Top Tips for Eco-Friendly Roadtrips

Eco-friendly road trips

Guest blogger David Moss shares his top tips for making your road trip as eco-friendly as possible.

During the summer months and around the holidays are the times of the year when most families take road trips. Whether these journeys are to visit other family members or purely for fun, they result in a large number of vehicles on the roadways at the same time. This can have a serious and negative impact on the environment. Transportation emissions lead to serious health problems in Australia, and road trips are a big part of the problem. When it takes three newly planted trees more than ten years of growing in order to erase the effects of just one vehicle driving 261 miles, this seemingly innocent method of travel becomes quite concerning. Luckily, there are many ways that you can make your road trip more eco-friendly.

1. Pick an Energy-Efficient Car
If you are going to be driving, and you are concerned about air pollution and your carbon footprint, your best option is to use an eco-friendly car that is designed to produce fewer emissions. Most electric or hybrid cars are better for the environment and can be excellent choices for your road trip. Most major rental chains now have hybrid vehicles available that you can rent and use for your journey. In addition to looking for fuel economy, choose a vehicle that is white or another light color that will reflect the heat of the sun.

2. Get Your Car Tuned Up
If you opt to use your own vehicle for your road trip, make sure that you get a tune-up before you begin. Having a well-maintained car will increase its fuel efficiency and also prolong its lifespan. For example, a dirty air filter restricts the movement of air through the vehicle’s engine and exhaust system, lowering your fuel efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Similarly, using bad spark plugs can decrease the number of miles you travel per gallon of gas by up to 12 percent. Also, do not forget about checking your tire inflation; you can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent with tires at the proper pressure. Consider having a licensed car mechanic give your vehicle a good check for any possible deficiencies that might otherwise lower your travel efficiency.

3. Pack Lightly
Carrying the extra weight of unnecessary clothing, supplies and other clutter can reduce the fuel economy of your vehicle. You want to keep your luggage small and able to fit inside the body of your car, such as in the backseat or in the trunk. Adding a rooftop cargo box may seem like a good idea because it will allow more passenger space inside the vehicle, but the weight and shape of this box kills your vehicle’s aerodynamic shape and can reduce its fuel efficiency by up to 25 percent.

4. Plan Your Route
While taking a spontaneous trip with your family seems like an exciting and fun idea, it can actually be less efficient and less eco-friendly. If you plan your route before you embark on your journey, you can locate the fastest, most efficient route and save fuel. In addition, you can plan any necessary overnight stops at eco-friendly hotels or campsites that will save your time, your money and the earth. Green-friendly lodging can fill up quickly, so you will most likely want to plan and book these accommodations in advance.

5. Drive Sensibly
If you maintain a consistent speed while driving, you will be much more efficient and eco-friendly. For example, moments of rapid acceleration, excessive speeding and sudden braking can decrease your fuel efficiency by 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent in the city. When you maintain a constant speed, on the other hand, you save fuel and the condition of your vehicle. Use cruise control as much as possible. You also want to avoid idling your engine for more than two minutes at a time because you will burn through between a quarter- and a half-gallon of gas per hour. If you must idle for longer, turn off your engine to conserve fuel.

6. Pack Your Own Snacks and Buy Local
Save your money and bring your own food and drinks on your road trips. Not only is fast food unhealthy for you, but the packaging is also wasteful and bad for the environment. Shop for locally produced, fresh ingredients to support the communities you are visiting, but be wary of overbuying products with packaging that must be trashed afterward. Instead, bring your own reusable containers and bags that you can use for your shopping and to recycle waste items.

7. Limit Air Conditioning
Using your vehicle’s air conditioning system contributes to global warming and is unfriendly to the environment. Instead of running the air conditioning to cool your vehicle, try opening the windows while you are driving, parking in the shade and using windshield sunshades to keep your vehicle cool. On-board gadgets, such as touch screens, Wi-Fi connections and navigational systems can also consume and waste fuel, so use these items as sparingly as possible.

8. Choose Eco-Friendly Activities
Even if you choose a hybrid car and drive sensibly, you still must be careful about the travel activities that you select. Try going without electronics and choosing eco-friendly activities such as hiking and bicycling rather than attending a wasteful amusement park. You can greatly reduce your carbon footprint by opting for similarly eco-friendly activities.
Road trips can be a great experience for families with kids to bond as they travel, but they can also be a source of great wastefulness. By choosing some of these options over the more traditional ideas, you can help make your road trip both fun for you and your kids, and safe for the environment.

David Moss is a Detroit-based freelance automotive writer. When he is not writing about anything on four wheels, he enjoys hiking, camping and road trips. You can follow him via Twitter @davidcmoss