When you’ve got a distance to travel, planes seem like the first and best option. They’re quick, convenient, and cheap. There are only two problems with that. The first is that planes are also environmentally toxic, with their emissions being one of the bigger contributors to global warming. The other is that flying isn’t actually all that quick and convenient once you factor in all the faffing about with boarding passes and passports, sitting around in the airport, and having your toothpaste confiscated in case it’s a cleverly disguised explosive.
Which is all very well, but what’s the alternative? Fortunately, air travel is just one of numerous options available to the long distance traveller, and not only do these alternatives allow you to feel better about the impact you’re having on the environment, in many ways they’re also much nicer ways to get around.
Although it may have fallen out of fashion lately, the train is still the best form of long distance travel since the canal. Indeed, after years of being gradually sidelined, the train is starting to make a comeback against the aeroplane. The Spanish government has started investing in its rail system in the belief that it will overtake planes as the popular way of getting around.
Spain’s not alone. Across Europe it’s becoming clear that high speed rail is an environmentally friendly, and often far more comfortable alternative to planes.
Of course, there are places that are somewhat inaccessible to trains. There’s a lot of water in the world and a lot of the places you need to get to are on the other side of it. The Channel Tunnel was an amazing feat of engineering, but an Atlantic Tunnel is yet to appear on the cards.
So if you’re crossing the Atlantic and don’t want to board a plane, you’re going to have to make like a pilgrim and get on a ship. Of course, this has problems of its own. Places on transatlantic ships, whether they’re cruise ships or freighters, are expensive, need to be booked a long time in advance, and can take you as long as ten days to cover the distance a plane would in as many hours. At that point you need to seriously consider just how committed you are to both the environment, and getting to your destination.
Do You Need to Travel?
Of course, the big question is, do you need to travel at all? Sometimes you just have to be there. Holidays, family engagements, business trips that require firm handshakes are all things where there’s no substitute for that. However, teleconferencing and Skype have got to the point where most meetings can be carried out remotely, saving on your carbon footprint, money and time.
Offsetting the Damage
If there’s no other way, you can find other ways to alleviate the guilt of having to use a plane. Buying carbon offsets is one option that will help you pay it back a little. When flying, make sure you use the most direct route possible and combine as many trips as you can in one so that you’re not hopping to and fro over the Atlantic.
If you’re travelling for a holiday, also think carefully about your destination. Try delving into the world of “eco tourism”, searching for specially built and run eco-hotels, where the food, water and electricity are all sourced in environmentally friendly ways.
However, for the most part, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that matters. Think carefully about whether you need to take the trip, and if you do, do you really need to be there on the first flight? Taking the slower road isn’t just better for the environment, it might be better for you as well.