Roadtrips are a good choice for safe and sustainable travel in 2020

The Best Practices for Safe and Sustainable Travel

Though it seemed like there was no possible way for safe and sustainable travel in 2020, we had to venture out over the summer. There was just so long we could all sit in the house before going stir-crazy.

The problem for us was also the summer heat. In Phoenix, we can’t spend time outside in the summer months, so we couldn’t even go outside to a park or nature preserve.

But we sat at home and even did our grocery shopping as a pick-up for over four months before venturing out even for a short day trip. By the end of that time period, we were fed up with our home, and each other.

I was also feeling increasingly guilty about the grocery pick-ups, since we had no choice to opt out of the plastic bags. And that’s a huge deal for me; I haven’t used plastic grocery bags for years now, fighting grocery clerks over them at times. Now, with the pick-ups they packed everything for us – yes, you guessed: in single-use plastic bags.

So, first, I decided to just go into the store. Wearing a face-mask, and disinfecting carts, as well as my hands a few times while shopping proved to be enough to keep me healthy.

Next, we had to get out of town.

A Day-Trip Makes Safe and Sustainable Travel Possible

The first time we ventured out was just a short day trip in July, two hours away from home. We drove to Flagstaff, found one of the lesser-used trails, hiked it, and came back home.

You can find solitude on the trail up Lenox Crater in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
You can find solitude on the trail up Lenox Crater

We didn’t stop in any stores, didn’t walk in town, didn’t eat in a sit-down restaurant. Though we brought enough snacks with us to last the day, in the end we opted for a drive-through take-out. The only downside of that was the packaging. Didn’t gain a point on sustainability on that one.

On the other hand, I made masks for everyone, so we all have reusable, washable, cloth, face masks, so we gained a sustainability point there.

After that short outing, we learned we could travel safely.

Since then, I was on three long road trips, and I even took a short flight – out of necessity. And I learned a few things and tricks on how to stay safe on the road – and even in the air. It’s been over a month since my flight and I am still healthy, so I think it’s safe to say I did not contract the virus – or any virus.

The upside of this is also that, being more aware and more careful, we avoided other viruses that we normally would catch during travels, or even at home. Paradoxically, I’ve been healthier this year than in any normal year. So, I learned something that will always be helpful.

Road Trips Are the Safest Way to Travel

I think at this point road trips offer the best option for both safe and sustainable travel.

Road trips are a great way to practice safe and sustainable travel.
Road trips are a great way to practice safe an sustainable travel while enjoying gorgeous scenery.

You are basically quarantined in your car, so you are not exposed to anyone who might be sick, or to any airborne virus in a crowded space. For short day trips, just pick a nature site, take a hike, away from people, and pack your own lunch. It’s an outing, a road trip, yet perfectly quarantined.

If you didn’t pack in single-use plastic and brought your own cutlery, it’s sustainable, too. You could go even farther and drive an electric car, but we don’t (yet), so I still have to deal with the guilt of my car polluting, but small steps are better than no steps.

It gets a bit trickier during longer trips, especially if you end up at a more popular destination. But we managed to stay safe on a week-long road trip to Colorado, on a four-day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, and a four-day trip to Houston.

Staying Healthy on the Road – and in Hotels

I think the safest (from a health perspective) way to take a vacation this year would be to rent a camper van (I’m not a fan of RVs, I think they pollute more than their smaller cousins, the camper vans). But we didn’t do it – this time. Instead, we stayed in a few hotels we knew as relatively sustainable that also followed safety protocols. We still used our own safety measures besides theirs.

Armed with hand sanitizers in different size containers, both home-made and store-bought, a few extra reusable face masks for everyone, and disinfectant sprays, we took a few week-long trips.

In the car, we were isolated, and we brought our own food for most of the trip. The few times we “ate out” we used pick-up services. Fortunately we found restaurants for take-out that packed them in cardboard containers, not plastic. We had our own cutlery, and in some cases, we remembered to mention it when we ordered and had them hold the plastic.

The only times we interacted briefly with anyone was in the hotels, but everyone followed enough safety rules that we felt protected. At times, it seemed we were all overreacting. But the practices kept us safe.

We wore masks, washed our hands after touching anything, and in the room, I disinfected all the surfaces we knew we would touch, even though I was sure the hotel already has done it. But I felt safer if I did it myself, too.

