How To Help The Planet While You’re On A Road Trip


A couple of years ago, on a road trip to the Grand Canyon, I was absolutely blown away by Flagstaff, Arizona. And “blown away” puts it mildly, to be honest. I’d never been to Arizona before. I expected red rock and, well, you know, the Grand Canyon. But Flagstaff was in the mountains — it was green everywhere, the smell of pine drifted through the air. It snows there, in Arizona. And the town was cool, like hippiesh. I watched live music and ate at delicious little restaurants.

“Oh,” I realized about midway through my stay, “I could live here.” If you had asked me the week before if there was any chance there was a place in Arizona I would volunteer to live, I would have laughed at you.

That’s the magic of a road trip: it forces you to see places you had dismissed — staying overnight in cool towns, meeting exciting people. When you fly, you tend to only pick the places that you’re sure you’ll vibe with. And that’s doing yourself a disservice. It’s why I think road tripping through the country is an experience everyone should absolutely have.

At the same time, we always have to think about our environmental footprint when we travel. And while driving across the country has a lot of benefits, environmentally speaking, it does affect the world. With that in mind, we came up with a list of suggestions to travel the country while making the planet a better place. Here are some ways you can give back to the Earth while also living your best life.

Bring a water bottle.

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Kind of obvious, but at the same time, how many times have you bought a plastic water bottle because it was more convenient at the moment? Cut down on the plastic by planning ahead and bringing a reusable water bottle with you.

It’s not like you need to hit up campsites to refill, either. Gas stations always have free water in the soda station. Fill up often, stay hydrated, and know you’re not contributing to an overflowing landfill. Here’s what else you should bring: a reusable coffee cup for the late night drives, your own towel, and your own Tupperware for meals out. Any trip you go on, you’re going to eat out at some point. It might feel slightly weird to pull out your own Tupperware rather than take the styrofoam container for the other half of your grilled cheese, but when you eat that sucker cold on the drive the next morning, won’t you feel way better knowing that you’re not throwing out more waste after?

Donate to offset your carbon footprint

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You expend energy and fuel on a road trip, that’s undeniable. One way you can offset that is to donate to an environmentally friendly charity based on your carbon footprint. This calculator is awesome. You enter your miles, car type, and car year, and it tells you what your carbon footprint is from the drive. Then you can donate one dollar for every 10th of a metric ton of CO2 emissions. So if your trip footprint is 0.16 metric tons of CO2e, donate 16 dollars. If it’s 0.345 metric tons of CO2e, donate $34.50. And if you’re looking for a place to send that money to, The Nature Conservancy is an awesome organization that protects land and water all over the world.

Marie Kondo your packing list.

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Sometimes when we take a road trip, we think, “Oh cool, now that I don’t have to worry about airplane overhead space and checking luggage, I can just bring all my clothes plus the kitchen sink. You know, in case I want to wear a kitchen sink.”

But the heavier you car is, the more fuel you expend. The EPA says that every additional 100 pounds of weight in your car decreases your fuel efficiency by over 1%. And does 1 percent sound like a lot? Maybe not. But think about how many of us are on the road? If we all pack lighter, that adds up. So, maybe you don’t need a bunch of outfit options. Pick a few awesome things and then, re-wear. You look great in everything anyway.

Bring snacks with you.

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Yes, we get it, whatever your go-to gas station snack is, is very good. But it’s also packed in plastic and definitely as terrible for you as it is for the environment. Pack your own snacks, trailmix, sandwiches, etc, everyone will thank you later. Including your future self.

Buddy up.

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This is an easy one. Road trips are more fun with more people! And look, when you’re heading to say, a group cabin or skiing weekend, we know it’s tempting for every person or couple to take their own car for the convenience and flexibility. But while it takes away that slight convenience, carpooling takes an entire car off the road.

You wanted to leave at 9am but your friends need to leave at 1030? Your slight compromise to carpool helps minimize emissions.

Pick up trash.

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When you hike, always bring a bag with you (you know, one of the ones you ended up getting at Target because you totally forgot your reusable grocery bag last week), and pick up any trash you see. It’s a little thing, but it’s also easy to simply ignore when you could make things better.

Take a day to maintain a trail in a National Park.

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When you’re on the road, you can connect up with a spot on the itinerary to do a little work, especially for our national parks. Amazing trails, like the Appalachian Trail, rely heavily on volunteers to help with trail maintenance and general upkeep. Check out this list of volunteer opportunities to hit up while road tripping to find the right fit!

Bring a bike.

Photo by Jonny Kennaugh on Unsplash

You might need to drive across the country, but when you’re overnight in cities or you get to your destination, having a bike will significantly cut back on your carbon footprint. Put the car away and bike everywhere. You’ll see less mainstream areas of any city or park, get exercise, and keep from adding extra impact on the environment. Have fun!