealtimes, we always used the leftover water in our glasses to fill our water bottles. Because of this, we didn’t waste any water and always had plenty to drink. And I saw maintenance workers using water bottles as paint jars, so at least some get repurposed!
Everyday my toddler and I would take a walk along the beach. She would collect discarded straws and I collected the cigarette butts. I actually could not go more than 5 steps without encountering a cigarette butt, it was pretty sad. On the upside, nothing makes statement quite like adorable toddler holding a huge fistful of straws. We got a lot of high fives and other people said that they were inspired to help keep the beach clean too! The resort staff did an incredible job keeping the beach clean, but it’s amazing how, what appears to just be a few lonesome straws here and there, really adds up when you start collecting them.
On the way home, I filled our containers with food from the buffet to take on the plane. I worried again it wouldn’t be let through, but it was not a problem. We even forgot to to empty out our water bottles, but because we had kids, airport security let us keep it!
Our room had a bidet!!! I had never used one before but I liked it! Felt so clean! And meant we didn’t use hardly any toilet paper while we were there!! Which is great because you can’t flush the paper down, any used tissue goes in the waste bin beside the toilet, yuck!
We brought our own shampoo and soap, so we didn’t have to use the hotels amenities. I made sure to carefully refold our bath towels so that our maid wouldn’t change them everyday.
We brought our hammock, but I forgot rope to hang it! No worries, everything we need already exists, I knew we would find something. I started making a rope from discarded straws, but on the second day I found an old fishing net. By the 3rd day we had unravelled enough to hang our hammock woo hoo!
In Cuba, things can be hard to get. So before we left, I packed a bag full of things to donate. Baby bottles, clothes, jars of baby food, formula, cloth diapers, toys, nail polish, makeup, bras, toothbrushes, purses etc… the staff were very happy to take it off my hands and assured me that they would all be put to good use.
We didn’t bring any sand toys with us, I knew that spoons and cups are easily found. But on the first day we arrived, we met a family who was leaving and they passed on all their sand toys to us! At the end of our trip, we payed it forward to another arriving family.
My husband makes sand sculptures and needed a pail to carry water. Well, an hour later a water jug washed up ashore. Cut off the top and voila! A perfect pail. Honestly, anything we ever need has a way of finding it’s way to us 🙂
My daughter wanted to be fancy for dinner. For her this means wearing a headband. Bad mom, I didn’t bring any! So I braided some palm leaves, stuck in a flower, and there you go, a fancy schmancy headband! She loved it so much, I had to make bands for the entire family, including her stuffed cat and my husband! I really loved making do with what was around us. No need to pack all that stuff!
For our first attempt at zero waste travel, I think we did pretty well! We had a fantastic trip! And my mental health was recharged 🙂