Lifestyle, Outdoors, Travel
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10 Ways to Make Your Road Trip Eco-friendly

Beach Scene in Malibu

Thought caring about the environment meant giving up road trips? Think again! Roll down the window, crank the tunes and give slow travel a go.

Car travel almost always comes out ahead of air travel for less emissions but there are many online calculators to help you out. Some of the factors include plane capacity, distance and the fuel efficiency of your vehicle. Of course driving less is always better but if you need to get somewhere, why not enjoy it. I had to head down to LA for a conference at the end of summer so after roping in a friend we turned what could’ve been a fly-in/fly-out work trip into a much more fun west coast road trip. Both of us live a pretty eco-conscious lifestyle so while we prepared for the trip we definitely learned some more ways to reduce our impact along the way. Read on for my top 10 tips:

1. Camp or stay at eco-certified accommodations

You will use far less power camping and likely conserve more water. What’s a road trip without sleeping under the stars anyways? If camping isn’t an option for you then try staying at eco-certified accommodations that use things like natural cleaning products, low-flow toilets and LED lighting.

Ocean View

2. Explore without the car

Ditch the car where you’re staying and explore the city by bike, foot or transit. Not only will it be better for your emissions but you’ll also get to know the place better and are way more likely to stumble upon hidden gems and meet the locals – in fact, while biking in San Francisco we met Uncle Jesse (Jon Stamos). He was just as suave as you’d expect.

Try getting creative with combining activities you want to do and places you want to get to – for example if there’s an area you want to explore a little out of the city, see if you can kayak there!

Biking in San Francisco

3. Bring reusable water bottles and travel mugs

This one is not only friendly on the earth but also the bank account. If you’re somewhere with safe drinking water fill up a couple of water bottles at your accommodation in the morning before you hit the road. We also stopped at cafes and parks with water fountains for refills throughout the day. If you’re somewhere without water buy your water in a large jug instead of a flat of bottled water to reduce plastic (it’s also cheaper) and refill your reusable water bottles from there. We did this in a couple places like Joshua Tree where no water is available. 

And as for a road trip essential – caffeine, bring a travel mug (or two) and you won’t create waste with disposable coffee cups. We found having a second one on hand would’ve been helpful for when you’re in-between destinations and don’t have a way to clean your current mug.

Water in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

4. View wildlife in the wild, not amusement parks

We managed to see whales, sea lions, elephant seals, rabbits, countless species of birds and more all in their natural habitat just by spending time outdoors. If you don’t want to leave it to chance, try a wildlife eco-tour with a guide or spend a day volunteering at sanctuary or wildlife rescue centre instead of supporting zoos or aquariums with questionable practices. Side note – we learned that elephant seals may be one of the cutest but also stinkiest creatures on earth.

Elephant Seal

5. Tread lightly

Follow the same respectful practices as you would at home- don’t feed the wildlife, stay on the path (so you don’t do damage to the ecosystem) and camp in designated areas. I may have had a “Ranger Rosemary” (aka Shanna) moment when I tried to explain to a couple that sponge cake is not naturally a part of a squirrel’s diet…

6. Cook your own food

Bring along a camp stove and cooler so you can make your own meals. This one can be harder to stick to but it helps if you grocery shop for things that are quick and easy to make like oatmeal, quinoa, wraps – not only will you create less waste through packaging but you’ll probably eat healthier too. If you’re on the road during mealtimes pull over at a viewpoint or park to cook – eat at a beautiful beach instead of in a greasy diner!

Road Trip Cooking

Coffee on the Beach

6. Support local

When you do dine out, eat at cafes and restaurants that use locally sourced ingredients. If you’re doing any activities, look for operators with eco practices that have a program or give-back for conservation efforts in the area.

8. Take 3

If you’re out exploring the beach or hiking in the woods and notice trash left behind by others try out the Take 3 approach, it’s easy to pick up and carry three pieces of garbage out with you. If you’re super keen and going to a heavily visited area consider bringing a trash bag so you can take more.

Roadtrip Sightseeing

9. Conserve fuel

Don’t idle or get lost (haha) – okay, if you’re like me you can’t help that one. But be mindful of how much fuel you’re using, turn off the car at rest stops and pull over if you’re lost to get your bearings instead of circling the town. Idling for 10+ seconds uses more fuel than restarting your car. It may seem miniscule but it can add up to a lot, especially when you think about how much air emissions would be reduced if everyone did the same.

Sunset with Joshua Tree

10. Only buy meaningful (or edible!) souvenirs

Do you or your loved ones really need the made-in-China miniature plastic model of a landmark? Try hitting up farmers markets, boutiques carrying local artists goods or antique and thrift stores for more meaningful souvenirs. I’ve found some real treasures in unexpected places and I know Roberta for one always appreciates a local specialty like kettle corn or smoked olives more than a trinket.

How do you stay green on the road? Share with us below!

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