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Road Trip : An American Ritual – How Can it Go Green?
Blog...Road Trip : An American Ritual – How Can it Go Green?

Road Trip : An American Ritual – How Can it Go Green?

Ecology News
A green car on a road
Taking a road trip across the U.S. is a right of passage for almost any American – but how can road trips across America be better for the environment?
Ecology News
A green car on a road

Having moved to all corners of the U.S., having driven across the country twice, and up and down the East coast more times than I can count – I’m pretty familiar with how a road trip across the country goes. The excitement of an open road, adventure, fatigue from sitting for hours on end in the car – but music video moments of playing that song just meant to be heard with the wind blowing through your hair as you breeze across the pavement…

However, most of the road trips I took were when I was a little kid, and there was one big factor never crossed my mind before: the environment.

person with map in car pointing to destination

In a country that isn’t as interconnected as continents like Europe or countries like Japan, a road trip in the U.S. is really the only surefire way to see many of the United State’s greatest hidden treasures: like the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore. 

👉 Taking a road trip is an experience that all Americans, even foreign tourists, dream of doing during their time in the U.S. – but how does it impact the environment? 

Are there ways to adjust this American tradition to pertain to the climate change measures necessary?

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Why is taking a road trip an American tradition? 

The U.S. is known to be a melting pot in terms of diversity – as the country itself is composed of people from around the world who came to the United States in hopes of pursuing a better life or the infamous, “American Dream” – where everyone can live a life of equal opportunity and success. 

Americans thrive on freedom, the root principle the country was built on – and nothing depicts that cultural value more than a road trip. 

car in middle of beach early sunset

Road trips allow for flexibility, low-budget travel, and seeing countrysides of the U.S. that would go unnoticed otherwise. Besides, the country isn’t built with a train system like Europe – so the only feasible option for those who want to see their own country is to see it on the road. 

Is a road trip the most popular way to travel in the United States?

Given the United States is such a large country, roughly twice the size of Europe – many people assume that Americans are always flying around the country to get to where they want to go, but many of my French colleagues were surprised to learn that this isn’t the case.

person sticking feet out the window

👉 Travel isn’t as accessible in the United States as it is in other places around the world. I realized this when my brother showed me how many train lines you can see on Google Maps throughout Europe in comparison to the United States. Flying has become exceptionally expensive in the U.S. over the years, too – with a cross-country flight costing upwards of $600. 

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Even flying short distances in the U.S. has become expensive, with flights from Washington D.C. to Chicago running around $200 a ticket. The logical and most environmentally friendly solution that may come to mind is to take a train, but the railway system isn’t as established or functional as it is in places like Europe. As a point of reference, the distance between Philadelphia and Chicago & Paris and Vienna are about the same – roughly 760 miles in between them. While long, it isn’t improbable to travel from Paris to Vienna via train: with travel time totaling around 10.5 hours. On the other hand, a train from Philly to Chicago via Amtrak is double the time – and at times, even more costly than flying. 

The answer? Most Americans opt to travel by car rather than by train or plane – as it’s often the most cost-effective and time efficient way to get to where they want to go. 

Even if people don’t drive from New York to California, studies still show that taking a road trip is the most popular and common type of travel for Americans – especially following the pandemic where many were wary of taking commercial flights and opted for road travel instead. 

arizona roads red rocks

In a sense, a tradition that way already there amplified even more following the global crisis. Has it made the environmental impact of road trips more prevalent, too? 

Why is taking a road trip bad for the environment? 

A road trip has its downsides, even if they don’t pertain to the environment – like constant fatigue for the one doing the most driving throughout the road trip, and figuring out how to plan to see so much in a limited amount of time. 

However, the most deleterious component of taking a road trip is certainly the environmental impact it entails – and it isn’t just all of the driving. 

Cars Emitting Greenhouse Gasses

Evidently, the biggest impact of taking a road trip is the amount of fuel being used. Many Americans opt to travel via car as it costs less to fill up their tank of gas than it does to travel via more sustainable means such as train. 

Fast Food Impact 

Ever seen those movies or T.V. shows where the character on a road trip has the windshield wiper filed to the brim with empty soda cups and hamburger wrappers? It’s not far from reality – many Americans opt to buy their food along the way, which contributes to excessive waste. 

Cell Phone Data Use & Constant Charging of Devices

Did you know that it’s not just in your head when you’re traveling or on a road trip that your phone battery is dying quicker? 

This is because your cell phone battery requires more power when it’s constantly searching for a signal, and it’s often difficult to have all four bars throughout a road trip. This results in you charging your devices, especially your cell phone, more than you usually would – ultimately consuming excessive amounts of electricity. 

