Driving into the last five hypocritic weeks of our trip we decided to use the car as our main mode of transport. Mostly to reach the remote natural places. Quite contradictive that in our modern society we need one of the most polluting ways of transport to reach the most beautiful natural places. By taking the car we do realize we are putting more pressure on our planet. We could have used public transport for some of the places we wanted to visit. Then we would have probably needed ten weeks and three times the budget…
Our initial plan was to visit the “highlights” of West Europe within a reachable distance. The exact route is posted here and goes through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain and back to Belgium.
We are realistic – not idealistic – and realize many people use the car to go on holiday, by default. During these five weeks by car, we have tried to lower our environmental impact through different perspectives. By writing about these perspectives and experiences we hope to inspire people to use resources more wisely. We believe saving money is a good motivation for many people to try harder. When the environment is the only argument most people tend to care less and refuse to give up their comfort. Unfortunately, that’s reality…
Humanity has the choice to use technology. The majority of people chooses to use it almost blindly. We are very aware that taking away technology – meaning comfort – is something that is not going to happen soon. Humanity is spoiled and downgrading is something that is just not happening, for now. Thankfully there are already people who are able to downgrade and sacrifice in favor of the planet, but that’s a minority. If we would all do that our planet would be in a much better state.
Nowadays, driving a car is still burning fossil fuels and heating up our planet. Even though the electric car was invented more than 150 years ago!
What can we still believe with all these recent public scandals exposed? For example, the intended incorrect pollution measurements of cars. When industries are involved we should always be suspicious and assume the worst. The global industry business isn’t interested in the state of our planet. They are only interested in getting the money out of (y)our pockets.
We decided to take things into our own hands and experiment with fuel consumption. Because we had a lot of kilometers ahead of us we wanted to test how far we can take the car with one full fuel tank.
Is eco-driving eco-traveling??
Eco-driving is something good made out of something bad. We shouldn’t use fossil fuels in the first place and when we do, why not use them more efficiently? It’s not a solution but it is a way that benefits your wallet, your car, and your footprint. So why not save money and put less pressure on planet Earth?
I’m not going to dive too deep into how to eco-drive. There are numerous sites about that already. See here, here and here (Dutch).
The essence of it is pretty simple: anticipate, keep your RPM below 2200, keep your gear high and understand your car. For example, when I’m driving 60 km/h I am already in 5th gear.
We were driving a Skoda Superb with a diesel tank capacity of around 70 liters. This car has 6 forward gears. Because of the 6th gear, it allows us to decrease the RPM to 2200 on higher speed roads.
The gasoline meter is a little bit over half with a distance of 939,3 km driven. Theoretically, we could complete about 1550 km if we keep the same driving style.
Situation 2 is worse than situation 1. This is mainly because we were driving through the Dolomites mountain region in Italy. There are some very steep roads. The worst enemy of an eco driver is mountains. With a distance of 909,3 kilometer driven the complete theoretical distance here is 1304 km. Practically it would have probably been more because we already exited the steep Dolomites region.
As you can see, changing the mountains for highways doesn’t pay off much. It was still hilly but the results are good after all. The sweet spot for eco-driving is around 80km/h in 6th gear (or 5th if you don’t have 6 gears). Driving 120-130km/h on French highways is quite consuming (4,5 – 5 l/100km). In situation 3, I almost completely emptied the tank (I think there were 3 liters left). 1361 kilometers with an average of 4,4 liters/100km and a range of 75km left. Theoretical maximum: 1436 km.
We can conclude that eco-driving gives a minimum of 30% more distance for the same amount of fuel. The biggest variable being your driving environment, mountains or flat.
NOTE: we were driving in mountainous environments quite a lot. the Alps, the Dolomites, the Verdon Gorge and North Spain. That’s why the consumption is more than it would be in flat areas like Belgium. I’m estimating an additional 5-15% can be achieved by driving in flat areas the whole time.
A small anecdote: when Couchsurfing in Switzerland the mother of our host told us she’s driving a new hybrid car. With that hybrid, she said she drives 600km using 35 liters of gasoline. That means 1200km per 70 liters, the same amount as our fuel tank. When we eco-drive with our non-hybrid, we last almost 200km more. Another example that everything depends on your driving style…
1.2) AC or windows open?
Studies say that the cut-off point between the two is around 65km/h. Below it’s better to lower the windows. Above 65km/h it is better to put on the air conditioning (softly). For more details read here.
It’s interesting to read that there is four times more force on a car driving 110km/h compared to one driving 55km/h. Double the speed, quadruple the external force.
Besides driving, there are other ways to lower or divide your environmental impact. We were always traveling as 2 people, ourselves. This leaves the car less than half full. The average number of passengers in Flanders is around 2 people. Less than half of the full capacity of the car! In order to fill up all the seats and lower your footprint, there are several options.
2.1) Pick up hitchikers
We used to hitch-hike in Portugal, after walking the Rota Vicentina.
We feel like picking up hitch-hikers is more social than ecological because it’s not really keeping cars away from the road. If no one picks up the hitch-hikers they will eventually take a train or a bus which is better for the environment than a car. We always pick up hitch-hikers when they are heading our direction. We really like the social part and hearing their stories.
Blablacar is a car sharing platform that is very popular in Spain, Portugal and France. We haven’t tried it much in other countries but the popularity in Europe is growing fast. We couldn’t participate as drivers because of insurance problems (not privately owned car). If you have a car yourself there is no problem at all and you can start earning money now! It is a very good solution for filling up the empty spaces in cars and getting paid for it. It keeps other cars from being on the road – fewer traffic jams – and you get paid as a driver for your services, win-win! Contradictorily, it is mostly cheaper than the public transport. You will save money as a passenger and as a driver.
Nowadays cars can be houses on wheels. We didn’t have that kind of van but we slept in our car anyway. Combining Couchsurfing and sleeping in the car gave us a healthy balance of resources. We estimate sleeping in the car and Couchsurfing was around 50/50 during these five weeks. We needed very few resources when we lived in the car. A few liters of water and a medium camping stove got us through the day.
Everywhere we went there were plenty of public water springs to fill up our 5-liter bottle every few days. We showered mostly in the Couchsurfers’ places. One time we even slept on a parking next to a camping sneaking in their bathroom facilities for free the next day. Another time we showered in a public drinking water spring out of town! Flexibility is key…
By using Couchsurfing we participate in a sharing economy without disrupting the local economy. We live together with local people, using existing resources in their houses like the bathroom and kitchen. We try not to stay in hotels that are built especially for tourists. These hotels take away the space needed for local people to live. Hotels also raise prices within cities, just like Airbnb. Everyone loves Airbnb but because of that, it is creating negative consequences in more and more places around the world. It’s called the “Airbnb effect“.
Couchsurfing is free and I wrote about how it works a while ago. If you’re only in it for the money, don’t bother. The social part is the real treasure. Our best travel experiences are always through Couchsurfing. It’s proven again and again. Also in the past five weeks…
It was another great adventure and a great end to our 7-month trip. Pictures will be uploaded before the end of the month, with the next post.
On to the next adventure!