How to Have a Sustainable Road Trip

There’s nothing like hitting the open road and exploring with friends and family. If you are planning a road trip this summer, read Jasper Baines’ tips for doing so as sustainably as possible.

‘Road trippin’ with my two favourite allies, fully loaded we got snacks and supplies, it’s time to leave this town, it’s time to steal away, let’s go get lost, anywhere in the U.S.A.’

Just like that, the Red Hot Chili Peppers manage to perfectly crystallise the idiosyncratic pleasure of a road trip. This feeling; one so liberating and fresh whether shared with friends, a partner or family, compels many of us to seek out both well-known nooks and undiscovered crannies. Yet living on the road can often throw up a few potholes. Road tripping can sometimes lead to the haphazard disposal of plastic waste and litter as well as a spike in car miles, not to mention more unsustainable nasties. Don’t panic, for there are heaps of simple solutions to make your road trip a sustainable one:

Avoiding Unnecessary Plastic

Imagine a road trip, and your mind will naturally conjure up stops at the services – not only to refuel but also to grab some food or drink. Unfortunately, the ubiquity of plastic water bottles has led to warnings that annual consumption of these utterly pointless items is set to top half a trillion by 2021. Similarly, 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are used and subsequently binned every year in the UK. A simple, well publicised and responsible solution to this is clear; purchase a reusable bottle and keepcup. is a handy app to direct you to thousands of stations across the UK – where you can refill for free – and most service station coffee shops will refill your water bottle for you.

Instead of wet wipes, which are inexorably littering our coastlines and blocking our sewers, take a reusable organic cotton muslin cloth or flannel and refresh in the service station bathrooms using good old fashioned water. Not only will these simple changes make a positive impact on the amount of single-use plastics you are throwing away, you will also notice the cumulative effect on your wallet – more money to enjoy yourself, wherever the road may take you.

Managing Your Carbon Footprint

With any sort of vehicle transport, you are naturally going to be racking up kilometres on the metre of your car or van, and with over 801 billion passenger kilometres recorded in the UK in 2017, people are clearly driving more than ever before. You are right to be concerned about the impact this could have upon your carbon footprint, but there is a myriad of simple ways to combat this problem.

First, if you have space in the back of your car, why not consider carpooling? If there is a group of you travelling together, minimise the number of vehicles on the road driving in the same direction by filling all seats in your car.  If you have space, the uncomplicated mobile and desktop apps Bla Bla Car or Liftshare offer facile carpooling services which can cover your running costs, and potentially introduce you to some interesting new travelling companions! 

Similarly, the underappreciated importance of planning in our digital age can prevent you from doubling back on yourself, or from trundling around Exmoor for no discernible reason – an easy way to keep those KMs down. Furthermore, a road trip doesn’t mean you have to take your vehicle everywhere you go. The application park4night is a great way of finding free parking spots, from which you can travel onwards into busier areas by foot or public transport. Planning and preparation also extends to ensuring that your car is serviced and ready to go; you can improve your gas mileage by up to 3% by making sure your tyres are properly inflated!

Image: Jasper making the most of carpooling in Peniche, Portugal!

Food on the Move

Food is an inherent part of travelling and everyone knows that road tripping on an empty stomach is a thoroughly unenjoyable experience! I urge you to prepare food in advance, so you don’t find yourself at the services with a rumbling tum. Prepping your food at home, bringing leftovers, and shrewd planning with what you bring can all reduce plastic and food waste – both on your journey and in your fridge at home. Check out The Rubbish Trip’s highly comprehensive list of easy to make snacks before you start your next road trip. 

Avoiding plastic waste at the supermarket before you leave and during your trip is also easier than you may think – purchase some reusable produce bags (or if you’re more creatively inclined, make your own) and stock up on unpackaged treats and sweets at your local bulk food store. Here at Eco-Age we love stores that are committed to avoiding unnecessary packaging – find them at Zero Waste Near Me (a handy application that shows you shops in your area that are committed to reducing unnecessary plastic packaging and waste) and our guide on where to buy bulk. If you find yourself in a pickle with food, you can always try the application toogoodtogo, which aims to reduce food waste by subsidising the edible food that stores have to throw out at the end of their working day. Yum!

Young Passengers on Board

And now onto the more demanding of travelling folk – tiny humans! Everyone can remember those journeys that would last for ages… Visiting my gran in South Devon was one of those tortuous drives that never seemed to end. Yet there are endless ways in which youthful enthusiasm and energy can be positively channelled, as the inspiring pressure put on irresponsible adults by worldwide youth can testify. Why not encourage beach cleans and litter picking while on the road? The fantastic NGOs Leave No Trace and Surfers Against Sewage offer all sorts of information on how to connect yourself and your younglings to the wonders of the natural environment, in a sustainable way. Your children’s attitude to the environment is dictated fundamentally by your own – if you have a pet, make sure you clean up after her; never throw litter, not even peels or cores, as they can corrupt the natural ecosystem in unspoilt places.

And whatever you do, remember the words of Jack Kerouac: ‘There is nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep rolling under the stars.’


For more tips on how to travel plastic-free, see Max La Manna‘s guide. 

Planning a road trip and looking for somewhere to stay? Read Venetia Falconer‘s tips on how to plan the perfect staycation

Discover how to offset your carbon emissions when travelling.

Travel in comfort, with Eva Ramirez’s guide to travel wear for the conscious traveller.