Fellow Traveler, have you noticed that the whole of January seems to be geared towards self-improvement? You got your gym specials, your blog posts on resolutions, your newly-purchased diet books. But self-improvement is so often restricted to only improving your physical health. You and I both know that you’re more than just a body.
So, have you given thought to how you’re going to improve your mental & emotional health this year? Have you even sat down and determined your values, bro? How are you supposed to improve your mental & emotional health if your actions aren’t aligning with your values? I suspect that if you’re reading this blog, an important value to you is sustainability. You’ve probably worked towards sustainability in some aspects of your life: how you buy your food, maybe even how you buy your clothes. But have you thought about sustainable travel?
Rethinking the way you travel will not only have the obvious environmental benefits, but also unexpected personal benefits that range from fluffy, fun-loving reasons to deeper, more meaningful reasons.
Without further ado, here are four of the most important reasons you should rethink your travel:
Reason #1: The Environment
I’m sure you saw this one coming. You may not consider the environment the most important reason for you to rethink your travel, but you wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t at least a little concerned about the environment.
Travel is getting to be so much more than a luxury, and I think that’s amazing! Traveling is the single most important thing you can do to benefit yourself and those around the world (but of course that’s a travel counselor’s opinion). It makes you healthier, it makes you happier, and gosh darn it, even though I have no statistics to back this next radical claim up, it makes you a better person. But with an increase in travel comes an increase in pollution. 2015 was the hottest year on record. People are being displaced, & cultures are being destroyed because of climate change. Plane travel (our fastest and therefore most ideal mode of transportation for long trips) absolutely wrecks your carbon footprint. And with travel expected to rise 80% within the next 15 years, we need to find alternative ways of traveling.
I apologize if it sounds like I’m lecturing. I’m not trying to lecture, just impress upon you how important it is for you to start rethinking your travel. People’s lives are at risk due to climate change, and rethinking travel can help save lives.
But enough seriousness….
Reason #2: It's More Fun!
Shoo, we were getting pretty dark up there. But don’t worry, rethinking your travel isn’t all doom & gloom. Rethinking your travel actually is more fun!
You already know that I’m obsessed with train travel. It’s comfortable, it’s beautiful, and it’s full of adventure. Maybe it’s being able to view your progress as you travel, or maybe it’s not being packed into a tube like a sardine, but train travel has a magic all its own. If you haven’t traveled by train, this is the year to start thinking about it. Train travel is slightly more difficult & inconvenient in the US than in other countries (like Canada--they have an amazing train system), but when you rethink your travel and ease carbon emissions on the environment, it doesn’t seem like that big of a sacrifice.
I’ve listed these perks before, but I’ll list them again: trains have bigger seats than planes; trains let you get up and walk around at any time; trains have far fewer baggage restrictions; trains have observation decks; trains have better food; you only sit next to one person on a train; I’m sure you seasoned train riders out there could think of more perks!
Trains stop a lot. Most of the time they don’t stop long enough for you to get out and explore the town, but since there are so many stops, train travel makes it easier to see a multitude of towns if you so choose.
Trains in the US make it immensely easier to get to a National Park. Can you imagine taking a train into the Grand Canyon? One exists! I was a fool not to do it!! But before you get too sick of hearing about trains, let’s talk about cars.
Believe it or not, having three people in a non-hybrid car produces fewer carbon emissions than flying in fully booked medium plane. You know what three people in a car means? Road trip!! Road trips are the ultimate in fun & independence, because you can go practically anywhere on any schedule you want. You are not restricted to any time-table or pre-determined itinerary. Want to drive through California at 3 AM? You can! As your travel counselor, I wouldn’t recommend it, but you can!
But remember it only works in your carbon footprint’s favor when you have three or more people. Your carbon footprint improves even more if you drive a hybrid car. Ooh, or try an electric one! I’ve never driven an electric car. (But you’d have to make sure you plan your trip around places where you can charge your car. Sounds like a fun challenge for you and your travel counselor!)
