How to Be a Greener Van Life Traveler

a woman holding a bowl of food scraps for composting

Living and traveling in a van but also concerned about the environment? Us, too. Luckily there are steps that all van life travelers can take to live a greener existence. Notice that we said ‘greener’ and not simply ‘green’. The reason for this small distinction is that by being motor vehicle operators who run on fossil fuels, we’ll by default be contributing carbon dioxide to the environment. (Carbon dioxide is one of a handful of greenhouse gases that are contributing to the rise in the Earth’s atmosphere which are leading to a host of other changes. To learn more, read what NASA has to say as well as National Geographic and NPR.) We’ve got a few tips on how you can have a smaller negative impact on the planet and still have amazing adventures. Keep reading to see our top tips on how to be a greener van life traveler. They include tips such as calculating your carbon footprint, offsetting it and even composting!

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint Living in a Van

Our daily lives include lots of things that we don’t typically think of that cause greenhouse gas emissions. These activities include things like driving our van, throwing waste away, using lights, charging our computers, etc. When you add them up, you get your carbon footprint. It’s another way of looking at how much greenhouse gas emissions you, your household or your van are creating.

There’s no exact science to know how much you are responsible. There are, however, several calculators to help you calculate your carbon footprint living in a van. Here’s a link to one carbon footprint calculator created by the EPA. It’ll take a little time to plug your information in but the results will give you details about your home energy, transportation and waste. It was an eye opener for us.

Offset Your Carbon Footprint While Living in a Van

Once you know the size of your carbon footprint you can take steps to reduce it. It can be a bit difficult to determine where and how to go about doing so. We found this article by The Guardian to be a helpful source. In it they list (as well as other sources including the New York Times) Gold Standard, a non-proft organization that acts as a resource for helping you find projects that will allow you to offset your carbon footprint. Gold Standard is essentially a third party authenticator which means that you can be sure your money is going to the project that’s being advertised.

Drive less

One of the easiest solutions to reducing your carbon footprint as a van life explorer is to drive less. This could take form in several ways:

  1. Traveling closer to your home base.
  2. Staying parked for longer as opposed to driving somewhere new each day.
  3. Leaving your van parked and exploring on foot or on bike.
  4. Plot out your route before leaving so you can avoid back-tracking and missed turns. Check out the post we wrote on the Wayfarer Cairns app which has stealth camping spots and off-the-grid camping spots just for the Wayfarer community. The app can help you hone in on a route as well as a destination.

Driving your van to new spots is a big reason why many of us chose to get into van life. However, being a little smarter about your route and sometimes opting for an adventure sans van are all helpful strategies to reducing your carbon footprint.

Turn Your Engine Off Instead of Idling

We were guilty of idling until last summer when we went to Canada and found out that it’s against the law in many spots. (The reasons were to create a cleaner breathing experience for those nearby and to also help reduce greenhouses gases.) It didn’t take long until we made it a habit to turn our engine off when stopping for a pit-stop or while eating a LOBSTER ROLL on Nova Scotia haha.


Most of us have it ingrained in our brains to recycle. We’ve been doing it at home for decades and our brains automatically categorize as we make a move to discard something: Does the item go in the trash bin or the recycling bin? Luckily it’s fairly easy to recycle while living in a van as many campgrounds offer recycling stations. If there isn’t a recycling receptacle at your overnight spot, you can also make a point to sort it in your van and dispose of it once you find a place that accepts it. We recommend a bin with a lid so that the odor doesn’t ruin your enthusiasm for recycling.

Consider Composting in Your Van

You can compost in a van? Say what? Yep. It’s possible. Save your food scraps like orange peels, coffee grounds, vegetable ends and put them in a small bin rather than throwing them into the trash. Then, check out this website called Litterless which has a directory organized by state and city that has suggestions of where you can drop your compost. Many of the ones you can buy online have holes in the lids and also charcoal filters to help with the smell. You can purchase a compost bin on Amazon or you can pretty easily make a DIY compost bin.

You can buy the above stainless steel composting bin on Amazon for about $25.00. It’s 1.3 gallons, has an air-tight lid and comes with a charcoal filter. You’ll need to replace the filter but one will last roughly six months. It gets a 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon with over 9,100 people weighing in about it.

