The greenest way to travel is obviously not travelling at all. Just stay at home, stare at old postcards and cry into your hand-crafted bowl of organic kale.
But although the travel industry is responsible for about 5% of global carbon emissions, it’s also one of the main sources of income for many developing countries.
Besides, our planet is so damn beautiful that not exploring it would be a huge waste. So how can we see the world without destroying it? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I decided to shift the focus of my blog toward responsible travel.
It turns out the answer is even more complex than I anticipated. Did you know it can be more eco-friendly to fly than drive in some cases? Or that taking public transport may not always be the most eco-friendly option? Here is everything I found…
The most eco-friendly mode of transport is one you were given for free at birth – your legs. I did my first long-distance hike in Mallorca last month and it was a lot more fun than I expected!
When hiking, always stay on marked trails and maintain a safe distance from any animals you encounter. Going off the beaten path could mean you trample on protected or endangered plants.
Biking is faster than walking and it will tone your calves like nobody’s business. It’s obviously limiting in terms of how far you can get, but perfect for exploring your backyard. Unless you live in Nepal – I wouldn’t wish those mountains on my worst enemy.
Generally speaking, taking the bus is the greenest way to go. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a couple boarding a motor coach will cut their carbon nearly in half, compared with driving even a hybrid car. Better yet, they will cut their emissions by 55-75% compared to flying – although this depends on the distance travelled as you will see in the flying section.
It’s best to take the bus at popular times when it will be the fullest. Why? “Obviously, the energy expenditure in moving around a transit vehicle per passenger mile depends on the number of passengers,” says Eric Morris, urban planning professor of at Clemson University.
“Whether you have one passenger in a bus or 40 passengers in a bus, you’re going to be expending almost the same amount of energy. So it all depends on the ridership and the occupancy that transit vehicles and, for that matter, autos carry.” In other words, public transport isn’t always the best option. Not until more people start taking it anyway – so encourage your loved ones to ditch the car as well.
Taking the train tends to be less eco-friendly than bussing it, but it’s still a great choice vis-a-vis flying. It can also be a lot faster and more romantic than taking the bus. There’s something about sitting at the table and watching the countryside swoosh past you every time you lift your eyes from your favourite novel.
Newer trains tend to be more environmentally friendly than older models, so keep this in mind when booking your travel. This applies to all the vehicles mentioned in this article.
Road tripping is a really fun way to explore a new destination. It can also be a good green choice, if done right. What does that mean? Fitting as many people into one car as possible rather than taking several vehicles for one. But even more important is the type of car you choose.
I don’t think I need to tell you that a Miami-style Hummer truck isn’t good for the environment. Instead of a fuel-guzzling beastie go for a smaller vehicle – ideally a electric car or a hybrid.
But when it comes to longer journeys, driving tends to be less green than even flying. Yup, I told you this was a complex issue.
Is a motorcycle greener than a car? It’s not an easy question. A study from 2011 using vehicles from the ’00s showed that a motorcycle used 28% less fuel and emitted 30% fewer carbon dioxide than a car. But it also emitted 416% more hydrocarbons, 3,220% more oxides of nitrogen and 8,065% more carbon monoxide.
A standard motorbike can only carry two people so my suggestion would be using a car and filling all its seats. There’s also the safety issue – my dad who is an avid motorcyclist has been in two terrible accidents so I’m not their biggest fan.
Flying gets a lot of criticism for destroying the planet. Rightly so in many cases. They may “only” account for 1.5-2% of global CO2 emissions but that relatively small number doesn’t paint the whole picture.
The aviation industry is among the fastest-growing causes of global warming and it’s expanding by more than 5% every year. Add to this falling ticket prices and increasing incomes in countries like China and India and I’m sure you can see the issue.
Here are three simple tips for those time when you need to fly. Take as direct a flight as possible. Fly economy. Research your airline’s environmental policies. Virgin Airlines and Air France have been consistently topping the charts for the past few years, but this is constantly changing as companies adopt new policies and upgrade their fleets.
As you can see, there is no simple answer to the greenest mode of transport dilemma. To help you make the best decision no matter the situation, here are two handy infographics. If you’d like to delve deeper and do more research on the topic, you should also click here and here.
I’ve not covered watercraft in this article because there are so many different kinds, but it’s another option worth considering. Row boats especially… 😉 But if you’re thinking of going on a cruise, please read this article first.
Whichever mode of transport you’re taking consider carbon offsetting your travel. Don’t use this as an easy way out though – we can’t heal our planet by slapping a few bandaids on its wounds. We need to change how we live if we want future generations to have the same freedoms we do now.
I really hope this article helps you make greener travel choices. If you have any questions or studies you’d like to share, please leave them in a comment below. There’s always something new we can all learn!