10 Eco-Friendly Travel Ideas While Social Distancing

eco-friendly travel and road trip

As summer approaches, many families start counting the days until school is out and they can take a family vacation. 

Our family is no different, except for that we try to practice eco-friendly travel and limit our waste on our road trips and vacations.  While we are not perfect (no one is!), we do strive to make eco-conscious choices as much as possible. 

Unfortunately, this year most vacation plans have been canceled or postponed, leaving many heartbroken children – and parents! 

So I collaborated with a friend and family travel blogger, Adriane from Put on Your Party Pants, to bring you some ideas for traveling while practicing social distancing this year. 

These amazing outdoor destinations lend themselves not only to safe social distancing practices but also to eco-friendly travel and zero waste road trips.

So sprinkled throughout, we will suggest eco-friendly travel tips and suggestions. Let’s keep our parks and environment beautiful for everyone to experience for years to come!

As always, remember that zero waste is a journey. Do not become overwhelmed and feel that you have to implement every suggestion. Do what you can now and add a new eco-friendly travel tip next time! 

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Travel is very important to our family.  Our kids, who are lucky enough to only have problems that fall squarely within the first world category, have come to expect at least one major vacation per year.  Our family has spent a lot of time over the last few years traveling to insanely crowded places.  Think Disney World, DisneyLand, and a Disney Cruise to name a few.  Do we see a pattern here?  

This year, despite the first half of the word also being the name of a beer that is strongly associated with fun times in tropical places, the Coronavirus has ravaged the travel industry.  Not only did COVID-19 destroy vacation plans for this year, but with no end in sight, travel is going to be affected for the foreseeable future.  If your family is like ours, staying home long term is not palatable.  Flying may not be an option, so we are exploring destinations that can be reached via car in the mainland United States.  The following are ten ways to travel while practicing social distancing.  A lot of them overlap, so you could combine some of these options into one trip.  

Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park

 1. National Parks

National parks are the perfect place to social distance.  True, some are crowded in certain areas of the park, but it is not difficult to avoid other people.  This type of trip is also generally very cost-effective.  You could camp and pack food to avoid restaurants and hotels.  Social distancing will be automatic with limited access to a shower for several days in a row.  This trip could be incorporated as part of a road trip and could include fishing, cycling, and hiking.  There are countless great options, but some good choices for less crowded areas are Acadia National Park in Maine, Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, Denali National Park in Alaska, Glacier National Park in Montana, and Joshua Tree National Park in California.

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: Speaking of showers, be sure to pack your own toiletries. Any reusable bottles will work, but I love the travel-sized aluminum bottles by Plaine Products. These can be used over and over again with your favorite Plaine Products shampoo and conditioner or any that you prefer! (Interested in trying it out?  Save 20% on your first order with our special coupon code just for you! Use this code at checkout – SLG20.)

 2. Road Trip

Road trips are a great way to explore several destinations while avoiding the crowds that come with public transportation.  You can go at your own pace and make the trip as affordable as you would like.  You can also pack all of your children’s crap belongings without worrying about the weight of your luggage.  It would be easy to bring food with you and have picnics to avoid restaurants.  Camping along the way is an option if you want to avoid hotels.  You could incorporate pretty much every other item on this list into your trip.  Consider California’s Pacific Coast Highway, Route 66, Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys, Seward Highway in Alaska, and Olympic Peninsula Loop in Washington.

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: Plan ahead if you decide to avoid restaurants. Pack a cooler with food in reusable containers, and bring your reusable utensils and cloth napkins.  Save your fruit and veggie scraps in an airtight container to compost back at home or be on the lookout for local composting options. 

3. Beach Vacation

There are plenty of beach towns that don’t bring large crowds.  You can easily spread out on the beach and bring food with you to avoid other people.  Beach towns typically have great options for weekly house rentals at an affordable rate.  You could also visit a beach on a road trip.  Hiking and cycling would be easy to incorporate into your plans.  Some good options are Saugatuck in Michigan, a less crowded section of Cape Cod like Sandwich in Massachusetts, Saugatuck in Michigan, Gulf Shores in Alabama, Cumberland Island in Georgia, and La Jolla in California.  

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: Don’t forget to pack your eco-friendly and reef-friendly sunscreen. Clean beauty products are a must if you are trying to avoid harsh chemicals and toxins for your family and the environment. My favorite is non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen, such as Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen, but there are several safe options listed on the Environmental Working Group’s website

family hiking in the woods

4. Hiking Trails

Hiking trails are rarely crowded.  You can go miles without running into anyone.  You can pack food and camp to avoid public places.  This option is more challenging for those with young children or people with limited mobility, but there are relatively easy and short trails available at a lot of locations.  You will find hiking at any national park, but some highlights for hiking are Yosemite in California, Yellowstone in Wyoming, Sedona, Arizona, the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee (bonus for great cabin rentals), and Zion National Park in Utah for a trail that is wheelchair accessible. 

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: Eliminate your waste on the trails by packing your food and supplies in reusable containers. Be prepared with reusable water bottles and waste-free snacks in reusable containers. Stainless steel snack containers are a great option since they are lightweight and will keep your backpack from getting weighed down. 

