Guest post by Molly McFall
Road trips have been my favorite way to get away and enjoy a vacation during this crazy pandemic year. Are you also ready for an open road adventure? Make your next trip eco-friendly!
As air travel was severely limited and public transit was limited, my friends and I chose to travel locally and to various states by car to find ways to be in new environments safely. Due to months of quarantine, we developed a deeper appreciation for beautiful and fun adventures that we can access from the safety of our cars.
Not only did traveling by car allow us to limit the spread of the virus, it also allowed us to adopt sustainable practices while on the road. We made small and financially feasible changes throughout our travels that helped us reduce waste, lessen our environmental impact, and support the rural communities we drove through.
Although spontaneity is one of the best perks of road tripping, lacking a plan for accessing food and supplies can lead to rash decisions that are less sustainable.
Keep reading for my top seven tips for experiencing an eco-friendly road trip!
Helpful Tools and Organization Tips
Thoughtful planning before your road trip is vital to set yourself up for success. Here are seven ways to organize an eco-friendly road trip:
1. Car Maintenance – Maximize your car to get the best fuel mileage possible. Before a road trip, check your air filter, change the oil and check other fluids. Be sure all tires have the proper amount of air. Tire pressure is key to fuel efficiency, which helps the environment and saves you money. Here’s a detailed post on Popular Mechanics outlining how to prepare your car for a road trip.
2. Refillable Water Bottles – Commit to reducing plastic use by not buying single-use plastic water bottles. You’ll save money and dramatically help the environment. Be sure each trip member has at least one large water bottle and refill them from water fountains, restaurants, hotels, etc. I keep a five-gallon jug in the back of the car for emergencies, but also as a way to not have to buy water bottles if we run low.
3. Reusable Containers for Food When getting take-out, ask before ordering if they are willing to use your containers rather than disposable containers. Some cities don’t allow this. But if they do, restaurants will be happy to accommodate your request. After all, the restaurant saves money by not giving you a container.
Rather than using takeaway containers for leftovers in a restaurant, bring your containers. Fill the containers at the table and skip all the single-use boxes, which will only be thrown away in a few hours. Almost all gas stations have food areas and microwaves nowadays. Use these microwaves to reheat leftovers.
Here’s a link to Leakproof Reusable Containers from Net Zero Co., which are sturdy enough for any combination of kids and road trips!
4. Reusable utensils, bowls, plates, mugs – Bring a reusable fork, knife, and spoon for each trip member. Also, bring along at least one knife good for cutting apples, carrots, and other hard foods. One lightweight, reusable bowl and plate for each person makes picnics and meals in the motel super easy and waste-free. I also bring along a small cutting board to help with prep. Cloth napkins are another handy addition to food bags. And if you’re like me and love your morning coffee or tea, bring along your own favorite mug. Check out our blog post on creating a Sustainable Picnic for other valuable ideas.
5. Low Waste Snacks – Overly packaged gas station snacks create a great deal of waste that can’t be recycled. Fresh and dried fruit and nuts make great car snacks and are low waste when purchased in bulk. If you like to bring cookies as a treat for the kids, consider baking up a batch before leaving and put them in a reusable container. When you run out, stop at a local bakery and restock your container. Buying from small businesses is the best way to help people recover from the pandemic. Are you stopping for ice cream? Skip the cup and spoon and opt for a cone that is waste-free.
6. Food Storage Space – When you set your car up for a road trip, it is vital that you have organized to make sustainable choices easily accessible. Choose one spot in the car so all food and reusable items are easily reached, whether driving or at a pit stop. With kids, let them personalize their items to make them as reinforcing as possible.
7. Use the Internet to Help Find Sustainable Options – An hour before we arrive at a city or small town, I like to hop on my phone and use Google or Yelp to find a place to eat and rest that meets our wants: a clean bathroom; food that we can take in a reusable container; farmers markets or natural food stores; a water fountain; and access to trash cans/recycling.
Ask Questions and Be Respectful
A tenant that I hold when traveling, particularly in rural areas and areas with access to fewer resources, is to be as respectful as possible of their resources and expectations. Often, rural communities have practices that work well for their environment, but that might be incongruent to what we might believe. More often than not, if I ask, people are usually very willing to accommodate a request the best they can or offer an alternative.
Sometimes a simple question such as, “Do you mind if I use my bottle instead of the plastic cup for soda?” will yield a yes more often than not.
The Goal is Progress, Not Perfection
My biggest tip for designing a more sustainable road trip is to aim for progress in your habits, not punish yourself for mistakes or imperfections. The saying “slow and steady wins the race” is timeless for a reason!
If you find yourself needing to use plastic forks and knives from a restaurant, reusing them for two weeks is still progress. By choosing to keep reusing these plastic items, you are avoiding wasting upwards of 10-15 sets of utensils throughout your whole trip! Finding small ways to improve and change our habits can lead to significant and sustainable changes in the long run.
Happy Road Trip! Comment below if you have other ideas for creating a sustainable road trip. We’d love to hear your ideas!