Greening the Great American Road Trip


If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, the highway that’s the best.
Get your kicks on Route 66!
– Bobby Troup

There’s scarcely a more classically American form of travel than the road trip.

The great American road trip is immortalized in art – from Jack Kerouac to Thelma and Louise – but the myth is firmly planted in reality. Americans love their cars and the freedom of the open road and with such a vast, beautiful country to explore, who can blame them?

More Americans own a passport than ever before but it’s still only one in three and as the recession bites, vacationing close to home is bound to become even more popular. But while air travel gets the lion’s share of the bad press about carbon dioxide emissions, we all know driving ain’t that green, either.

For starters, road trips tend to lend themselves to prepackaged junk food, which is bad for you and even worse for the environment.

Even with the best intentions in the world, exhaustion and a lack of choice on the road can prompt you to make choices you wouldn’t necessarily make at home. Smart travelers – those that are green, frugal, health conscious or all of the above – travel with a cool box with healthy, fresh food in the trunk so they don’t need takeaways, and plan their trips to make time to stop for proper meals. They also know that perfection is impossible and instead focus on making the best choices in the circumstances.

The biggest problem with a road trip is guzzling all that gas and the governors of the West Coast states – California, Oregon and Washington – are trying to change that. They envision a “green freeway” running down the West Coast from British Columbia, Canada to Baja, Mexico. The idea is that drivers of eco-friendly cars could pull off the green pit stops to charge, or swap out, their electric-vehicle batteries or fill their tanks with biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen or compressed natural gas.

It sounds like a truly exciting idea and I hope it comes to reality. Sadly that’s not guaranteed – there is resistance to from the likes of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (Natso) and national gasoline distribution groups.

It’s a shame existing service stations don’t see this as an opportunity rather than a threat, but perhaps unsurprising. If you live in one of these three states and would like to see the project happen, it’s worth writing to your governor or state legislature to voice your support, so the idea doesn’t get killed before it even gets off the ground. You could even write to Natso to suggest their members should embrace the idea as a new business opportunity and work with government to make it happen.