Road Trips: Semi-Green and Totally Unforgettable

It’s January. So naturally, I’m already planning our summer road trip. It’s the annual event that negates every effort we’ve made for the earth, as we burn fossil fuel and emit carbon dioxide across the map, in the name of adventure! There are many zero-wasters who believe small efforts to avoid plastic, reduce trash, and consume less will never make a difference; that if you really want to preserve the earth, you should stop driving and flying, and focus on political activism and policy change. But trying to influence the government seems daunting, and there’s no way we’re giving up traveling. After all, we’ve got to get out there and see the world we’re saving!

On vacation, our usual ways of Near-O Waste, minimalism, simplicity, and budgeting stay somewhat intact, but splurging, bending the rules, and seizing the moment definitely take the reigns. Our family has been to 18 states, and we’ve learned a lot about making the most of the precious time we have together. Here are 10 rules we live by on the road…

1. Do your homework

We spend several weeks before any trip reading to our children about the places we’ll visit. This gets them interested and excited about what they might see. On our last trip, I made a scavenger hunt (using supplies we already had, of course!) so they could look for state symbols (flags, animals, and flowers) and cultural or historical items that are unique to the area. Your local library is a great resource!


2. Bring your own soundtrack

My husband makes a new playlist for each trip we take. We crank up the music, roll the windows down, and sing along over and over again, until those songs are engrained in our brains, forever reminding us of that trip. Hearing “our songs” months (and years) later, really takes me back to those moments on the road and floods my heart with cherished memories.

3. Keep it screen-free  

I don’t blog, check email, or use Facebook when we’re traveling. Family trips are sacred to me and I don’t want to think about anything other than the moment we’re in. Our kids don’t bring iPads. If they’re glued to a screen, they won’t look out the window, and that’s a main source of entertainment. We talk about what we see, count big rigs, silos, or skyscrapers, and make up games. The car is the perfect place for family bonding.

4. Pack light

The less you bring with you, the easier it is to get in and out of hotels and keep the car organized. (And the less overwhelming it is to get reorganized when you get home.) I bring enough clothes for seven days and do laundry if it’s a longer trip. I bring a few versatile toys for the kids and reveal them when they get tired of scavenger hunts, talking, singing, eating, and looking out the window.

5. Avoid souvenirs

I can’t count the souvenirs I’ve bought in my lifetime. And I can’t count the number I’ve gotten rid of. Inspired by minimalism, I’ve completely stopped buying souvenirs. My souvenirs are my pictures and my memories. No time spent making decisions in gift shops, nothing extra to tote home, and more money I can put toward experiences.

Our boys collect pins and patches, and I’m okay with that because I adored my collections as a child. Pins and patches are small, inexpensive, entertaining in the car, and have minimal or no packaging. Having a specific collectable to find keeps them focused and, as as a result, the other trinkets and toys magically go unnoticed.


6. Take pictures, selectively 

I’m definitely a proponent of photography and scrapbooks, and I want to capture our children’s lives as they grow. But I want to live in the moment, and not spend too much time behind the camera. So I have a policy called “one and done”: I take one picture per place or event, and spend the rest of the time just enjoying.

7. Set a budget

We are loyal Best Western customers. Their hotels are affordable, nice enough, and offer a free breakfast, which we take full advantage of. After paying for hotels and gas, we budget $100 per day for lunch, dinner, treats, drinks, and entertainment. I bring a $100 bill for each day of our trip and keep them stashed away in my cross-body purse. (I know- probably not the smartest move, but…) this allows me to see how much we’ve spent and how much remains each day. Conserving some days allows us to splurge other days, and anything leftover is saved for the next trip. (This summer we’ll be replacing a few hotel rooms with campsites, to further cut down on cost and consumption, and add to the adventure!)

8. Keep the planet in mind

We know we’re already harming the environment by putting thousands of miles on the odometer, but there are many small ways we can reduce our footprint. We bring a pillowcase for dirty clothes (instead of using the plastic bag hanging in the hotel closet), a coffee mug for on-the-go fill ups, and our water jug (and bottles) for the occasional Whole Foods or the coveted outdoor water-filling station.


We bring our own toiletries and ask the hotel to remove the single-use toiletries from our room before we arrive. Bulk snacks, packed in our own containers, help us avoid the packaging and general unhealthiness of gas station snacks and, of course, we bring our own gear for eating on-the-go and a bag for *anything* we might buy!

9. Burn the candle at both ends

Kids make this one easy. They won’t let you sleep in and they have everlasting energy. When we travel, we’re up at dawn and out until dark, experiencing sunrises, sunsets, and everything in between. Our days are so long that we can pack in the adventure, rack up the miles, and still have time to relax. If you’re visiting a place you might not return to, embrace every opportunity!


10. Consider the road less traveled

Everyone visits the big cities, theme parks, and beaches, but who can say they’ve walked in wagon wheel ruts on the Pioneer trails, searched for armadillos in Texas hill country, or held hands across the middle of America’s loneliest highway? Many of the popular attractions are definitely on our itinerary, but the entire country is a treasure trove of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Everywhere has something to offer, you just have to find it…




3 thoughts on “Road Trips: Semi-Green and Totally Unforgettable

  1. Natalie January 23, 2016 / 4:07 pm

    Love the “one-and-done” photo idea as well as having a unique music playlist for a specific trip.

    The former removes the desire and subsequent frustrations in composing “perfect” photos while traveling, not to mention time saved from sorting through mindlessly captured photos upon returning home. The latter offers continuous enjoyment of the trip long afterwards due to its special association with particular songs. Ingenious!

    I find all of your approaches conducive to being truly present – in the moment – when traveling. Having the opportunity to see other parts of the world doesn’t come cheap or easily and what better way to enjoy and honor it than to be fully immersed in all that it offers with one’s loved ones.

    Thanks for sharing these smart tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Near-O Waste January 25, 2016 / 1:28 am

    Natalie! Thank you for reading and thanks *so* much for your comment. It made me so happy 🙂


    • Natalie January 25, 2016 / 5:42 pm

      The pleasure is all mine, Andrea. Keep up the great work! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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