How to Leave No Trace on a Road Trip

Haley and Gary - July 22, 2021

What’s better than packing up your car, RV or trailer and hitting the open road? Doing it armed with Leave No Trace knowledge! If you’re anything like us, it feels like an age since we were able to safely travel from one national park to the next, or simply driving across state lines to give a family member a hug after not seeing them in over a year. Whether it’s a quick weekend away or you have a more extensive itinerary, there are several ways that Leave No Trace Principles can be adapted for your road tripping fun:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
    With many public spaces still following COVID-19 protocols, including reservation requirements, capacity limitations, business operation hour changes, etc., it’s more important than ever to take the time before you leave to research the places you plan to go and make sure you are prepared to follow any necessary guidelines. (Speaking from experience, nothing is worse than driving a long distance to go to a famous ice cream shop just to find out that its closed!). Bonus tip: check out How to Reduce Stops by Packing the 10+ Essentials on Your Next Trip to see how you can pack for success on your road trip!
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
    With more people than ever ready to get outside, campsite reservations are more difficult than ever to score, resulting in many people opting for dispersed camping (camping on public lands such as in national forests, usually without developed facilities). In these cases, it’s still important to camp on durable surfaces and if possible, in designated areas where it’s clear that camp has been set up there before, so that we are only leaving an impact where it has already been made, instead of creating new impact.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
    As tempting as it is to throw orange peels or your leftover sandwich crumbs out the window while driving, avoid this at all costs! Orange peels and other food items, although considered “biodegradable”, can take up to 2 years to decompose, so it’s best to throw these out at your next stop while you stretch those legs.
  4. Leave What You Find
    One of our personal favorite parts of a road trip is collecting souvenirs! We collect things from each destination like pressed pennies, magnets, and postcards. We DON’T collect things that we find in nature like leaves, rocks, shells, wildflowers, etc. As tempting as it is to want to take these things home with us as a memory of our trip, this disrupts the environment that these items came from. Instead, we can take photos of these things for keepsake!Another way that we can practice this Principle is by making sure we are not bringing invasive species from one place to the next, by shaking off our shoes and clothing to avoid transfer.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
    Save some car space and avoid bringing firewood from home. If campfires are permitted where you are staying, purchase local firewood. Avoid burning your trash in a campfire, and follow any burn bans that take place, especially in the peak summer months. There are plenty of alternative options, like cooking meals over a camp stove instead of over a fire.
  6. Respect Wildlife
    One of the most thrilling parts of a road trip is encountering wildlife along the way! Keep in mind that you should observe wildlife from a safe distance in order to not disrupt them and avoid endangering yourself. In addition, don’t feed any animals you find, no matter how big or small they are. You might be letting loose on your diet while on vacation, but the animals are not!
  7. Be Considerate of Others
    Keep in mind that anyone you encounter on your road trip is there for a different reason. Some may be passing through briefly on a longer trip, others may see this as their main destination. In the same way, some people want to experience outdoor spaces in solitude, and others want to share it with their loved ones. We should respect the fact that everyone has different intentions behind their outdoor recreation, and we can work to be accepting of that.

By the Subaru/Leave No Trace Teams. For over 20 years these teams have provided tangible solutions to serious issues facing our outside space and reach over 15 million people every year. Learn more about the important work of our mobile education teams.  Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Thule, Fjällräven, The Coleman Company and Klean Kanteen.

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