How could you organize your road trip to be more sustainable? 

Still want to take a road trip, but are determined to make it better for the environment?

Here are five easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint during your next road trip. 

Rent an Electric or Fuel Efficient Car

While purchasing an electric car for your everyday use is important, it’s important to consider it as an option for your rental car during vacation, too. Most car rental companies advertise the cameras or heated seats rather than the environmentally friendly benefits of the vehicle, so while this step would require a little extra effort on your part – it’s likely to largely decrease the amount of emissions you're responsible for on your road trip.

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Pack Your Own Road Trip Snacks

Stops at drive-through places like McDonalds and Dairy Queen are a quintessential part of any road trip, but all of that fast food that most road-trippers rely on isn’t good for the environment. The production of your favorite drive-through burger relies on an exorbitant of finite resources like water and livestock – ultimately contributing to greater environmental issues like deforestation and waste.

Even if you stop at 7 Eleven for snacks, odds are you're purchasing something made of plastic that can’t be recycled. The best solution is to pack your own road trip snacks, and bring your own reusable water bottles, tupperware, and utensils – which is what my family and I did for years every time we trekked across the country. Not only will this help the environment, but it will also prevent the need for multiple pit stops and ultimately help you to cover more ground on your road trip.

Shut the Engine Off – Even for Quick Stops

It may seem like a waste of time to shut the engine off when taking a quick pit stop or photo, but it isn’t a waste of time for the environment. Committing to a small but potent action like this can immensely help to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses you emit throughout your road trip.

Plan Your Road Trip Well

Some people think the key to a successful road trip is hitting the pavement without a map in hand – but a calculated adventure can still be fun. Getting lost can be amusing, but often results in more driving which in turn creates more pollution. The solution is to plan your road trip route well in advance to prevent any mishaps that cause you to backtrack and create a larger carbon footprint.

Unplug – Literally!

When on a road trip, try to keep up classic driving-in-the-middle of nowhere traditions like the license plate game or watching the clouds pass by. It’s tempting to play video games and keep all of your devices charged for easy entertainment – but ultimately defeats the purpose of taking a road trip in the first place: spending time with friends and family while discovering isolated parts of the country. 

Contribute to a Carbon Offset Project

If you still want to take your road trip, but are concerned about the environmental consequences in which you have no control over – you can consider contributing to a carbon offsetting project to counteract the potential carbon footprint of your road trip. 

👉 A carbon offset project is when an individual invests in a project dedicated to creating a positive environmental impact to ultimately reduce emissions and combat climate change.

Pack Light & Skimp on Souvenirs 

Did you know that the reason why airlines charge for overweight baggage is because if the plane is too heavy, it requires more fuel to fly? 

people with their luggage and backpacks

The same goes for your own car when taking a road trip: the heavier you pack, the more gas it’s going to take to drive. Therefore, pack light if possible to reduce your fuel consumption and overall carbon footprint. In addition, opt for lightweight souvenirs whenever possible to ensure that you don’t make the car heavier than it already might be. 

All of these are great tips to reduce your environmental impact on your next road trip, but are they enough to condone the overall future of this American tradition? 

Should Americans stop taking road trips? 

Road trips have become an essential part of American culture, and by this point – road trips are becoming obsolete in the U.S. are unlikely to happen. Therefore, it’s important to find new ways to adjust to traditions so that we can keep both them and the planet alive. 

👉 However, on the contrary, what Americans should be doing is finding new ways to get around locally without the need for a car. 

Some states have already started to implement the measures to make this happen: like California banning the purchase of any new gasoline powered vehicles from 2035 onwards in order to encourage the use of new public transportation systems or electric cars. In fact, city driving is worse for both the car itself and the environment – as idle cars are doing nothing more but sitting there releasing superfluous emissions and polluting the atmosphere. 

The biggest challenge in the U.S. is that there is no nation-wide railway system that keeps the country connected – even rural areas. It would be a difficult task to revamp the current system now not only because it requires years of intensive planning and construction, but more so because Americans have now assimilated to life in the U.S. – which means needing a car to get around. 

person driving car

The U.S. is a beautiful country, with many unique points worth stopping at. Road trips themselves don’t need to stop, and in fact should be encouraged in order to heal the prevalent divide the U.S. has seen, but the way they are done clearly needs to be altered for the sake of the environment. 

After all, a road trip depicts the most intriguing concept: it isn’t about the destination, but the journey – and it’s only how we change our habits on the journey that the U.S. and the world can work together and reach their ultimate goals of reducing emissions and saving the planet. 

Road trips don’t need to end – but they do need to go green if we want to have places to road trip to at all. 

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about road trips and their environmental impact has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint. 

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