5. Golf Trip

Golf can and should be played six feet apart.  You don’t want to be all up in someone’s grill while they are swinging a golf club.  You may need to mask up for a cart if you are on it with someone with whom you do not live, but you can avoid other people on the course with ease.  Consider renting a vacation home to avoid hotels.  You can also incorporate some beach days and hiking into this type of trip.  Some less crowded areas with lots of golf options are Scottsdale, Arizona, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, St. George, Utah, Palm Springs, California, and Monterey, California. You can also consider one of the 10 most eco-friendly golf courses in the U.S. which includes Pebble Beach in California or Vineyard Golf Club in Massachusetts. 

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: If you do choose to stay in a vacation home,  pack your own food so you can save time, money, and reduce your food waste and plastic packaging.

6. Wineries

Wineries may not be a great option for kids, but alcohol is pretty great, so consider an adults-only getaway to a winery.  Wineries have a busy season.  If you can go off-season, they have a great, chill vibe where you can easily spread out and get wasted learn about grapes.  You could easily incorporate hiking and cycling into this type of trip.  Consider an off-season visit to Temecula, California, Finger Lakes, New York, Verde Valley, Arizona, Snake River Valley, Idaho, and Walla Walla, Washington. 

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: Seek out wineries that use organic grapes and make clean-crafted wine that doesn’t include synthetic pesticides and chemical additives. Also, remember to bring a reusable bag to carry home your wine purchases or opt for a compostable/recyclable paper carton or box.

 7. Ski Trip

Skiers have to keep their distance or they have serious problems, COVID-19 aside.  It may get crowded in some lodges at popular resorts, but it should be easy to separate outdoors in less crowded areas.  A rental home would work well for this type of trip.  Skiing is expensive, but you can make it more cost-effective by visiting a less crowded resort and cooking meals at home.  There are lots of options, but for less crowded skiing, consider Big Sky, Montana, Crested Butte, Colorado, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Telluride, Colorado, and Powder Mountain, Utah.

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: Packing your own snacks for a day of skiing can save you money and limit your waste. Convenience foods like granola bars are a common snack to have handy, but consider making your own granola bars and storing them in a stainless steel snack container or making your own trail mix using ingredients bought from bulk bins. 

8. Fishing Trip

Fishing is the most isolated activity of all time.  If you have children with longer attention spans than mine, you can hang out on the boat for days on end without encountering other people.  Camping would work well with this trip.  You could also incorporate hiking and cycling, depending upon the location.  It is very affordable if you bring your own equipment.  Consider Fort Myers Beach, Florida, Lake Erie in Ohio, Venice, Louisiana, Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: If this is your first fishing trip, you can avoid being wasteful by borrowing fishing equipment instead of buying all new equipment. That way you can make sure this is a sport you will want to do again and again.  If that’s the case, you can consider buying gear secondhand to reduce waste or buy quality equipment that will last as long as possible. Avoid cheap “disposable” gear.

9. Cycling Trip

Social distancing is a breeze on a bicycle.  While children definitely make it more difficult to bike long distances, you can hook up the bikes to the back of the car and cycle for shorter periods of time.  You could cycle in several different places on a road trip.  Cycling can easily be combined with a trip that includes any other outdoor activity.  You could either rent a home or camp, depending upon your destination.  Consider California Wine Country (because all good exercise is followed by a buzz), the Catskills in New York, Crater Lake in Oregon, Tucson, Arizona, and New England (in the fall).

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: Stay hydrated on your cycling trip by bringing along reusable water bottles. Stainless steel is a great lightweight choice and also healthier than plastic, which can contain chemicals and toxins. 

10. Dude Ranch

Saddle up and get ready to trade comfort for manual labor.  You can stay in a cabin, ride horses, fish, and keep your distance from others.  There are generally very few guests at any one time.  They usually offer activities that cater to children.  The kids will either love it or complain nonstop, but won’t it be fun to find out which way it goes?  Consider dude ranches out west in locations like Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Washington, and Montana.

Eco-friendly Travel Tip: Be prepared! This will help you to avoid buying convenience foods and items, which often come in plastic packaging. Think ahead to any supplies or equipment that you might need on your trip and buy secondhand or borrow them, if at all possible. You will not only save the planet but also money!

Final Thoughts

COVID-19 has really done a number on society.  Not only did it affect everyone’s day to day lives, but it has brought the travel industry to a grinding halt.  While it may be too soon to travel at the time of this writing, at some point, people will be able to leave the house again, albeit in different, modified ways.  Rather than completely stop traveling, or travel with a mask the entire day, consider branching out during this time to try something new that allows you to socially distance while making memories with your family.  If you are accustomed to regular travel, you don’t want to wait for a vaccine to experience a new place with your family.  Get out there and do it.  You will not regret it.  

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Cowritten by: Adriane, a family travel blogger with Put on Your Party Pants – And Keep Them on Until 8pm. She writes about surviving family travel, money-saving tips using points and miles and Disney hacks, and gluten-free travel. You can find her at http://putonyourpartypants.com/


Want to save time and money finding the zero waste swaps for your family? Download the FREE guide to 9 Zero Waste Swaps Every Family Can Make!

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