on the road....

13 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day on a Road Trip

April 22 is Earth Day, celebrated all over the world.

Earth Day has its origins at an event on April 22, 1970, when millions of people protested the negative impact of industrial development. That was 49 years ago! And we still struggle with the same issues.

People noticed in 1970 already that industrial pollution had a negative impact on us and the world around us. They noticed that smog and pollution had a negative effect on children’s development. (Yes, they have known this since 1970!). Biodiversity was declining because of the use of heavy pesticides and other pollutants. (and yet, people today still use some of the same pesticides).

But, as a result of the protests of April of 1970, the US Government created the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and put clean environmental laws in place, the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others.

Celebrating Earth Day

We should celebrate Earth Day every day, we should do everything in our power to protect our mother Earth, our home in this Universe, and all creatures in it, every day. But in a society where everyone is constantly rushed, when we have too many things on our minds, too many things we worry about, by designating one day a year for awareness about our planet, we give ourselves a reason to remember and remind others, to take action, however small. And maybe we can keep the momentum going for the whole year and beyond.


When we travel, we still have no excuse in stopping our efforts. It might be harder to reuse and recycle things while we travel, it might be harder to do all the little things we may do at home that help our surroundings. But with a little planning, a little awareness, we can reduce our negative impact.

Choosing a road trip instead of flying is already a good choice. As polluting as cars are, they are not half as bad as airplanes, at least at this moment in time. So, when possible, choose a road trip. Of course, it helps more if you drive an electric car or hybrid. But even with a gasoline-based vehicle, there are steps you can take to ensure you pollute less.

On a Road Trip

The following are just a few tips to celebrate Earth Day and help the environment whil on a road trip.

1. Keep your tires properly inflated to get better gas mileage

You might wonder what inflating your tires has to do with the environment. It gets you better gas mileage. Better gas mileage means you use less gas, which in turn means you pollute less (and you even save money in the process). With this simple action, you reduce your carbon footprint by 20 pounds for each gallon of fuel saved.

2. Make sure your car’s air filter is clean before you set off for the road

I only learned this recently, but changing your car’s air filter regularly helps the environment. I always thought this only helps us, the passengers in the car breathing cleaner air. But as it turns out, it helps in more ways.

Changing the air filter increases fuel efficiency. I’m not a car mechanic, but from what I understand, a clean air filter improves the airflow to the engine, which in turn increases engine performance and ultimately leads to better gas mileage.

Even more important from environmental perspective, clean air filters reduce emission.

3. Carry your own reusable water bottle

No matter where you go, eventually you will need water, for the road, for a hike, for a walk. Carry your own water bottle. You can buy metal ones, even some that keep your water cold for long periods of time. Besides saving the environment by not adding more plastic to the planet’s pollution, it is a healthier alternative. Did you know that plastic particles seep into the water and by drinking from single-use water bottles, you put plastic into your own body? You can imagine that it can’t be good for your health.

Why do they still sell water bottled in plastic? Good question, and honestly, I can’t figure it out, I don’t have an answer. But I’m pretty sure that if we stop buying them they will eventually stop making them.

You can refill your own water bottle. They have refill stations everywhere; in National Parks, in city centers, at trailheads in any park, and I’m sure in many other places. Look for them and you’ll find them.

Besides being good for the environment, this will also save you money.

4. Refuse plastic straws in restaurants

While on the road, you eat out often; it is inevitable. Unfortunately, in most restaurants in the US at least, they still offer plastic straws with your drinks. Simply refuse it.

Let’s face it, you can drink without a straw. I grew up without ever using a straw. I survived. But if you can’t, if you absolutely need a straw to drink, bring your own. You can find now paper straws, or metal ones, or even glass; buy a few and carry them with you. It seems like a small thing, but it still makes a difference.

5. Don’t take your leftovers

On the road, chances are, you won’t finish your leftovers if you take them with you, anyway. By not taking them, you don’t add the styrofoam and plastic to-go boxes to the unnecessary plastic pollution. No matter how hard you try to recycle, it’s better not to use it in the first place.

Order less, or share with your partner, to make sure you finish your meal. If you travel with kids, they can always share a meal.

6. Carry real utensils

It’s so easy to add a few spoons, forks and knives to your bag before you leave the house. This way, you won’t have to use plastic ones on the road.

