When it's time for your next road trip, don't you wish you could save on fuel costs and avoid spewing too much pollution into the atmosphere? For those who don't own cars (or only need a car once they get to where their destination), there are some greener solutions out there than road trips and old-fashioned car rentals.
Car sharing is typically used by city-dwellers who don't want the hassle of owning their own car. With these programs, vehicles are parked in convenient spots all over a city or region, and members can reserve times to take them for a drive, as needed. Rather than standing at some car rental desk, you can reserve online and be on your way with a car accessible from your own neighborhood.
Zipcar is probably the most well-known car sharing company. Its mission is to reduce the number of personally owned cars on the road by providing vehicles when and where people really need them. Hybrid vehicles are included in Zipcar fleet, and you can save on gas in the long run by only using a truck or SUV once in a while, like when you have to transport equipment or drive in wintery conditions.
There are other car sharing initiatives cropping up all over the country. Mint, in New York and Boston, offers tiny fuel-efficient vehicles including Smart cars. I-GO, based in Chicago, has hybrid models available. The Bay Area's City CarShare program includes plenty of hybrids as well as traditional vehicles.
If you're really into the idea of sharing, you can put your car on loan or borrow from fellow residents with one of these new peer-to-peer car sharing programs. Boston area drivers are turning to RelayRides to rent cars from each other. The Bay Area equivalent is Getaround, and the Standford University community is experimenting with Wheelz.
Greener Car Rentals
If you don't need a car frequently enough to join a car sharing program, or there isn't one close to where you live or vacation, you may need to stick to regular car rental companies. But you can seek out more fuel-efficient vehicles whenever possible.
Some companies are making it easy for customers to go green: Enterprise offers hybrids and/or electric vehicles in 33 cities and regions. The Hertz website allows you to filter searches with the "Green Traveler Collection" to quickly find hybrids and other fuel-efficient models.
You can also try using electric cars to really reduce your environmental impact. If you're trying out an electric vehicle (EV) for the first time, it's sure to be an adventure on a longer trip. You'll barely need any gas, but the newness of the technology means that getting charged up is not as easy as pulling over at a rest stop. Just prepare yourself with information about the EV network and you'll be fine: check out the CarStations website or EVChargerMaps to get started.
Joanna Eng is a New York-based writer and editor who covers travel, green living, food, careers, entrepreneurship, and more. Her travel experiences have ranged from hostel hopping in Mexico to staying with distant relatives in China to renting a beach apartment in New Jersey.