Go Green on Your Next Road Trip With These Simple Tips

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Cars are the single most prolific contributors of air pollution, beating out airplanes by 57 percent, according to a study by the University of Michigan. Once you learn that vehicles are partly responsible for the world’s poor air quality, you could be seriously discouraged to travel by car unless absolutely necessary, locking out one of the most fun ways to spend your vacation: road trips.

Fortunately, there are ways you can make your road trips much less harmful to the environment. Just like going with a micro-home, these require a bit of discipline and a few sacrifices, but you’re likely to feel much more fulfilled and pleased with yourself should you decide to employ them. 

Be Mindful of What You Pack


Travelling generates up to 14 percent of all solid waste on the planet. So if you’re looking to become a greener traveller, the first thing you should do is to pack smarter and lighter. One of the main ways you can do this is by packing as many reusables as you can. Get rid of the bulk of your plastic consumption by packing reusable bags, utensils, jars, bottles, and containers.

Don’t fall for the marketing tricks for single-use products. You might think it’s alright since you’ll take care to dispose of them correctly, and they let you pack lighter, thus consuming less fuel. But contributing to that industry puts an extra burden on the waste management system and just drives up the rate of human consumption overall. 

Aside from ensuring that you pack reusables, always make sure that the items you use will have minimal impact on your surroundings. For example, you can make use of biodegradable soaps and other hygiene products to prevent damage to the local ecosystem. And finally, try to pack light. Every pound you load onto the car reduces your fuel efficiency. 

Adjust Your Driving Habits


Your car is going to be the number one contributor of carbon emissions during your trip. There’s nothing much you can do about that, besides make sure that every single thing has been done to drive down your car’s emissions as much as possible.

One thing that often gets overlooked is keeping tires inflated to the proper pressure. This can improve your gas mileage by up to 3 percent.

Other tweaks include rolling down to windows to keep A/C use to a minimum, and driving at a more relaxed pace to conserve momentum. Cruise control helps a lot with keeping a steady pace. 

If you have an EV, however, you can be assured that you’ve eliminated a huge chunk of the carbon footprint you’ll generate while traveling. Even accounting for the emissions generated during manufacturing, your EV will generate less than half the emissions of a comparable fossil fuel car.

But you aren’t in the clear just yet. You should also look into ways to maximize the range of your EV. Generating half the emissions of fossil fuel vehicles is great, but remember, our target is zero emissions, so everybody has to do their part to make their cars as eco-friendly as possible.

Plan Your Route Thoroughly


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Route planning is essential for spotting shortcuts and detours, as well as the best stops to take. Shortcuts will reduce your overall travel distance and therefore your fuel consumption, while marking out the best detours prevents you from taking longer, costlier ones if the road ahead turns out to be closed.

Meanwhile, making sure that each stop counts lets you take fewer stops, which also increases your fuel efficiency. You may also want to avoid highways and stick to back roads, as long as they’re not too out of the way. Aside from being much more scenic, these routes are often less-travelled.

Coupled with their lower speed limit, they’ll let you cruise at a more leisurely pace, saving fuel while making your trip more memorable.

But the most important reason why you should plan your route ahead of time is to avoid getting lost. Even with Google Maps and Waze at your side, you’ll still be able to progress much faster if you’ve laid out your path beforehand. That being said, it’s always preferable to have both a plan and a map, so keep your phone charged so you can ensure that your trip is going according to plan. You should also keep a paper map handy in case electronic solutions fail.

Practice Land Stewardship


Every tourist is liable to create waste and pollution wherever they go, no matter what they do. So it falls on us travellers to act as stewards of the land and take responsibility for the messes we make.

If you don’t have much space for trash, pack a shovel so you can bury biodegradable waste and keep campgrounds tidy. And if you can, it’ll be even better if you try to leave the place better than how you found it by picking up trash, stamping out improperly placed campfires and the like. 

This extends to any cities, towns or other locations you might visit. While these places have their own stewards, you can do your part by contributing to the local “ecosystem.” Shop local and seek out accommodations that are low-impact and out of the way.

Practice Wildlife Stewardship


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An extension of land stewardship, wildlife stewardship entails taking responsibility for actions that could affect the welfare of wild animals in the places you visit. One of the most important things this involves is refraining from feeding animals.

While this may sound obvious to some, many people insist on feeding wild animals, unaware or unmindful of the negative impact it has.

Human food can be harmful to wild animals’ health, and getting food from humans creates expectations, which leads them to demand food from humans and lash out when they don’t receive it. 

Should you decide to observe wildlife, do so at a distance so as not to disturb them. You’re also best advised to stay on the trails to minimize the damage you can potentially do to animals’ habitats and food sources.

Even something as seemingly harmless as displacing soil can impair its ability to support the growth of local flora and accelerate soil erosion, too.

If you’ve brought along pets, they can behave intrusively and cause imbalances in the ecosystem. Keep a close eye on them so they don’t inadvertently hurt the environments you pass through.

Reduce Car Usage


This might seem antithetical to the whole concept of a road trip, but you’ll be much more eco-friendly if you only use your car only if you absolutely have to. The same rules apply even if you’re using an electric vehicle. Once you’re onsite, park the car somewhere safe and take public transport instead. This way, there’s less need to charge or fill up your car. 

If you’re willing to take things a step further, you can also carpool along your itinerary instead of taking your own car. This bridges the gap between public transport and cars, and is especially useful if you and your travel companions don’t really fill up an entire car.

Carpooling apps like BlaBla make this experience as safe and convenient as hiring an Uber. Alternatively, consider booking a tour with an eco-friendly travel company. Or even better, walk or rent bikes to explore each spot on your itinerary. 

Conserve Device Charge


The longer a road trip stretches, the more people tend to sink into their devices. But this can be more of a power drain than you might think. Charging an average smartphone to full capacity takes about 0.005 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

That may not sound like much, but the more devices you have, the more that consumption compounds. Phones also consume more power as you get farther from a cell tower, as they have to strain harder to get reception.

If you’re driving an EV, constantly draining your phone charge is even more concerning, as charging your phone will directly drain your vehicle’s battery. Considering that EVs consume an average of 0.35 KWh per mile, keeping your devices off the charging ports can mean the difference between making it to the next EV charging station and being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

But even if that didn’t apply, saving power any way you can is just a good thing for the environment in general. Every little bit helps. Besides, keeping your faces from being buried in your devices helps you appreciate the journey more.

That’s more opportunity to play classic driving games and get to know your travel companions on an even deeper level.

Eat Healthier Snacks


As far as reducing carbon footprint goes, this is more impactful than you might think. Avoid taking drive-thrus and purchasing snacks that were produced in emissions-heavy factories. Instead, try to pack your own ethically sourced snacks. Preparing your own meals is also preferable to buying them.

This is another reason to shop local. You can get homemade snacks from corner shops instead of gas stations or convenience stores. Buying in bulk also helps to reduce your carbon footprint. Just keep drinks and perishable food in a cooler.

Even something as simple as packing your own water and refilling the containers when you can will save on a lot of plastic waste.

Whether it’s out in the wild or in another city, we’re all obliged to be good guests. Knowing that we’ve done our part to leave a place in its perfect natural state is its own reward. Getting into the good graces of the locals is icing on the cake.

Feature image: Johannes Plenio; Image 1: Aksonsat, Uanthoeng; Image 2: Bryan Smith

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