Yes, You Can Do an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

Roadtripping is essentially an American rite of passage. However, it also creates a pretty large carbon footprint. Let’s be honest: one or two people meandering in a car for thousands of miles, with or without a destination, is anything but green. But, there are ways that you can make your road trip of a lifetime more environmentally-friendly. As I am currently on a massive cross-country road trip myself, here are a few ways I am trying to shrink my trip’s footprint.

Go easy on the air conditioning.

Unless you’re traveling with a 50 pound cache of chocolate, you don’t need air conditioning as much as you think. A lot of us turn on the A/C before even giving fresh air a chance, so don’t jump the gun. Give yourself 30 minutes of wide open windows and breezes when you embark in the morning. If, after that time, you still feel unbearably hot, close the windows and turn on the A/C—it must be really hot. However, usually if it is below 85 degrees, open windows will do just the trick. Your body gets used to the heat after a while. The planet benefits when you think of A/C more as treat or luxury rather than a modern traveling necessity.

Don’t use the roof.

Roof racks and pods can reduce fuel efficiency significantly. Instead, put those childhood Tetris skills to use and pack your car efficiently so you don’t have to stash things on the roof. I’ve decided to stash my precious mountain bike in the hatchback of my Subaru rather than on a roof rack, not only for increased fuel efficiency, but safety—I love my bike and don’t want to subject it to the harsh elements for three nomadic months.

If you absolutely need to use a roof storage system, choose an option that is the most aerodynamic. While it may come with a higher upfront cost, it’s an investment that will pay off in better gas mileage over time.

Utilize the power of cruise.

Going at a constant speed is more efficient than constantly accelerating and braking. If your car has cruise control, use it for those long stretches of highway. I used cruise control for about 6 hours of driving from New Mexico to Colorado, and my average mpgs skyrocketed. Don’t trust your twitchy foot to keep your speed steady. Driving days are tough, and cruise control makes them significantly easier.

Don’t idle.

If you are stopped for more than a minute, it doesn’t pay to idle. Cars today are far more fuel efficient upon ignition than they used to be, which means idling is simply wasting gas. Shut your vehicle off when you aren’t using it.

Pack smart.

Overpacking just adds extra weight to your vehicle, making it less fuel efficient. No, you don’t need your desktop brass candlestick holder and beeswax candle for writing inspiration (trust me, I brought mine and I have yet to even consider using it).

Go as minimal as you can without sacrificing safety and warmth. What you absolutely should pack are lots of healthy snacks. Buying snacks in bulk, like trail mix or nuts, means you consume less packaging while saving money. Also bring rice or quinoa, beans and condiments for easy dinners when there is nothing around but McDonald’s. Speaking of which…

Eat locally & avoid fast food.

Fast food is not only unhealthy, but very wasteful in terms of packaging. With every meal, a wad of foil, plastic and paper gets soaked in grease and tossed into a landfill. On my journeys, I have yet to see a large fast food chain with consumer recycling.

So what should you eat? Obviously, all those snacks you brought. But, when you get sick of canned sardines and granola, as I did after day 3 of my adventure, it’s important to eat as locally as possible. Most medium and large cities have health food stores and farmer’s markets where you can buy local goods with a light footprint, since they haven’t been wastefully shipped ungodly distances. Rural areas, on the other hand, are where your precious snacks and easy meals come in handy.

Choose low-footprint activities.

Instead of supporting that giant carbon-pumping amusement park, perhaps take a long day hike. Discover the natural country around you! Beaches, canyons, forest, streams and even those elusive natural hot springs I have yet to encounter!

Not only will you get more out of the experience and exercise those pent up legs, but gentle hiking is a very eco-friendly activity. Of course, you don’t have to spend every waking hour in the Great Outdoors, but the footprint of your activities and the healing power of nature is something to consider.

Leave no trace.

Whether you’re camping, hiking or hanging out at a rest area, stand by the ethics of the Leave No Trace principles. Take all garbage that you produce and dispose of it properly. And most importantly, don’t pick up your dog’s poop, bag it and leave the tied bag on the side of the sidewalk or trail. That is your responsibility to clean up—no one else’s. Bagging it in plastic and leaving it on the trail is not only more work, but worse for the environment than simply leaving the poop! You cannot imagine how many black bags of poop I have seen trailside between the East coast and the Rockies. It is a illogical phenomenon I will perhaps never comprehend…

If you want to go the distance and go carbon neutral, you can visit Native Energy to calculate your trip’s carbon footprint and purchase carbon offsets. This is a great choice for those having difficulty justifying their trip of a lifetime, when it can sometimes be so unfriendly to the environment. For instance, my 10,000 mile trip across America will produce around 3.5 tons of carbon emissions over the course of 3 months, according to their basic calculator. I can purchase carbon offsets to make my trip more carbon neutral for around $60, which helps to develop clean energy that will last years to come. That’s a pretty reasonable trade if you ask me.

Just because you’re on a trip doesn’t mean it’s okay to waste resources. Be as green as you can while enjoying all the freedom and adventure you can muster. And keep an eye out for me on a trail or at a coffee shop near you!

Related:
Can More Nature Help You Live Longer?
8 Fun Ways to Unleash Your Inner Creativity
How to Stay Healthy on a Road Trip

90 comments

W. C
W. C7 months ago

Thank you.

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William C
William C7 months ago

Thanks.

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Henry M
Henry Mabout a year ago

Plus, fast food burgers have HUGE carbon footprint.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Janet B.
Janet B2 years ago

Thanks

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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Nina S.
Nina S2 years ago

tyfs

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Janet B.
Janet B2 years ago

Thanks

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