New Rules of the Road Print
Written by Jenni Person, BT Contributor   
July 2018

Tips to keep it green during your family car trip

SPix_FamilyMatters_7-18ummer family road trips have a way of sealing family culture into our cells. We talk, we laugh, we argue, we yell. My sister and I used to harmonize along for hours to the Beatles, Carole King, and Carly Simon that our parents thankfully selected and controlled on the in-dash eight-track player as our Dadillac sailed down I-95. Some families play the geography game, and some siblings devolve into boxing matches from a classic game of punch buggy.

Like me on my childhood family road trips, my kids are allowed treats they’re not usually presented, like fast food and sugar cereal. Yet they would most definitely report that, even on the road, we still uphold some policies central to life in our household.

One routine that is never optional: recycling. It annoys them on vacation just as much as it does on all the other days. And I can’t blame them because, I’ll admit it, it may seem a little weird and cumbersome that their mom schleps empty cans across state lines in a reusable cloth bag as we pass rest area garbage can after outlet mall garbage can overflowing with one-time-use refuse. As annoying as it is to us all, given how incompatible much of our country is with it, living as green as possible remains a regular practice. That’s part of the family culture that I want sealed.

As we head out on the road this summer, I’m thinking, as usual, about how to maintain a commitment to the environment while traveling. First, there’s the obvious stuff, like ditch the fuel dependence or go for fuel efficiency in vehicle choice -- the choices have expanded vastly and relatively affordably. I’ve seen more and more power stations for electric cars at places as mundane as the off-Interstate Premium Outlet Mall, so going electric is clearly a more viable option than ever. For a fueled vehicle, check out the money-saving fuel usage tips from AAA that help the environment as well. And if you’re old enough to own a car, to have kids, and to be crazy enough to plan a road trip with them, you probably have a good sense of things such as how the correct tire pressure and modest rate of speed increase your fuel efficiency. In addition to choosing the vehicle, the fuel, and how you drive, here are some ideas that I hope are lifelong habits for my kids about greener travel consumer choices beyond the car.

Recycle/Reduce/Reuse Roadtrip a.k.a. the Green Schlep, or How to Reduce Your Footprint while Making Tracks:

• Bring a recycling bag in the car to collect recyclables as you use them for when you spot recycling bins or for when you get home.

• Bring reusable cups or water bottles. Whether they have a self-serve fountain or one behind the counter, most places will allow you to use it in place of their disposable cups.

• If you don’t bring a recyclable cup, reuse a cup from another drink purchase. Choose paper when possible, and reject Styrofoam. Avoid or limit plastic straws and stirrers.

• Reuse plastic flatware too, or pack your own real cutlery. Alternatively, stick to finger food (even if what you’re eating isn’t normally considered finger food; hey, it’s all family and you’re making memories) that’s much easier in the car anyway.

• Pack homemade meals and snacks in your own reusable containers rather than purchasing (overpriced) single-serve packaging on the road. The containers can also be used for roadside leftovers and general car organization, including empty pistachio shells and orange peels.

• Most hotels post notices of their environmental efforts with guidelines for how you can participate. Follow their suggestions. For example, reuse your towels during your stay, rather than requesting newly washed towels every day. Also, traveling as a family (or a group of very close old friends, as I did on a trip to Nashville last year for the Four Voices concert with my friends Dawn and Jan, with whom I’d also been to Nashville 20 years earlier for Lilith Fair), follow the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule for flushing.

• When making stops on the road, choose businesses that have strong environmental policies and green business practices. You can research that easily on Google on the fly or in such articles as this:

From Newsweek:

And this one from Forbes:

• Lastly, and especially if your road trip involves a gas-powered vehicle, go for the dual-purposing approach to environmental conservation, and use it as billboard! Fly your freak flag high, and flaunt those bumper stickers, especially if they support the environment: (My Other Car Is a Bicycle) or the Resistance (Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History). Think of it as Road Trip as Subversive Act in the interest of building a more sustainable social environment and nation.


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