Is there anything more American than the road trip? We’ve literally got a song about a highway (Route 66)! Numerous road trip themed Instagram accounts exist, and some people (some exceedingly rich people) collect cars as a hobby!
Americans love their cars.
Unfortunately, this obsession with cars has taken its toll on our planet. Carbon emissions from transportation (which includes cars, trains, planes, etc.) make up about 27% of our total emissions in the US. But despite the staggering number of cars in the US, and their emissions, it is still more eco-friendly to take a road trip than to fly somewhere—provided there are at least two people in the car.
I am not immune to the romance of the road, and I went on my own road trip this past week. My aim was to make my trip as eco-friendly as possible. So are five tips I used that will help make your next road trip more sustainable!
#1 Rent/Own a Hybrid or Electric
Cars have become far more fuel efficient in the last few years. Even though non-hybrid cars are more efficient these days, it is still better to drive a hybrid or electric car. My hybrid holds 10 gallons of gas, and I can go about 400 miles on the highway before needing to fill up. (Did I mention hybrids also help you save money?)
Electric cars are a bit trickier to use. Routes including places to charge your car must be planned. PlugShare is a great website to help you find charging stations and plan out your trip. But not only is planning trickier, the environmental impact is less measurable. How does the charging station get its electricity? Is it more sustainable than gasoline? Here in Lexington our utility company gets electricity from dams and natural gas compressors. But some cities use coal and/or fracking. And then you have to determine: is it better to use coal than gasoline?
#2 Keep Your Car in Tip-Top Shape
Keeping your car healthy doesn’t only help with fuel efficiency, it helps maintain your parts. If your tires are underinflated, they will wear down along the wheel, instead of evenly. Blow-outs are more likely (ahh!), and tires will be replaced more frequently.
The same goes for oil changes: if you’re not getting your oil changed regularly, you’re wearing down your engine too quickly. Rental cars can get a check-up, too: simply measure the tire pressure (using a gauge) and the oil level. (Though, pro-tip: most rental cars are newer models, so they’ll tell you if there are problems.)
#3 Avoid Traffic Jams
Sometimes traffic jams are simply unavoidable. An accident happens a few miles ahead of you, and if it’s recent enough, even Waze can’t reroute you.
However, major construction you can avoid. At the very least, look at Google Maps before your trip—it will let you know where construction is and you can plan to avoid it. Traveling the backroads can be great! Interstates don’t give you a complete view of life, while backroads take you into the thick of it.
And if you think that’s silly, avoid traffic jams for your peace of mind!
In August, my husband and I went 3½ hours outside of Lexington to view the eclipse. The return was the worst traffic experience of my life. What should have taken 3½ hours took 8½ hours—we averaged around 30 miles per hour the entire trip. It was maddening! If you’re attending a hugely popular event (like an eclipse), plan to leave the day after all the crowds have left. Your brain and the environment will thank you.
#4 Have a Plan
Planning can really dampen the free-spirit vibe road trips elicit, but it’s eco-friendly. Having a plan helps you conserve gas and time. Driving 15 minutes the wrong way adds 30 minutes extra driving time. And don’t rely exclusively on your GPS. When I go on a road trip I print out directions and use my GPS. Even though it’s the future, not everywhere gets consistent cell service.
But don’t let this discourage you from exploring! On our most recent road trip, we stopped at two nature preserves to stretch our legs and explore. Just make sure your side adventures are part of your plan!
#5 Ditch the RV
RV trips do, in fact, create smaller carbon footprints than “traditional” trips. A “traditional” trip involves flying, driving, and staying in a hotel. But a road trip doesn’t involve flying. And if you’re planning on going camping (which you would be with an RV), car camping is exceedingly more environmentally friendly than using an RV.
But having an RV is a lifestyle many are loathe to part with. I realize this. That’s why…
Bonus Tip: #6 Carbon Offsets
(I already wrote about them, so if you’re not sure what they are read about them here.) If you are unwilling or unable to make serious changes to your road trips, or trade in your RV, the absolute minimum you should do is purchase carbon offsets. A 638-mile trip by RV can be offset by as little as $26—and it would cost even less by car. So if I can leave you with one thought today it’s this: purchase carbon offsets whenever you travel—it’s so important!
Have more “green” road trip tips? Leave them in the comments below!
Now get out there and go!