It wasn’t the brainiest idea I’d ever had: to pile the kids into the car and drive from our house in Atlanta to a park outside of Pittsburgh where my cousin was getting married. Still, we’d discovered over the past year during long drives to Florida and Illinois that we loved road trips. We loved the snacks, the endless visual entertainment streaming past our windows, following our route on our smartphone’s map.
And although taking public transportation or flying can be better for the environment than driving1, sometimes it is more convenient or cost-effective, especially for a family of 3 or 4, to drive. I’ve learned that we can offset some of that green guilt by being as environmentally responsible as possible before and during our trip. Proper Green has some easy-to-follow tips for greening everyday driving, and here are some tips that I used on our long drive:
1. Get your car road-ready. Get a tune-up before you travel to make sure that your tires are properly inflated and your air filters are clean, both of which can improve your fuel efficiency. Also, use the proper grade of motor oil for your car, and look for oil that says “energy saving,” which contains additives that help reduce friction.
2. Plan your route and schedule. Map out the shortest route to your destination, and take into account any rush hours you may encounter, scheduling your driving time so that you’ll avoid sitting in traffic and wasting fuel (and time).
3. Pack up your car efficiently. Before you pack up your car, clean out anything you don’t need to bring with you to lighten your load (extra weight decreases your car’s fuel efficiency). Travel light, and try to fit everything in the trunk of your car, rather than using a roof rack, which reduces the car’s aerodynamics and decreases gas mileage.
4. Drive smart. Sticking to the speed limit isn’t just safe, it also helps your car use gas more efficiently.2 Using your car’s cruise control feature, if you’re on a relatively level highway, can also help conserve gas, since you are maintaining a steady speed. Aggressive driving also won’t earn any points in the gas-saving game… or with your blood pressure.
5. Pack smart snacks. While it’s tempting to load up on snack chips, candy bars and convenience-store hot dogs, it’s wiser to pack a reusable shopping bag full of healthy snacks that you pre-portion into reusable plastic containers, so you can avoid all the wrappers and packaging from individually-packaged gas-station snacks. Think trail mix made from nuts and dried fruit, sandwiches made from lean meat or peanut butter and jelly, or fresh fruit. Fill your reusable travel bottles with water, and freeze a few extra, too — by the time you’re ready to drink it, it’ll be thawed but still chilly.
6. Stay awake, naturally. When you feel your eyes drooping, you don’t need artificial stimulants. Pack a few navel oranges or clementines, and peel one when you’re getting sleepy behind the wheel. The sweet flavor and citrus scent will give you a natural energy boost. Mints have a similarly stimulating effect.
7. Stock the car with earth-friendly entertainment. Download digital magazines or books to your iPad, Kindle or other e-reader device and you’ll save paper and space in an already-crowded car. For kids, pack eco-friendly art materials like recycled paper and natural wax or soy crayons or colored pencils, and check out a stack of new books from the library (just be sure not to lose them!). Before you go, brush up on your old-fashioned travel games — like I Spy or 20 Questions — that don’t even need any pieces!
How will you make your next road trip more eco-friendly? Share your suggestions in the comments below!
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When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.