There’s nothing like an epic road trip. Adventure unfolds through scenic vistas, endless highways, local haunts, and roadside gems. And in these socially-distant times, car travel is an appealing, low-risk way to quench a case of wanderlust.
If you’re planning a “Great American Road Trip” for Labor Day, you’re not alone. Analysts expect the year’s highest travel rates over the upcoming holiday weekend, with most of us exploring by highway.
But our carbon footprints can shift into high gear on the road. It can be harder to stick to eco-conscious habits when we’re away from our daily routines; we might travel further, consume more, and create more waste than we would otherwise.
Tourism accounts for 8% of global emissions. But you can still see the world and espouse pro-planet values. When planning a sustainable road trip, it helps to think about your decisions in four ways:
- How you get there;
- Where you go;
- What you pack; and
- What you do when you arrive.
Understand the most impactful choices in each key area to keep your carbon footprint low when you hit the highway.
1. How You Get There: Prioritize Sustainable Transportation
Transportation is responsible for a fifth of global emissions and is the tourism industry’s largest source of greenhouse gas. That’s why the best way to make your road trip more sustainable is to get smart about how you get there.
Biggest Impact: Take a Low-Carbon Vehicle
Gasoline purchases are one of the top three carbon footprint drivers for the Joro community.
Reduce your on-the-road emissions by taking an electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid. If you’re renting a car, opt for the car with the best mileage per gallon in your price range.
Ready to retire that old gas guzzler? This guide to eco-friendly vehicles demystifies sustainable car ownership.
For the greenest “road trip” possible, take the train or bus. These vehicles carry a large number of passengers, reducing the emissions attributed to each individual. Plus, railroads pass through gorgeous scenery you can’t see from the highway, and Amtrak offers multi-stop passes so you can hop on and off to see the sights.
High Impact: Carpool with Your Crew
Every person you add to your vehicle reduces each individual passenger’s carbon footprint. Instead of driving separately, take as few cars as possible. Bonus: you’ll save money on gas!
Boost Your Impact: Drive Efficiently
- Preventative Maintenance: Small fuel-efficiency gains make a big difference on long drives. Get an oil change, swap out dirty air filters, and top off your tires before you leave to maximize mileage.
- Drive Smart: Drive strategically to use gas more efficiently. Cruise at 65 mph or lower, avoid idling in rush hour traffic, and steer clear of steep terrain with Flattest Route.
Want more? Learn everything you need to know about eco-friendly driving on the Joro app.
2. Where You Go: Pick Eco-Conscious Destinations
By choosing your destination strategically, maximize adventure while keeping your carbon footprint at a minimum.
Biggest Impact: Discover Local Gems
We’ve been stuck at home for way too long. So if you’re itching to get as far away as possible, we feel you. But if you drive a gas-powered car, each additional mile inflates your carbon footprint.
You don’t have to travel cross-country for a legendary road trip. Chances are, there’s an incredible adventure hidden in your own backyard. If you’re based in the US, Only in Your State is a treasure trove of unique places to visit close to home.
High Impact: Sleep Light
- Go Camping: Spend time hiking, swimming, and biking instead of splurging and spending in a city. Reserve a site at a state park or national forest, or discover private glamping and camping gems on HipCamp.
- Try a Home Share: Check out AirBnb, Couchsurfing, or VRBO for a local experience with a light footprint. Studies conducted by AirBnb found the company's US home shares consume 63% less energy per night than equivalent hotel stays.
- Sustainable Hotels: Big resorts and all inclusives are notorious for poor social and environmental practices. Look up eco-lodges, green hotels, and mom-and-pop establishments along your route to support the type of hospitality we need more of.
Boost Your Impact: Pick a Walkable City
If you’re more of an urban explorer, visit pedestrian-friendly cities to rely less on your car. Some neighborhoods are better than others, so check a spot’s walkability score before you book accomodation.
3. What You Bring: Sustainable Packing List
Our consumption habits change when we travel, and usually not for the better. Gas station treats, take out waste, and single-use toiletries can spell disaster for a sustainable road trip. Avoid on-the-road pitfalls by packing smart and sustainably.
Biggest Impact: Pack Reusable Items
Worldwide, we buy a million plastic bottles every minute; and Americans alone use half a billion plastic straws each day. (That’s more than the entire US population!) And single-use plastic is even harder to avoid when we’re off our usual routes.
But you can be pro-planet on-the-go; you just have to plan ahead! Make a list of all the single-use items you expect to encounter and pack reusable alternatives.
Most roadtrippers will need: a water bottle, travel mug, reusable straws, food storage containers, cutlery, and reusable shopping and produce bags. And if you won’t have access to clean water, a small filtration device can stand in for dozens of plastic bottles.
Want more? Build new habits with these planet-friendly tips for ditching plastic.
Boost Your Impact: Sustainable Packing
- BYO Toiletries: Tiny hotel toiletries aren’t recyclable, so fill reusable travel containers with the skin and hair care products you use at home. Or, pack a multi-use body bar to save space!
- Pack Eco-Friendly Snacks: Stick to conscious eating habits by bringing your own munchies. Pack a cooler for perishables and cold beverages, or stuff a few stasher bags with your favorite dry treats.
- Go Shopping in Your Own Closet: Everyone loves a good road trip aesthetic, but our fast fashion habits are bad for the planet. Embrace the principles of a sustainable closet and buy only what you need.
4. What You Do: Pro-Planet Itinerary
As tourists, our presence has an impact on the local landscape. Make mindful choices about how you spend your time to support the businesses that make your destination worth the trip.
Biggest Impact: Create Memories, Not Waste
Souvenirs are one way to remember a vacation, but paddle boarding through a new city or conquering a grueling hike can be even more fulfilling.
Choose experiences over consuming to keep your footprint low. The RoadTrippers app reveals quirky, offbeat attractions along your route. And look no further than AllTrails for nearby hiking, biking, and camping spots.
High Impact: Explore the Outdoor Attractions
Do a little research before your trip and visit environmentally-minded and outdoor attractions along your route. Check out the US Parks resource hub to discover national parks near you, explore popular park features, and learn what you need to know for a successful visit.
Boost Your Impact: Support Green Businesses
- Use Sustainable Tour Operators: Experience the best of a location while supporting organizations working to keep it that way. Look up sustainable tours before you arrive, and prioritize ones that give specific, transparent details about their operations.
- Support Green/Local Businesses: Keep money in the local economy and support local sustainability efforts by patronizing green businesses. Local foodie and sustainability groups on Facebook are great places to get the insider scoop.
Offset Your Footprint
We all need to reduce our personal emissions; but even the best among us have a carbon footprint. Joro helps you track and manage your impact at home and while you travel. Then, we’ll offset your monthly emissions through a portfolio of high quality projects. It’s automatic, so you don’t have to think about anything but the (sustainable) road ahead.
Become a Net Zero member today!