COMMENTARY: Low (Carbon) Riders

Ten Tips to a Greener Road Trip

Driving the speed limit is the best way to ensure optimum fuel efficiency.©

Lots of people are opting to stay closer to home for summer vacations, and packing up the family car instead of booking flights abroad. Whether with friends or family, road trips are a hallowed American institution, and they offer lots of opportunities for checking out natural wonders, from state parks to scenic overlooks. But to make the most of your road trip while leaving behind a minimal environmental impact, check out the ten tips below.

1. Look into public transportation. If your destination is easy to reach by train or bus, consider skipping the long drive and join the masses. Why not be chauffeured? Enjoy a book, some music or even a nap instead of driving! Traveling far distances puts wear and tear on your car, costs fortunes of gas money, and the more cars on the road, the more traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. Taking a bus or train is an easy, comfortable, and greener choice for a guilt-free road trip.

2. If driving is your only option, choose a fuel-efficient vehicle. If you"re renting a car, go for one that has good gas mileage. Consider renting a hybrid so you won"t have to fill up on gas too often. If you"re bringing your own, choose the smallest car that will fit everyone and everything. In other words, leave the giant SUV at home.

3. Fill your tires! Air is one of the last things you can get for free these days. Before you hit the highway, stop at the local gas station to fill your tires. Properly inflated tires will improve your car"s fuel efficiency and mileage by about 3.3%. Properly inflated tires are also safer and last 25% longer.

4. Drive gently. Excessive breaking and acceleration can reduce your fuel efficiency by as much as 33% on the highway, and 5% when driving around town. The easiest way to keep your driving gentle is to drive within the speed limit. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you can assume that you spend an additional $.24 per gallon of gas for every 5 mph over 60 mph. Also, driving within the speed limit is the safest, most responsible way to drive, especially when traveling on long-distance road trips. What"s the rush? The slower you drive, the more you"re able to enjoy your surroundings.

5. Avoid idling. If you"re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and have been idling for over 30 seconds, turn the car off. You get 0 miles to the gallon while idling, so if you"re stuck in traffic, you might as well just park it! Also, avoid drive-throughs—idling in line uses up gas unnecessarily. Instead, park the car and walk into the restaurant, this way you"ll save gas and stretch your legs!

Whether with friends or family, road trips are a hallowed American institution.© Getty Images

6. Follow this rule for your car"s air conditioning: only use AC when driving faster than 45 mph, otherwise, open the windows. Never have the windows open and the AC on, choose one or the other. Air conditioning uses gas up quickly, so use it judiciously.

7. Use cruise control when appropriate. Using cruise control on the highway allows you to maintain a constant speed, which gives you a better chance for saving gas since it limits your acceleration. For long drives on the open road, cruise control is ideal.

8. Join the Better World Club, a roadside assistance club that emphasizes greener driving. Members of the Better World Club enjoy benefits such as emergency road and tow service, bicycle roadside assistance, car rental discounts on hybrids and several different discounts for other eco-friendly products.

9. Pack light! The more weight in your car, the lower your car’s fuel efficiency. With an extra 100 pounds of weight, your car"s MPG is reduced by about 2%. Also, avoid packing extra luggage and gear on top of the car. The wind resistance against the extra cargo will reduce your MPG and put strain on your car"s engine.

10. Pick an eco-friendly destination. Consider checking into a green hotel, camping outside, visiting a green festival, a state park and the like. Remember to be environmentally conscious wherever you go. For instance, don"t leave the air conditioning or lights on in your hotel room when you leave, take full advantage of any recycling facilities, and avoid disturbing any wildlife you come in contact with. Above all, enjoy!

KRISTEN O"NEILL is an editorial intern at E.

CONTACTS: Better World Club; Fuel Economy Tips