Traveling This Summer: Try these climate-smart travel ideas

With summer just around the corner, many people are stir-crazy, willing to tolerate a seemingly less risky variant of Covid, and ready for a vacation. Whether it’s a family reunion, catching up with old friends in faraway places, or just seeing a bit more of the world, lots of us are looking to travel this year.  

Given what we’ve all been through, it’s long overdue. The pent-up demand for travel is so strong that it almost makes it easy to forget that traveling can be a big contributor to climate change, the world’s most important “inconvenient truth.” 

Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re likely someone who cares deeply about climate change and wants to do everything they can to minimize your contribution to climate change. But you also want to see your family, friends and faraway places. How do you balance these competing desires?

Here are some ideas for satisfying your wanderlust and minimizing your impact:

Perhaps it’s obvious, but one of the best ways to reduce the impact of your travel is to reduce the frequency of air travel. Can you get the experience you’re looking for somewhere closer to home? Many people in Oregon have been to the Grand Canyon, but never have seen Hells Canyon, which is equally impressive in its own way. They’ve been to the Alps but not the Wallowas – spectacular “alp-like” mountains right here in Oregon. They may have walked the beaches of Fiji without ever setting foot at Kalaloch, a “rain forest meets the beach” getaway along the Washington Coast.

If a longer trip to see friends and family or more remote or exotic locations is in your plans, here are some ideas for keeping the impact of those trips as small as possible.

Trains are a good lower-carbon option to consider, too, especially for mid-distance intercity travel. Most trains are roomier than planes and you can get up and walk around as much as you like. You can also see some spectacular scenery, e.g., the California coastline or the Northern Rockies, up close, and not from 35,000 feet up. 

Electric trains are even less polluting. Unfortunately, there are currently no electric long-distance trains operating anywhere near Oregon. (If you find yourself in the DC-NY-Boston corridor, check out the Acela trains that Amtrak operates.) However, even a jaunt from Portland to Seattle or Eugene to Portland in a conventional diesel-powered train is more sustainable (and relaxing) than driving or flying, emitting more climate emissions than trains.

If your only choice is flying or driving, which is worse depends on how many people are on the plane or in your car and how far you go. Most carbon emissions from planes occur during takeoff and are much lower at cruising altitude, so, if you must fly, fly far and then walk, bike, take the train or rent an electric vehicle (EV) to minimize the overall impact of your trip. 

Driving is sometimes the only convenient way to get to more out-of-the-way places, be they the Wallowas, Crater Lake, or a close relative living in Crescent City. But taking along family or friends greatly reduces your per-passenger mile climate impact. And as the region’s network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers builds out, traveling in an EV is increasingly feasible and your emissions will be dramatically lower. 

Ever since early hominids started walking, traveling has been a part of our existence. Unfortunately, today, we find our existence might depend on traveling less often, and more sustainably. Making climate-friendly choices as you plan whether, how far, how long, and in what way you travel, can help you balance your desire to travel with your concern over the climate, and will model the way for others to follow in your footsteps.


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