Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

by - Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

I love adventures, and I freaking love to travel, but the environmental impact of flying has been weighing on me a lot lately. So, we are trying to cut way down on our flights, and instead we are trying to explore more areas that are driving distance. The greenest option is to take trains, but the options for that are still limited.

So if you want to go green, but you still want to have an adventure, road trips are the way to go.

That said, obviously a good road trip can still have a big impact. But you can still have a lot of fun on the road while taking better care of the Earth. Here are a few ideas and tips on how to do it. Lots of them take nearly no effort, but they can do a lot of good. Let's get to it!

Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

Before You Leave

Ok, none of this is particularly fun or glamorous, but I know we could be better about these things, and they do save money and energy.

1. Put your Mail on Hold

It saves a bit of energy, and it can save delivery trucks unnecessary trips.

2. Unplug... A Lot

If you aren't going to be home, you can do a lot of good by unplugging most of your appliances. When you aren't there, you can unplug almost everything short of the fridge. All of those appliances slowly suck energy even if they aren't getting any use. All those little things can add up!

3. Turn the Thermostat Down (or Turn the Air Conditioner Off)

It saves you money, and your house doesn't need to be warm if you aren't there! This saves energy for the house as well. We have a smart thermostat, so we can turn it back up before we get back too.

4. Make a Plan! 

You don't have to know the exact route, but if you know the towns that you will be moving through and by, you can do research to find great local restaurants, candy shops, farmers' markets, and more.

And by more, I clearly mean bizarre roadside attractions, especially in you are road tripping in the US If you haven't seen the Spam Museum or the Birthplace of John Wayne, you need to. They are awe-inspiring. Check out your route on Roadside America and feel the draw of America's true and unapologetic weirdness.

5. Consider Purchasing Offsets

When you are doing something that you know will produce a lot of CO2 (like taking a trip), you can try to neutralize that by purchasing offsets. You can read more about offsets (and purchase them) at this website. This can be a strange shift, and it adds cost to trips which are already costly, but it is also one of the simple positive changes you can make to your planning and budgeting that will really make a difference and empower larger change.

Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

Take Care of your Car

Obviously, the most eco-friendly road trips are in electric and energy efficient cars. If you have one, good on you! That's awesome, and there are good resources out there about where you can charge your car.

If you don't have an electric or hybrid car (yet- consider investing in one when you do have to replace a vehicle), you can still do some little things to make your car more efficient on long trips.

1. Go Get your Car Checked Out

If you have a big car trip coming up, it's the perfect time for your vehicle to get a check up. Preventing leaks and other problems may help you avoid disaster, but at the very least, it will help your car be more efficient. Other simple actions like making sure your tires are filled and changing the air filter can make your car more gas-efficient as well.

2. Slow Down

In most vehicles, the overall efficiency is best around 50 miles per hour. Now, I am not suggesting you drive 50 mph through those glorious South Dakota roads, but stay close to that speed limit, and don't go crazy.

Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

Having a Waste-Free Adventure

Being on the road can create a lot of garbage. The way we used to do it, we made a lot of mess that was totally unnecessary. You don't have to do it that way. Here are some easy tips for transforming your trip to as waste-free as possible.

1. Bring your Water Bottle 

It's so simple, but it saves money and keeps you from buying pointless plastic water bottles. We just keep one in our backpack all the time, but it's especially perfect for car trips. You can usually find places to fill up your water bottle at most stops. Our favorite for road trip are Klean Kanteen and Liberty Bottleworks- no messing with straws. We also use the trick where we pour the rest of our water glass at restaurants in the water bottle before we leave.

2. Keep a Reusables Kit in the Car

You can take a reusable bag and put it in the trunk or under a seat- you only have to fill it once, and you will avoid so much waste These are the reusable I would recommend:

- 2 or 3 reusable bags (we now buy them as our souvenirs, and you can find them used, but this might be a good starter one if you need one).
- A Wet Bag- Your clothes get wet, you have items that need washed, or any other surprise. We have a Planet Wise one we like.
- A set of silverware for each traveler. You can get special ones like these bamboo to go ones, or you can just buy secondhand ones to use.
- Food containers. You need something to put to go food or roadside produce in. You can do as simple as old yogurt containers or mason jars, or you can invest in some fancy zero waste take out containers and reusable zip loc bags (or cloth ones like these from Marley's Monsters).
- Cloth napkins or rags
- Reusable straws if you need them (or you do a lot of road trip drive through. No judgement- we have been known to frequent these places on road trips too)
- An Extra Water Bottle (or even a milk jug full of water to refill the one you use)

Put this stuff together and keep it in your car, and then when you use something, you just have to clean it and put it back. Nothing but the wet bag couldn't be cleaned in a bathroom sink. Just leaving it there means a lot less having to remember, and it does feel good when you have a fun expected stop, and you have everything you need to keep it waste free. It helps in normal life too!

3. Get your Snacks at a Local Candy Shop

I love going to the gas station on a road trip and loading up on truly terrible snacks. Just candy bars galore. Here's the problem- so much of that stuff has palm oil, is wrapped in plastic, and is just generally terrible for the environment.