The bin above will hold food for a couple of days. Pair this with the app called ShareWaste. It will help you link up with people who are composting, feeding chickens or worm-farming. The app is good for van lifers who want to be green because you can compost without having to haul around an enormous bin. You can save up a little and then get your food scraps to someone who wants them. The app is available for both Android and iOS.

Consider alternative transportation methods

Are we advocating for ditching our van or yours? Nope. But every now and then, when the opportunity arises, we can opt to walk to see a new area. Or ride a bicycle. We’re also big fans of public transportation and take the bus and or train often when exploring urban areas. It’s a fun way to get out from your own little bubble and meet other people as well as save a little fuel and cut down on greenhouse gases. (It sometimes costs less, too).

Choose your lodging wisely

As someone who travels in a van, you probably don’t think much about other lodging options. But on those rare occasions when you do choose to spend money on a hotel or motel, you can check to see whether or not they participate in the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. In order for lodging destinations to be included in the GSTC they must adhere to the following criteria:

The Hotel Criteria are organized around four main themes: effective sustainability planning, maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community, enhancing cultural heritage, and reducing negative impacts to the environment.

You can learn more on their website here. Oh and if this all seems like too much trouble or too expensive, we get it. You can still make a difference by leaving the tiny little bar of soap in it’s plastic wrapper on the sink and using the one in your van instead. You can also reuse your towel more than just once or twice since COME ON we reuse our towels when on the road often!

Drink Tap Water

Notice the Wayfarer Van sticker on our reusable water bottle!

This simple step of drinking tap water means you that you can easily reduce the amount of single use plastic being discarded. If you want to know more about plastics and how they contribute to greenhouse gases, read more here: Yale Climate Connections and this one from NPR.

Choose Your Van Life Gear Wisely

We love repurposing items whenever we can. Got an old mason jar lying around? Put it to use as a food storage container rather than purchasing new plastic containers. Don’t have any around? No worries, hit up your local Goodwill and check out their housewares section. They usually have a ton of options, many of which come with lids and sometimes even stack. This will help you cut down on plastic bags. Most of us travel with a reusable water bottle thanks to the tip above but if you don’t, it’s not too late! Oh and another good idea is to skip the Saran Wrap and opt for Bees Wrap instead. Bees Wrap is organic and reusable food wrap.

Buy Local

Purchasing locally is not only good for the local economy but it also reduces your carbon footprint. If you can get seasonal berries at the local farmer’s market, purchase them and forgo the ones that have been flown and driven many miles to reach you.

Also, while you’re out doing shopping, take your own reusable shopping bag!

Go Paperless

Many van life travelers have already made the switch from paper bills to paperless communication so that they don’t get behind on a payment. If you haven’t done so yet, it’s not too late. And now you have the added benefit of knowing that doing so will help make you a greener van lifer.

Beyond bills, you can also opt to do your reading (books, magazines, newspapers) online or via an e-book, download, audiobook, etc. Instead of using paper towels you can opt for dish rags.

How to Be a Greener Van Life Traveler Recap

We love to take road trips and are not advocating for anyone to get rid of their van. Repeat, we’re not suggesting you get rid of your Ram Promaster with a Wayfarer Kit! We’re instead taking a look at our own travel behaviors and seeing if we can improve upon them so that we can be greener van lifers. And we challenge you to do the same!

Already composting or offsetting your carbon footprint? Had a good or bad experience with either? We’d love to hear from other van life adventurers about their journey towards cutting down on greenhouse gases.

Leave a comment and as always feel free to like, share or pin.

Additional Resources for Camper Van Composting

Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley are professional travel writers photographers and the authors of who travel in their 2018 Ram Promaster City with a Wayfarer Camper Van Conversion Kit.

Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

4 thoughts on “How to Be a Greener Van Life Traveler

  1. This is such a helpful post – thank you for all the tips! My husband and I started living in our van full time six months ago and have recently been inspired to live a greener lifestyle. Many of the resources linked here are great, particularly the carbon footprint calculator, carbon footprint offsetting articles, and the compost sharing app.

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