Show Us Your Green: Top 10 Green Road Travel Tips
By Rand McNally Editors
It seems like everyone’s going green. Websites and advertisements tout green hotels, green destinations, and green tour operators. The world seems to agree that what’s ecologically smart in general is ecologically smart for tourism. We agree. Here are some tips that will make your next road trip as green as the scenery.
#1: Stay Tuned
A car in good repair runs more efficiently. Period. Get tune ups and oil changes and replace air, oil, and fuel filters on schedule. Find out what grade of motor oil your car’s manufacturer recommends, and use it. You can boost your gas mileage by 1 to 2 percent this way. Keep tires properly inflated—not only can this save 400 to 700 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, but it can also improve your gas mileage by up to 3 percent.
#2: Plan Your Route
Use a GPS and/or maps and directions to find the most direct routes. This saves on gas and reduces your carbon footprint. Though we don’t want you to miss out on great sights or forego bathroom breaks, try to reduce the number of stops along the way by creating a formal itinerary. Continuously stopping and starting up a cold engine is less efficient than driving for longer stretches with a warm engine. When you do stop, though, don’t idle—as the Department of Energy points out, idling gets exactly 0 miles to the gallon.
#3: Lighten Up—Literally
Lighter vehicles are more fuel efficient. Bring only what’s essential for planned activities and safe, comfortable road travel. Limit multiples to socks, underwear, and wardrobe-stretching accessories. Select double-duty footwear (e.g., hiking shoes that work equally well for sightseeing, sandals that transition readily from day to night). Opt for mix-and-match clothes made of wrinkle-resistant, hand-washable, fast-drying fabrics. On that formal itinerary you created, jot down the items you need for each day. Then create your packing list—and go back and edit, edit, edit. If you pack less stuff, you might even be able to ditch the roof rack, which increases aerodynamic drag and thus reduces fuel efficiency.
#4: Shut Down
Before leaving home, check that small appliances are turned off—or, better yet, unplugged to eliminate the so-called ghost power drain from them. Turn the air-conditioning off and the heat off or down. And you don’t need all the lights blazing all the time to ensure home security. Put only essential lights on timers. Turn off the sprinkler system, and ask a neighbor to turn it on only for short periods during any dry spells. Finally, pick up a solar-power source for recharging cell phones, tablets, and other small devices you plan to use on the road. You know your trip’s going to be full of sun, so why not harness some of it?
#5: Lighten Up—Figuratively
Don’t drive aggressively. Exceeding speed limits, slamming brakes, and accelerating like a scared jackrabbit can lower fuel efficiency by more than 30 percent at highway speeds. And, even on interstates, avoid driving faster than 60 miles per hour. Above that speed, fuel efficiency decreases dramatically. Cruise control is the fuel-conscious driver’s friend. It helps conserve gas by keeping your speed constant. Four-wheel drive is another matter; use it only when you must.
#6: Park It
When you hit a city, park your car and use public transit. The inevitable idling in traffic or driving around to find on-street parking near every place you visit doesn’t make sense when there are buses or subways at hand. Even better, sign up for a walking tour with a local operator. It’s a great chance to take a break from driving, get some exercise, and get up close and personal with the destination. Plus, there’s nothing like zero emissions!
#7: Don’t Be Tempted to Waste
At hotels, don’t let the temptation to get your money’s worth lead to wasteful habits. Use linens for more than one day, and avoid letting the water run the whole time you shower or brush your teeth. Set the thermostat to reasonable levels, especially when leaving the room. (And don’t forget to turn off those lights.) Convenience stores also encourage wastefulness. Don’t let ‘em. Use refillable bottles or thermoses for beverages, and buy fewer packaged goods. (Banana peels and apple cores, biodegradable; shrink-wrap, cardboard, and plastic bags, not so much.) Properly recycle materials from any packaged goods you do buy.
#8: Respect Nature
The rules in state and federal parks protect you and the environment, so follow them. When hiking, stay on trails (in single file or in pairs) to avoid disturbing the surrounding flora and fauna. Don’t pocket anything from nature. And please don’t feed the animals. Doing so exposes you to attack or disease and endangers the animal by giving it foods that aren’t part of its natural diet and by teaching it to associate humans with food. When camping, stick to official sites to minimize your impact on the environment. It goes without saying that you should clean up after yourself. Remember: take only pictures, leave only footprints.
#9: Support the Greens
Try to patronize hotels and other businesses that are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program and/or the U.S Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Certified businesses have been scrutinized in terms of air quality, energy efficiency, waste reduction and disposal, water conservation, and use of recycled and organic materials—both for everyday items and construction materials.
#10: Support the Locals
Being an environmentally friendly road tripper involves more than just conserving and recycling. It also involves contributing to the places you visit. Try to patronize locally owned and operated boutiques, inns, farm stands, and restaurants. This way, the money you spend stays in the community instead of being siphoned off to some faraway headquarters. Plus, you’ll learn more about the people and places you visit—you might even make new friends, or, at least, get some insider trip-enriching tips.