As the 4th of July approaches, engines rev across the country in anticipation of summer road trips — fun, yes, but not exactly eco-friendly. Still, with a little extra thought and planning, the classic American vacation needn’t ravage the environment, too. Check out Earth911’s tips to greening your car travel.

1. Prepare to picnic. Grabbing fast food on the go takes a toll on the planet’s resources from the paper and plastic packaging to the emissions from trucking a load of French fries. Taking along food — or stocking up at a grocery store en route — is generally healthier and cheaper, too.

Gear up for your movable feast with eco picnic gear: reusable utensils, napkins, dishes and cups. Even sturdy disposables can withstand several uses, but don’t skimp on two must-haves: water bottles (ideally several large ones to cover long stretches of road) and a real knife for cutting fruit, cheese and so forth (a Swiss Army one is great).

2. Recycle on the go. Invariably, you’ll pick up snacks and drinks along the way, so plan for all that packaging waste. Stash a grocery bag under the seat to collect paper, plastic and glass, then recycle at your destination. Better yet, use Earth911’s iRecycle app for the iPhone and Android to find recycling locations wherever you are (disclosure: shameless plug).

3. Take the open road. Stop-and-go traffic is as wasteful as it is annoying, while idling (that’s zero miles per gallon, peeps) is worse. Avoid both and conserve fuel with a bit of planning.

Many states use electronic toll collection (e.g. E-Z Pass) and often the cards are compatible with other systems. If not, consider buying a pass for the states you’re travelling through. Cards allow you to speed through tollbooths or open road tolling.

If the highway ahead looks clogged, dial up Google maps on your phone for live traffic updates and plan an alternate route.

4. Go car camping. Now that it’s warm, consider car camping instead of checking into a motel. Many camping sites cater to motor home folks, so you can expect plenty of amenities such as bathrooms with showers or wi-fi. Even with such extras, camping uses far fewer resources than a hotel room with air conditioning, television, etc. And dare we say it’s more fun?

5. Lose the extra weight. We’re not talking about love handles. Loading up the car with too much stuff could reduce fuel efficiency. Every extra 100 pounds shaves up to two percent off your miles per gallon, according to Do you really expect to use all that sporting gear? Could you maybe stock up on beer at your destination? Just a consideration.

6. Oil up the car. The proper grade of motor oil can up your gas mileage by 1 or 2 percent by reducing friction between moving engine parts. And while you’re at, make it the recycled kind: Valvoline recently rolled out a re-refined motor oil called NextGen with 50 percent recycled content for do-it-yourself oil changers. Or look for auto dealers and repair shops that use Universal Lubricants’s Eco Ultra oil, which contains up to 70 percent recycled content.

7. Check tire pressure. It’s a good idea to check tire pressure frequently, but especially before a long trip and along the way. According to, gas mileage improves up to 3.3 percent with properly inflated tires. A tire pressure check is usually part of the oil change service — if you go that route — so ask the staff to show you how to use a pressure gauge and consider picking one up for the road.

8. Slow down, mister. Observe the speed limit for better fuel efficiency. Anything above 60 mpg reduces your mileage, according to Sudden starts and stops from aggressive driving waste gas, too. Think hypermiling. And, by the way, this is about the journey, not the destination, right?

9. Don’t drive. If you’re heading to another city, consider buying a seat on a coach bus service. You’ll conserve loads of gas and avoid the hassle of driving entirely. Many bus services now feature amenities such as WiFi and movies, too.

Or what about a bike trip instead? Zero gas = zero emissions. Plan out a route on back roads and smaller highways.