Sitting on the high-speed train from Paris to Barcelona, a thought came to my mind: “Do I travel with the environment in mind?” Initially, I chose to take the train instead of flying because it would provide a relaxing, quiet time to unwind. The scenic views and ease of dis/embarking was also a benefit, of course. As we pulled out of the station I thought about the energy (and fuel) required to get a plane off the ground, and how much easier it was to start moving on rails. Of course, I’m not an engineer, but this question piqued my curiosity. What are the greenest ways to travel?
As globetrotters and wanderers, we live to explore. All too often, however, we are driven by the most convenient or affordable methods of transportation. When was the last time you considered your carbon footprint on vacation? Coming from the United States, there has historically been an emphasis on independent travel over green travel. Owning a personal car is more respectable than taking the bus and being able to fly domestically is a sign of affluence. Despite much of Europe centered around automotive transportation, there is far more commuting on two wheels and traveling via the vast railway system.
Taking the train is one of the most effective ways to travel, in terms of energy consumption. Depending on your part of the world, much of the train system is driven by electric rails where the power is sourced from wind farms or other renewable sources. Even trains powered by fossil fuels are typically more efficient than if each group of passengers took their own vehicle. Because trains are guided on rails and change speed relatively few times, their energy consumption is far lower than vehicles that are affected by traffic patterns, varying inclines, and frequent stops for refueling and the needs of the passengers. Even within urban environments, trains are an efficient and relatively green method of transportation when compared to a personal automobile.
As an added bonus, when you take the train for long distances you get to experience areas of untouched wilderness far more intimately than when you travel by air or highway!
Despite planes’ large carbon footprints, they are still my preferred method of travel for long distances (especially overseas). Unfortunately, when compared to the massive pollution from ocean liners, they’re the lesser of two evils. However, even when you travel over land they can be a preferable option when distance is taken into consideration. Unfortunately, it’s hard to give an exact rule of thumb for when to choose to travel by air, due to the fact that there’s no guarantee of the number of passengers (and how many would travel by themselves, by car). My recommendation is simply to keep air travel in the back of your mind, even when traveling distances as short as a few hundred miles.
The landscape is quickly evolving with green automotive transport, thankfully for the better! Electric vehicles are more popular (and advanced) than ever, at an international scale. On the high end, Tesla and other luxury manufacturers are producing incredible marriages of engineering and design, all while more affordable models are appearing in areas of Europe and Asia that were previously inaccessible due to economic or geographic constraints. Unfortunately, we still have a way to go in terms of electric car utilization on a global scale, but recent developments have given us more electric and hybrid rental options when traveling by car is unavoidable.
Ultimately, you should be concerned with the number of passengers and distance. If you’re traveling with friends, try to fit everyone in a single car. If you expect to drive long distances, go for an electric or hybrid car. If you’re staying in an urban setting, ditch the car altogether: with bike and scooter rentals widely available these days, you can stay green and still avoid those long walks.
Green Can Be Measured
As I said above, it’s definitely possible to estimate your carbon footprint when traveling the world. Most of the time, it’s as easy as deciding between an option that consumes fossil fuel and one that doesn’t. Unfortunately, many times it’s far more complicated. While I’d love to hear that you’ve decided to crunch the numbers before your next flight, I’d be just as happy to hear that you chose to rent a bike on your upcoming getaway! If we all make the effort to prioritize green transportation, we’ll not only be rewarded with a cleaner planet but also make eco-conscious travel more affordable over time.
Let’s travel green and travel guilt-free whenever we feel the need to wander and ponder!