Can We See the World Without Destroying It? The Need for Sustainable Travel

Guest post by Laura of Tutus and Tiny Hats

Lately, I’ve found myself torn between wanderlust and concern about global warming. I want so badly to see the world, but I don’t want to harm it — especially since we’re terrifyingly close to the point of no return.

As much as I might wish otherwise, it seems pretty clear that air travel is unsustainable. It’s unlikely that airplanes will become more efficient in the near future, and carbon offsets aren’t particularly helpful in reducing emissions–they might even make it worse by encouraging people to fly more. Luckily, though, air travel is not the only way to see the world.

One alternative is traveling by ship. There’s even some evidence that ships have a cooling effect on the atmosphere due to aerosol pollution (which is still, unfortunately, pollution).

It is possible, although expensive and slow, to travel by cargo ship. If there were increased demand for cargo ship travel, and perhaps some kind of government backing, it could become cheaper and more accessible.

Speaking of ships, one of my friends went on a Semester at Sea voyage last year and loved it–like, life-changing-level loved it. I’m jealous, and would love to go on an SAS enrichment voyage someday. If this aerosol cooling effect thing is true, maybe my time on the ship would even cancel out my flights to and from the beginning and end points of the cruise.


Another alternative is train travel. How cool would it be if this cross-country high-speed rail system, pictured above, existed? Trains are already a good way to get around much of Europe and Asia, and could be a great alternative to both driving and flying if we invested more money in Amtrak and pushed for cleaner and faster rail technology.

However, there’s still the issue of time–or the lack thereof, since there’s no legally guaranteed vacation time in the US, and the amount of employer-given vacation time is much less than in Europe. With the amount of time USians currently spend working, there’s no way we could make the switch to slower, more sustainable forms of travel.

Which is another reason to push for more vacation time–in addition to the improved health and reduced stress it would bring. It’s even been suggested that the European model of work can slow global warming.

Honestly, I doubt the US will ever adopt the European model (as much as I wish we would). But it’s worth talking about, especially as an inspiration for the growing economies of the developing world.

It’s important to note that Europeans still fly quite a bit, even though they have good rail systems and a good amount of vacation time. So switching to slower, more sustainable forms of travel would involve not only adequate vacation time and available alternatives, but also a cultural shift. It would mean an alliance between travel junkies and environmental activists. It would mean making boats cool again, whatever that takes. It would mean standing up and shouting from the rooftops: “We care about the planet, and we want to see the world. Let’s make this possible.

lauraLaura wants to both see and save the world. You can find her at Tutus and Tiny Hats, where she blogs about fat, fashion, and life.

6 thoughts to “Can We See the World Without Destroying It? The Need for Sustainable Travel”

  1. Good points, Laura! Indeed, us, Europeans do fly quite a bit, despite our good railway system. Low cost flights are tempting because they are so much cheaper than travelling by train. Besides, you can get to your destination so much faster, especially in countries like mine, where train travel takes ages because of the poor infrastructure of the railways. However, flying has a downside: you don’t get to see much of the countries you cross. That’s why I often prefer travelling by car, even if it takes longer.

      1. I love train travel. You brought up a great point about vacation time not being long enough in the U.S. to make it feasible, I used to take the train from the midwest to NY when I was in college and it took 2 to 3 days (it was fun though) so I definitely agree with you about the need for longer vacations.

        I believe amtrak is working on high speed rail from Chicago to St. Louis. If it goes well hopefully they will expand.

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