On Wednesday, September 27th, we celebrate World Tourism Day, one of those invented holidays, like National French Fry Day, this one concocted by the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization to promote sustainable travel around the world (and this hashtag: #TravelEnjoyRespect).
That is not an unambitious goal, because while travel is one of the biggest and fastest growing sectors in the global economy it can also be one of the worst things you can do to the planet — especially if you go by plane. Though air travel has become more fuel efficient in recent decades, if you’re flying to your destination, odds are you’re producing more greenhouse gas emissions per mile than a group on a road trip, especially on shorter flights. And taking a road trip is no silver bullet. We’re not knocking road trips (we love road trips) but traveling by car is a gas guzzler too.
What, then, is the environmentally-conscious traveler to do? Here are a few (not entirely practical) ways to get around with a smaller carbon footprint than an airplane.
RIDE A BIKE
Cycling is all about freedom. You get something closer to the speed of a car with none of the gas mileage. On a bike, says travel writer Aric S. Queen, who has cycled across three continents, you’re “able to stop constantly to take in an alley, abandoned building or a nice field to have a snack in.” Also, rolling into a town on peddle power, Queen says, earns you more respect from the locals, “and they will treat you much differently than someone who just stepped off a faster mode of transport.”
For the extra weird among us, I should add that all of this probably also goes for unicycles, roller blades, and other people-powered, wheel-based contraptions.
TAKE A HIKE
Walking is the purest form of travel there is. Traveling by foot, at the speed of your own heart, the world barely moves by at all, and that’s the point. “Walking trips are perfect for people who are looking to slow down, take their time, and fully immerse themselves in one specific region,” says Stevie Christie, Co-Owner and Head of Adventure for Wilderness Scotland.
If you go by foot, wear good shoes. You don’t want to be the guy hobbling along screaming obscenities at the heavens on the Camino de Santiago.
HOP A TRAIN
Trains aren’t exactly carbon neutral, but pound for pound their greenhouse emissions are a lot lower than those from an airplane or a car. Plus, a good train just might be the most comfortable way to travel. Natty Adams, co-author of the book I Am Dandy, puts it best: “Rail travel is not the exclusive preserve of the disabled, morbidly obese, Amish, indigent, criminal, aerophobic or European type. There remain in this world some sane people who prefer to travel unmolested, unbelted, and free to walk the length of a car to buy a drink whenever we feel like it. Faced with the indignity and discomfort of modern air travel and confidently delusion free about the actual value of our time, rail travelers are the last possessors of a luxurious secret.”
EVERYONE ABOARD THE ZEPPELIN!
Zeppelins call to mind frightful images of the Hindenberg crashing to the earth in a ball of flame, and the infamous cry of that old timey guy on the radio: “Oh the humanity!!!” But the zeppelin was once considered the most luxurious way to travel and there are signs that it could be making a comeback, albeit held aloft by helium (which isn’t explosive) rather than hydrogen (which, you know, is).
…OR THE HOT AIR BALLOON!
Hot air balloon travel isn’t really a thing, but it should be, and I don’t actually know if it is any easier on the climate than an airplane, but probably? It’s a hot air balloon! Who — other than someone fretting over a concern so ignoble as where they want to go (since you can’t steer in the face of sub-optimal conditions) — wouldn’t want to float far above the ground, carried by the wind to destinations unknown? If you go by hot air balloon, please wear a monocle. And send pictures.