Destinations: National Parks and other Nature Sites

As of destinations, the two trips we took, both focused on nature sites. Our week-long vacation took us through Colorado, where we found hiking trails by lakes and in forests. Even in the towns we stopped, we searched for hiking trails to maximize our outdoor time. Besides the CoVid quarantine, we were stuck in Phoenix indoors, since summers are sizzling hot, outside feels like the inside of an oven, so we can’t venture out.

For another trip, a bit shorter, we returned to Bryce Canyon. There, we stayed in one of the cabins, self-contained, with entrance from outdoors. They posted the way they disinfected the room, what exactly they used, and when they did it, but I still added my own disinfecting routine, though I wasn’t as thorough, since I tend to trust the National Park Service.

You can practice safe and sustainable travel at Bryce Canyon
Practice safe and sustainable travel at Bryce Canyon and watch the sunrise over the hoodoos.

They only offered take-out from their lodge dining room, and I was sad to see that the meals did not live up to what I learned to expect from them. We were looking forward to some of the meals, remembering them from past trips. Still, it wasn’t bad, and the experience kept everyone safe.

They had a good system for orders and take-out though, to minimize guests’ contact with each other. They also used cardboard and paper packaging, no plastic at all. Cutlery you could take or leave, it was up to you. When it comes to sustainability, National Parks are doing good, even during the pandemic.

Some of the trails were busy, but people wore masks, or carried them and them on when they met up with others. I also noticed that most people – if not everyone – wore reusable, washable face masks.

Though it wasn’t the same as before CoVid, the visit to Bryce Canyon National Park was still a pleasant diversion, and it fit both safe and sustainable travel – as much as possible.

Sustainable Travel – on the Road

Just because you try to stay safe, it doesn’t mean you should forget about sustainable travel. Though I have to admit, at times it seems harder.

Take eating on the road, for example. As I mentioned before, you need to order take-out. And that in most cases means plastic packaging, plastic bags and utensils.

An alternative is to carry your own utensils, and always remember to mention when ordering that you don’t need any. Also, ask not to bag your meals, at least. You can also try to order from places that use cardboard take-out boxes, instead of plastic. You’ll find plenty of them now.

But an even better idea is to carry your own food. Yes, it takes a lot of planning and a bit of cooking on your part, but you end up eating healthier and save the world from a few pieces of extra plastic.

To practice what I preach, when I had to take a two-day road-trip with my daughter from Phoenix to Houston, we did not eat out once. I prepared us breakfast, lunches, and dinners for two days, and brought our own utensils and containers.

Food to Pack for a Road Trip

While I am slowly switching to a fully plant-based diet – for both myself and my family, for the road trip I did use meat and eggs. I grew up packing food for all our trips, so I followed my childhood habits for it.

So, as bad as this sounds to me now, I made a batch of breaded chicken, cooked a few hard-boiled eggs for our protein-base on the road. Other options I would choose now would be lentil,-or quinoa-based salads. At the time I haven’t thought of those. But I’m learning every day.

I also packed bread, peanut butter and almond butter to make sandwiches. Besides that, we had apples, oranges, and carrots. We drank water – I had plenty of reusable water-bottles I filled up for us. I admit though, I also packed a small thermos of coffee – I am addicted, and I was not going to deal wit a caffeine-withdrawal headache.

We packed everything in a cooler, and stopped for picnics on the road.

Other Things To Do For Safe and Sustainable Travel on the Road

Keeping your car in good shape helps with safe and sustainable travel, too. Obviously, choosing an electric or hybrid car, or even one with good gas mileage helps reduce your carbon footprint.

But did you know that keeping your tires properly inflated helps, too? Yes, it helps with gas mileage. Which, in turn, helps you burn less – points for sustainability. You also need to stop for gas less often – points for safety (you have less possible interaction with germs and viruses) and even your budget.

Making sure your car’s air filter is clean before a road trip also adds points to sustainability – and health. Breathing cleaner air is obviously better for us, for our immune system – and if our immune system works great, viruses and germs have a harder time sticking to us.

But a clean air filter also helps the environment. Clean air filters reduce emission. They also help increase engine performance (by improving air flow to the engine), which helps with gas mileage, too.

What to Do for Safe and Sustainable Travel

Instead of flying, choose a road trip, when possible.

Even a day trip offers a great outing, good for your general well-being.

Choose nature-destinations. A hike in the woods, a walk around a lake, or among natural land formations not only makes you feel good, but boosts your immune system by adding natural Vitamin D.

For longer road trips, pack your own food when possible. Choose take-out from restaurants that practice sustainability.

Keep your car in the best shape possible, to allow for good gas mileage and reducing emission. Unless you drive a non-polluting vehicle.

Safe and sustainable travel during covid
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