Sustainable Road Trip

>> Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sustainable road trip is kind of an oxy-moron, don't you think? Especially when you factor in that we are a three-carseat family, so we have a mini-van. We are also a budget-conscious three-carseat family, so options that might have been more environmentally friendly (like taking a train or bus) were not an option for us.

I think being an expert sustainable road-tripper is something that would take a lot of practice and advance planning. We did pretty lousy at it this time around, but as we clocked in a lot of road time this holiday season (approximately 40 hours), I've had a lot of time to think about what we could have done better.

The Car

What We Did: After a long night of packing, we woke up at 4:00 am, loaded up the car, and set off with sleepy kids still in jamamas (First Son's word for pajamas).

Ways to Do Better Next Year:

  • Make sure our car is ready for the trip, including checking the tire inflation, checking the oil, and getting the oil changed if necessary.

The Trash

What We Did: Each member of the family brought his or her own reusable water bottle, but we also packed a cooler of Coke cans and juice boxes and a bag of snacks. By the time we reached our destination, the car was strewn with litter, which we gathered up and tossed in the trash can.

Ways to Do Better Next Year:
  • Designate a bag as the “recycling bin” and make sure as many drinks and snacks as possible come in recyclable packaging.
  • Homemake more treats to eliminate packaging all together.
  • Do not open mail or Christmas packages in the car.

The Dining Experience

What We Did: Surprisingly, we only ate at restaurants six times on our whole trip (that means 30 meals that we did not eat out). I made muffins before we left, and we ate those a couple times for breakfast. Also, whenever we had a chance to eat at someone's house instead of eat out, we did.

Ways to Do Better Next Year:
  • Pack a cooler of sandwich items, and stop for a picnic at a rest stop or eat in the car.
  • Choose fast food restaurants that are more environmentally friendly and dine in to avoid excessive amounts of trash. Check out Better World Shopper and Green America's Responsible Shopper for ideas.
  • Plan food stops in advance using the Eat Well Guide's trip planner.
The Overnight Stay

What We Did: Most of our trip was spent with various friends and relatives, who do not all share our views on environmentalism and conscious living. We also spent two nights in a hotel.

Ways to Do Better Next Year:
  • Dealing with family who don't share your viewpoints can be a touchy situation and should be approached with care. Sure, you could set up recycling bins at your non-recycling relatives houses, but if that's going to cause family tension, I don't think it's worth it.
  • We don't often stay at hotels, but if we need to again next year, we could look for one that is environmentally conscious.
Comic from


Going Green Mama January 8, 2009 at 10:36 AM  

I like the idea of a recycling bag, but trying to juggle recyclable materials in the mix while traveling (and figuring out where to dispose of them!) is a challenge.

I found that on our Christmas trip most rest stops had can recycling but not always newspaper or plastic. That may be a consideration.

You may also want to plan ahead on the snacks. Buy in bulk or a larger container and divvy up the kids' treats into small containers (they have spill-proof ones too, although they are plastic). That keeps you from having too much small packages littering your car.

"Picnics" can be had year-round. Even with winter temps! We parked at a rest stop and let the kids sit on our laps in the front seat - it was a nice change of pace for them too!

Great blog, by the way...I am adding you to my reader!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper January 9, 2009 at 8:28 PM  

Going Green Mama, You make a good point about the recycling bag. I guess I was thinking more of our situation - we have a minivan and plenty of room so we could take a bag of recyclables with us from one destination to another with no problem. But if you have less space or more people, it could get in the way. Hmmm...Things to consider for next year.

Thanks for the other tips. I'm glad you like the blog!

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