How To Road-Trip Sustainably

By Lena Milton.

Just hearing the word “road trip” conjures images of adventure and excitement. Whether it’s a single day’s drive or traveling around the country for several months, road trips are sure to bring the fun. However, the environmental impact of road trips is less positive.

Every year, thousands of people embark on a road trip, and they’re becoming an ever more popular method of travel. This extra driving adds large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. In fact, the average passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of carbon dioxide per mile, in addition to creating pollution that harms our health.

While it’s not reasonable to simply not go on a road trip (after all, other methods of travel may be even worse for the environment!), there are ways to make your road trip more sustainable. 

Follow the tips in this article to make your road trip more eco-friendly and have an energy-conscious trip!

1. Use an energy efficient car

This is perhaps the choice you can make that has the most impact. Driving thousands of miles naturally uses large amounts of fuel, but there are certain steps you can take to make sure your car is as energy efficient as possible.

Choose your car wisely: First is your choice of car. While no one is expected to run out and buy a new car just for their road trip, your car’s energy efficiency is something to keep in mind when buying a new car. Buying used is the best choice for the environment, although hybrid cars and electric cars are good options as well. Visit fueleconomy.gov to compare the greenhouse gas emissions rate for different vehicles.

If you’re renting a car for your road trip, choose an energy-efficient option. Some companies like Green Motion specialize in providing eco-friendly car options. Other major car rental brands like Hertz have a hybrid option you can request.

Lastly, if you’re feeling really adventurous, consider a different mode of transportation. For example, electric bikes, or “e-bikes,” are a lower-carbon transportation option that provides exercise and are easier than regular bicycles, as they have a motor built in. Before buying an e-bike make sure it has been tuned up and tested for efficiency and safety!

Maximize your gas mileage: Before leaving on your trip, make sure your car is in good shape, since there are a few things you can check to make sure your mileage is the most efficient it can be. 

For example, make sure you have a clean air filter and tires that are fully inflated; these will increase your miles per gallon by as much as 20%.

2. Pack light

The more you bring in your car, the lower your fuel efficiency will be. Heavy suitcases may make a bigger difference than you think!

Think of your road trip as an introduction to minimalism. It can be difficult to leave things at home, especially if your trip is quite long. However, the climate (and your wallet) will thank you.

First of all, on days you’re just sitting in the car, your clothes may not get that dirty. Washing less frequently is good for the environment, and bringing fewer clothes makes your suitcase lighter, making your fuel economy higher! Laundromats can also be found in most towns and cities, so bring fewer clothes knowing that you can wash them if you need to.

3. Plan your route and bring a map

Planning your route ahead of time helps you avoid unnecessary miles and saves you time. Plan your route to include shorter routes if possible. This doesn’t mean you need to skip every scenic route; just be mindful of extra miles.

Another aspect of this planning is making sure you have a usable map to determine shortest routes, even if you’re in areas with no cell signal. Consider buying a paper atlas or downloading Google maps on your phone ahead of time.

4. Eat responsibly

Bring reusable water bottles, utensils and tupperwares: Rather than buying bottled water at every gas station you pass, bring a reusable water bottle. Most gas stations will allow you to fill your water bottle using their machine for free.

You should also use your own reusable silverware and cups whenever possible to avoid excess plastic use. For example, you’re often able to get your coffee in your own reusable thermos, rather than using disposable cups, which have a host of negative environmental impacts. When getting takeout, ask them to leave out the plastic silverware and use your own instead.

Cook instead of takeout: Cooking your own meals not only helps you save some money, but it also allows you to avoid styrofoam and other disposable takeout containers that will just end up in a landfill.

Buy local produce: Whenever possible, buy locally-produced goods and food. Supporting local businesses is not only good for local economies, but it also reduces carbon emissions caused by transporting goods, and helps avoid increasing the carbon footprint of large national chains. Buying local can also provide you with a little taste of the local flavor!

5. Don’t forget to recycle

Many people don’t recycle on road trips because recycling bins can be difficult to find. While nearly every gas station has a trash can, you don’t see recycling options nearly as frequently.

But recycling on a road trip is not impossible. First, many towns do have recycling bins in downtown areas, so be on the lookout. Additionally, many state parks or campgrounds will offer recycling. If you’re really in a bind, you can search for the local recycling center and drop off your recycling there. 

Yes, recycling on a road trip can be a bit of a hassle, but it makes a big difference. By recycling, you prevent landfill buildup, you prevent unsafe chemicals from leaching from landfill to groundwater or soil, and you save resources by reducing the need for raw materials. 

While you’re at it, never throw any trash or recycling out the window! Even compostable items like orange peels can take many years to decompose.

7. Offset your road trip’s carbon footprint

Offsetting your carbon footprint is a way to account for the carbon you emitted on your trip by contributing to activities that reduce carbon emissions in another area. For example, you can donate money to an organization that fights deforestation or does other carbon reduction activities in order to “make up for” the emissions you created on your trip.

The first step is calculating your carbon footprint. Simply input your miles per gallon and the number of miles you drove to calculate your footprint in metric tons of carbon dioxide. Then pick a carbon offsetting project to support.

Conclusion

While road trips may be a carbon intensive form of travel, it is possible to reduce your impact. So next time you hit the open roads, pick (at least!) one of these tips to take action and make your road trip more sustainable.

One thought

  1. Great article!!!!!!

    On Sat, Jan 15, 2022 at 1:38 PM The Sustainability Co-Op wrote:

    > The Sustainability Co-Op posted: ” By Lena Milton. Just hearing the word > “road trip” conjures images of adventure and excitement. Whether it’s a > single day’s drive or traveling around the country for several months, road > trips are sure to bring the fun. However, the environmental impac” >

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