You’ll eventually end up stopping for groceries or at fast-food places where you would normally grab plastic utensils. If you have your own, you won’t need them.

You might even add a plate or two, for the times you might stop for a picnic (I’m not suggesting you bring your best china, but we all have some old ones we don’t mind carrying around; even if they are reusable plastic).

7. Don’t buy take-out

On the road, sometimes it might be tempting to go through a drive-through and buy take-out. If you can help it, don’t. You get a lot of extra paper and plastic that you don’t need.

Instead, go to a grocery store and buy what you need. Better for your health, and better for your budget, too.

8. When shopping, use your own bags

Bring your own reusable bags when shopping on the road. If you are like us, you will eventually stop at grocery stores along the road, for snacks or meals, and maybe drinks (choose those bottled in glass, when possible).

While in some states, and countries they don’t bag your groceries in single-use plastic bags, you’ll drive through places where they do. Arizona is one of them, unfortunately.

You know you don’t need them, you know they are bad for the environment. So just refuse them. Carry your own bag, or, if you forget to bring it in, just simply put everything in your cart and bring it out to your car. You really don’t need to keep things in those plastic bags.

I have a bigger issue with produce bags; it took me a while to figure out how to replace them. You don’t need them for everything, but for the few things you do, you can carry small cloth bags or lunch bags. Or reuse the older ones.

For the longest time, I reused the old ones I got. It still works, you already have them, reuse them. Now I started making small bags (I knit them from leftover yarn, or sew them from cloth) to carry with me. Yes, people in Phoenix look at me funny, like I am crazy, but who cares. Even if one person thinks “hey, that’s not a bad idea”, and starts doing it, I feel like all the other stares are worth it.

9. Find a farmer’s market and buy your produce from them

You can’t get fresher fruits and vegetables than those bought directly from the farmers. When driving through farmlands, stop at those little stores on the side of the road.

Not only will it be a great stop to stretch your legs, but you can get some of the freshest produce to snack on for the next stretch of the road. We always do it in Oregon in the Willamette Valley, and in Washington state when we drive close to the Cascadian Farms. Those stops are the highlights of our road trips.

10. Choose an environmentally friendly hotel

When choosing a hotel to stay for the night, when possible, choose an environmentally friendly one.

This makes more of a difference if you stay multiple nights in the same place since they won’t wash your bedsheets and towels every day when you ask.

11. Visit wildlife refuges and wildlife sanctuaries and donate to them

During longer road trips you might drive close to wildlife sanctuaries, and by visiting them and donating to them you help the animals they care for.

12. Do not litter during your hikes or walks, especially in wilderness areas

In fact, you can take this a step further, and pick up any plastic garbage you find on the trail.

I’ll never forget the first time we did this, on a long hike, with my kids (3 and 5 at the time); they had just become Junior Rangers at one of the National Parks, and they insisted on picking up every wrapper, every bottle cap, every piece of plastic we found on the trail.

I wasn’t happy about storing garbage in my backpack until we hiked out, but I wasn’t going to tell the kids to leave it, it’s not your responsibility. It is everyone’s responsibility. It would be better if no one littered, but until that day comes, those of us who care can help clean up.

I didn’t use the front pocket of my backpack for anything else, so it worked out. Since then, I always have a plastic bag in my backpack (at least I found one good use for it), using it as a garbage bag to carry stuff out.

13. Offset Your Carbon Footprint

Even if you follow all these tips, you still have an impact on the environment while traveling. But there are ways to offset your carbon footprint; use the Carbon footprint calculator and follow directions to offset it in one of the suggested ways.

Do the best you can

Let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to keep it up, sometimes we forget to yell at the cashier to stop them from bagging our stuff in a single-use plastic bag (yes, I had to yell a few times, attracting stares; sometimes they do it automatically, without thinking, even when you give them your reusable bag), sometimes we get distracted and forget. The important thing is to keep trying, do the best we can in as many situations as possible. Eventually, by being aware of our choices, we will succeed. And who knows, a few of those people staring at us might think it’s a good idea what we are doing and follow.

At home or on the road, when we are aware of how each of our choices impacts the environment around us, we can always find ways to reduce our negative effect on our earth. We need to keep doing this every day, not only on Earth Day, although this is a perfect opportunity to start our positive impact or reduce the negative one.

Celebrate Earth Day on a Road Trip

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