So, we have switched up our approach- no matter where you are car tripping, there is probably a local candy or chocolate shop not that far away. We can bring our own containers, and just order from the candy counter. On our roadtrip from Maine to Pennsylvania, we stopped at Len Libby's Chocolates (with a life-sized chocolate moose!) and got a big box of chocolate-covered graham crackers- perfect road trip treat! My goal is to try chocolate from every state, so it makes a fun challenge, we support small businesses, and we have had so many fun treats this way.

4. Or Bring Your Own Snacks (and Meals)

If you eat out, you are always running the risk of creating a lot more waste, even if you don't see it. You can save money and guarantee less waste by bringing a cooler and your own stuff for sandwiches, snacks, and other easy meals.

I'll be honest, we have never tried this, as our car is pretty small for this kind of thing, but taking some of the eating out away from the trip would certainly save money. Also, having the cooler means you could stop and get other things en route that you could keep cooler longer.

5. If You Stay at Hotels, Bring Your Own Toiletries

Hotel chains are starting to put it together and drop the needlessly wasteful teeny bottles of shampoo and conditioner. But not all of them. Unless you know for sure you will stay at hotels without the tiny bottles, bringing your own shampoo and soap cuts a bunch more plastic waste out of your trip. If you travel by plane, you need reusable shampoo bottles like these, but if you are driving, you don't necessarily. You could go either way, depending how much space you have. Another great option is travel bottles from Plaine Products- you send the bottles back, and they will refill them.

Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

Respect the Places You Visit

We are stewards of this Earth and stewards of the places we visit. There are simple steps to take to have a positive impact as we move through outdoor spaces, and it feels good too.

1. Bring a Bag to Collect Litter

I tell my kids that our job is to leave places better than we found them. If you have a disposable garbage bag (or reusable one with this particular purpose), bring it along on your trips, and when you see trash, collect it. This is especially great if you are visiting National Parks. It amazes me every time just how poorly people treat those spaces, and how often you see garbage in our most beautiful places.

Once you start the habit of picking it up, you will never stop, and the world will be better for it.

2. Clean Up After Your Pet (and Yourself)

Ugh, I can't believe this even needs to be said, but so many signs have told me differently. Don't just leave poop places. Take it with you, bury it, do what you need to do, but this is a real problem in our public lands, has real consequences for the animals that share in those places, and is completely gross.

If you didn't know, now you know.

3. Stay on the Trails

When you are in public lands, there are usually trails directing you through the landscape. The kindest thing you can do for those spaces is to stay on those trails. So often, these places are protecting biodiversity, so you can never be sure that you aren't stepping on a plant or tiny creature that needs our protection.

We are living in a mass extinction event, and if we aren't careful, humans won't survive it. Our animals and plants have to be treated as absolutely precious, so leave animals alone, do not feed them, and just stay on the paths.

4. You Can Still Compost

Bring a jar for banana peels or whatever green waste you have, and take both your trash and your green waste away. It doesn't take a huge effort to keep garbage and green waste separate, and you can dispose of both properly when you get the chance. If you aren't composting yet, I highly recommend doing it, either in your own home or looking into what composting opportunities are available where you live.

Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip with Kids

And Bonus Tips for Kids...

Roadtripping with kids is a whole different level of challenge, but it can also be crazy fun. Here are a couple extra tips on how to make it special and fun if you are traveling with a brood.

1. Make a Surprise Bag (of Secondhand Stuff)

When I was a kid, my parents made us these bags of surprises for long road trips. I loved them, and they were a total highlight of road trips. I am trying to raise minimalist kids, so I didn't want to go too crazy, but I loved this tradition so much that I wanted to continue it.

So, I struck up a compromise. We went to thrift shops and bought some secondhand toys that they could open. They didn't match, there was no packaging, but they got to open the paper bags, and they were still totally excited. So if you want to roll out some surprises over the trip, try some secondhand toys, maybe a couple of art supplies, and a cool new music playlist you know they will love (so much Parry Grip...).

2. Stop Every Two Hours

My Nana gave this advice when it was just the two of us, but I swear to you, it is the perfect way to keep the day from dragging on forever. Even if you don't need gas, just get out and run around. It gives you more opportunities to actually enjoy nature, and it will help keep sanity longer without necessarily resorting to screens.

3. Bring Your Snack Stacks

Whether on planes or in our car, we always travel with trusty snack stacks filled with food for our kids. Even if we are doing refills, the cup is the right size for their hands, so they don't spill food everywhere (mostly... let's not get too excited). Lots of food makes trips better, and with a cooler and some plans, you can do it without tons of shopping or waste.

Ok! That's all my wisdom on this- what have you found makes car trips both fun and good for the planet?

Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip

Fun and Easy Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip with Kids

Ideally, we would all reduce our travel a little to have a more positive impact, but shifting how we travel and buying locally (so our stuff stops travelling so far!)

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