Road trips – don’t we love them! Not only is this way of travel the most pandemic friendly one, but it also means absolute flexibility and freedom. And best of all: You definitely don’t need a van or motorhome to enjoy a good old road trip. Even before buying my van in June 2020, I had countless road trips with my sister. We either slept in a tent next to her car or on an air mattress in the trunk of a rental SUV.
Although driving has a bad environmental reputation, you don’t need to feel guilty if you want to enjoy this type of travel. In fact, there are numerous things you can do to make any road trip more eco friendly. Let’s get right to it:
1. Find A Road Trip Buddy/ Buddies
Sharing the ride with other people is the nr. 1 way to make your road trip more eco friendly. Research finds that, at single occupancy (20-25% of car seats), “the climate impact is at the level of an average air trip” of a comparable distance (YCC, 2015). On the other hand, increasing the number of passengers in a car from 1 to 4, can reduce carbon emissions from 171g to 43g per person (BBC, 2019).
That’s why you should plan a trip with friends, a partner, family members, etc. Even if you’re a solo road tripper, you could offer parts of your journey on carpooling websites, such as BlaBlaCar. I get that it may not be ideal in terms of social distancing, but keep this tip in mind once the pandemic is over. (And don’t forget the added benefit of saving some sweet cash if you don’t travel by yourself.)
2. Invest in items that will help you reduce waste
This topic is huge. I can’t stress enough that we shouldn’t simply rely on recycling. Instead, our main focus must be to reduce waste in the first place. A great way to do this is to invest in re-usable items, such as food containers, cutlery, water bottles, coffee cups, shopping bags, metal straws, etc. For instance, if 2 million people chose to reuse a coffee cup just once a week, this would save 104 million cups from ending in landfills each year (Sherriff, 2019)
This tip may save you several kilos of waste on a single road trip already. However, making lifelong changes, using reusable items can help you reduce waste, lower your environmental impact and save money (NatureCode, 2020).
3. Follow The Leave No Trace Principles
Whenever we are out in the countryside we should act responsibly towards the flora & fauna that we encounter. This includes fire safety, consciously pooping in nature, not disturbing wildlife, and reducing your impact on the local ecosystem, for example by keeping any chemicals out of these. You can find more information on the Leave No Trace Principles in this post, in which I explained each principle in detail.
4. Plan Your Meals Wisely
When it comes to food and sustainability, I could write an entire book. There are so many ways food impacts our environmental impact. Here are a few things to consider.
Did you know that a third of all the food produced ends up in the trash? A third of all food! We can help to reduce this number by simply planning ahead and not buying less. Rather than ending up throwing food in the bin, you should simply get groceries/ snacks more regularly. If you’re on a trip with a van/ motorhome and able to cook your own meals, make meal plans to avoid purchasing too much.
Furthermore, you’re better off buying food that doesn’t spoil quickly, especially if you don’t have a fridge or cooling boy with you. This means buying dry goods as well as fresh veggies and fruits, rather than animal products (which often need to be kept cool).
Lastly, consider the environmental impact behind producing the food you eat. As a simple rule of thumb, try to get local and seasonal food and avoid animal products. Disclaimer: I am a vegan myself, so I’m biased. However, the vegan diet is proven to be the most sustainable one, as it uses the least amount of land and water as well as creates the fewest greenhouse gases, to name just a few aspects.
Although I’d love everyone to go vegan, you don’t have to give up animal
products all at once. Even choosing to eat plant-based a few times a week can already have massive environmental benefits. And trust me: Vegan food is not boring (just check out these pancakes, which I made in Sweden).
Keep your eyes peeled for a comprehensive blog post on this topic in the near future.
5. Be A Slow Traveller
“Slow Travel” is making your road trip more eco friendly in two ways. Firstly, you can take that term quite literal. Your vehicle’s fuel usage is much lower if you’re driving slowly (or slower than you normally would). For instance, reducing your driving speed from 130 km/h to 110 km/h decreases fuel consumption by 18% for gasoline cars and by 12% for diesel cars (EEA, 2020).
Secondly, as described in this post, you can lower your carbon footprint by taking the journey one step at a time. If your destination is far away, try to make the most of the journey by stopping along the way regularly. Give yourself time to appreciate many of the amazing gems along the way, which you’d have missed otherwise. Furthermore, staying at stop for a few days, rather than just one night means you spend less time driving and more time enjoying your destination. This will, in turn, also lower your carbon footprint.
6. Become A Better Driver
Here’s a tip that is very obvious, but which most people barely think about. Your driving style strongly affects the amount of fuel you’re using. In order to make your road trip more eco friendly you should consider whether you drive smoothly, gear up early enough, how often you break unnecessarily, how much you idle, etc. For detailed tips on fuel efficient driving check out this website by the UK Government.
Additionally, you should also familiarise yourself with your vehicle as best as you can. Make sure that it’s always in a top-notch condition by doing regular check-ups. Needless to say, this will also make your trip much safer.
7. Reduce the weight of your vehicle
It’s a pretty simple calculation: the heavier your vehicle is, the more fuel you will use.Moreover, decreasing your vehicle’s weight will not only lower the environmental impact of your road trip, but also save you money (NRC, 2014). That means: Avoid over-packing and embrace the minimalist lifestyle of being on the road. Trust me, you probably won’t need all that stuff you were thinking of bringing anyways.
8. Drive an Old Car
HEAR ME OUT. Yes, I realise that this seems counter-intuitive at first. You may think modern cars are more fuel-efficient and emit fewer pollutants. To some extent you’re right. However, the production of new vehicles has significant environmental costs, particularly concerning hybrid cars. At the same time, discarding an old car for a new one means an ever-growing pile of scrap. In general, it is more sustainable to postpone replacement purchases of any item, including cars. Therefore, rather than contributing to the throw-away culture we should aim to use and maintain cars for as long as possible (Scientific American, 2009).
This is not just a tip for more eco friendly road trips, but for a more sustainable relationship with cars on the whole. So if you have to acquire a “new” vehicle, consider doing Mama Nature a favour and buy a used one.
9. Offset Your carbon emissions
This is the tip for everyone that wants to go above and beyond: Offset your carbon emissions! That means you support projects, which aim to counteract climate change and reforest ecosystems. Besides that, these projects also have numerous economic social benefits, such as creating employment, access to health and education centres, etc. (GHG Institute, 2021).
You can calculate the approximate emissions you’ve created on your road trip by using this website. After calculating your emissions, this website will also suggest how much you should donate as well as examples of carbon reduction projects to donate to. Keep in mind that Carbon Offsetting is not a perfect solution, but it’s a good start for individuals to make a difference.
I hope you found these tips helpful and easy to implement for your upcoming road trips. Let me know if anything is unclear or if you have any questions by leaving me a comment or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org <3 I’m looking forward to hearing from you!