The Sustainable Road Trip


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Road tunes are everything - windows down, the glare of the sun warming spirits, while music streams at the highest decibel the car speakers allow, blasting the moment's palpable emotions and setting the pace for the miles ahead. I spent my twenties this way, on the road to something or someone, but alas, life changes. Adulthood is about staying put, building stability and a home. When we're younger, there are moments set aside for travel, usually in the form of a good road trip. Freedom is hitting the road while time is still open and responsibilities are not yet dangling on our horizons. It's a time many of us gladly experienced, but few felt we'd ever recapture.

Enter 2020 - the strangest year on record. The year where everything that was, seems suspended in a distant memory, and distant memories became present again as if they'd never faded. In 2020, the Great American Road Trip has been reborn. One year ago, international travel was booming. Discount airlines supplied every major airport in the country with options to explore far-flung exotic locales. Once a luxury, international travel had become affordable to the masses. Globalization ensured we'd arrive to hosts welcoming us in our own language while offering some comforts of home. Environmentalists have long sounded the warning siren. Carbon emissions were growing. Negative social impacts on unprotected communities expanded as the crowds of tourists descended in waves to gaze at exotic local cultures and their wares. And then America stopped.

While airlines continue to run and plane travel is again possible, many of us have hit the pause button. We are staying closer to home. Whether for economic reasons or out of a mindful adherence to social-distancing procedures, the state of the hospitality industry makes clear - most of us are wary of going far right now. However, travel is still possible and can be done safely. The good news is that road trips are beneficial to local economies and are less impactful to the environment than long-haul tourism. If you're hitting the road this holiday or just taking a mental hiatus from the confines of your work/study/live space, here are tips for creating a socially conscious, sustainable road trip that maximizes your freedom and minimizes your worries.

Road trips were born from the joys of freedom

There is no better way to travel and see America's sights than on your own time, where you can stop to breathe in the wonders of the day for as long as you need. You just go on your own whim and as you feel ready to proceed. Thus, joy is maximized by keeping your plans simple and your baggage light. For many of us, this was easier in our younger years but is counter-intuitive in our responsibility-focused adulthoods, but the gains are in your effort to simplify. The ease of a road trip is that you don't need to plan for every eventuality. What you forget can be picked up along the way. What you don't bring might not have been needed anyway. The lighter your load, the lighter your soul. Make a point to go light and leave the over-thinking at home.

Sustainability is easier than you think

There is no such thing as environmental travel. We will always have an impact. That said, we can make responsible choices that decrease our environmental load easily. Most sustainable travel choices are also beneficial to your bottom line too. For example, road trips allow for packing items that can be reused. When you leave directly from home and avoid airline restrictions, taking along drinks in reusable containers is easy and cost effective. Also, ensuring your tires are cared for, and their air pressure is at recommended levels saves you gas money while making your car more efficient. Save even more by using apps such as Waze, gasbuddy.com, or your car's GPS, which helps find filling stations without driving miles out of your way. Car travel also allows you to bring other essentials without needing travel containers. Bring shampoos in the containers they came in. Throw some of your reusable grocery totes in the car with dish soap and reusable utensils to use and wash wherever you are. The genius in all this? Your planning time is significantly reduced. Reuse what you have at home, and there's no need for rushed shopping trips beforehand. Just grab and go!

Reuse luggage you already have and buy gear gently used

Purchasing inexpensive, temporary items adds to our landfills. Think about owning long-lasting, higher-end luggage, and clothing. If your travels include outdoor pursuits, consider purchasing gear from brands such as switchbackr.com or rei.com that are knowledgeable about inspecting gently used items and host web listings of used equipment at significant discounts.

Be realistic with your time

You can drive coast to coast in three and a half days. Do not do that! One, driving slowly is less taxing on your nerves while emitting fewer car emissions. Two, as a reminder, road trips are about freedom. Don't plan itineraries that require rigid adherence—instead, plan to visit one or two sites requiring no more than three hours of daily driving. Better yet, avoid planning altogether and use pre-tested itineraries. Local visitors' bureaus supply downloadable routes, as do sites such as frommers.com, which also hosts a podcast entitled Great American Road Trips for the MTV Generation! Another excellent trip idea – Visitalbuquerque.com offers itineraries for the post-pandemic sightseeing era along the vintage Route 66. It's worth checking out. Local guides reduce motor vehicle idling by mapping out efficient paths while supplying useful info such as parking costs and locations.


Music makes the journey

The most sustainable road trip item is your playlist. It makes the trip. It's the beating heart of your travels. Invest time planning it. Turn it up and allow the rhythm to penetrate your soul - floating you along the scenery of the open road ahead.

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