But if road trips aren’t interesting enough, there are also several alternative ways for you to travel. You could cycle across the country. You could hike on a historic path or a lengthy nature trail (ever read or seen Wild?). The amazing thing about travel is how flexible & creative it can be. But if you just stick to plane travel, you’re going to get bored, FT. Oh, so bored.
Rethinking your travel requires you to use creative ways to get from Point A to Point B.
No longer is it, “What’s the quickest way I can get there?” but instead it’s, “What’s the most interesting way I can get there?”
Reason #3: You Make Friends
This may just be because I’m a deeply introverted woman, but I hardly ever talk to someone I’m sitting next to on a plane. I’m not sure if it’s because of the close proximity of plane seats, or it’s too much work to turn my head & talk to someone right there, but it never happens. You know where I do strike up conversations? A train’s dining car, at a bus stop, on a shuttle, in the woods. But never, ever on a plane.
Planes just aren’t conducive to making friends. Half the time we’re plugged into something because we want the plane trip to go by as quickly as possible. But on an observation car on a train, people are much more likely to strike up conversation, because everyone is there to enjoy the trip, not just suffer through it.
When’s the last time you remembered the name of your flight attendant? And yet here are the names of all train attendants I've ever had: Ricardo, Lisa & Tobias. I swear I’m not making those up!
Ah, if I keep talking about trains this article will several thousand words too long. So let’s say you’re over me talking about trains. If you’re going on a non-motorized type trip (cycling or hiking), nearly everyone you come across is a new friend. Either you’re going to be running into a lot of cyclists or hikers, or people who have thousands of questions for you about how you’re managing your trip.
Rethinking your travel forces you to stop thinking of your travel in tunnel vision (“Okay, I’m going to go see this, then this, then this) and makes you interact with the fascinating people whose paths you’ll cross on your journeys—not only opening up your perspective of the world but also making your journey more enjoyable!
Reason #4: Self-Actualization
Self-actualization is one of those words that I know the basic meaning of and understand when people use it, but I couldn’t actually give you a definition of it. So I looked one up: “the achievement of one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world.” First of all, what a freaking mouthful. Self-actualization requires not 1, not 2, but 4 separate parts that must be fulfilled before you can achieve your full potential. But fear not, because rethinking travel tackles all of those parts!
The mere act of rethinking travel requires creativity. Sure, we can talk about train travel in the US, but what if you want to get to Europe or Asia from the US? That requires some creative problem solving. (Hint: one possible answer lies with cargo ships, which I’ll be writing about in the future.) Creatively planning a trip successfully is an art form. Having been a piano major in college and a travel counselor now, I can assure you I get as much creative fulfillment out of planning a complicated trip as I did when I would learn beautiful piano pieces.
Rethinking travel tends to expand your independence, not crush it.
It used to be that you’d take a plane from New York to London. While a popular route, you’d still have to be confined to the airlines’ timetables and not getting out of your seat when the fasten seatbelt sign came on. When you rethink travel & you opt not to fly, your world opens up. Should I take a repositioning cruise to London? What about a cargo ship? Maybe I could take a trip from New York to Iceland first, see Iceland for a few days, then take a ferry over to the British Isles! Suddenly your world and possibilities open up!
Rethinking travel requires a high level of spontaneity & flexibility. I won’t lie—trains in the US often don’t run on time. I’ve never had travel plans messed up because of that, but that’s because I was mentally prepared to embrace the spontaneity that train travel requires. If your train is running two hours late, why not explore the city your stop is in a little more? Is your cargo ship arriving in a different port? Looks like you’re driving to Tampa, not Ft. Lauderdale. Part of rethinking travel is trusting the process. You have to think, “I may arrive in London five hours later than planned, but I’m arriving in London after quite an adventure.” Another part of rethinking is rethinking the length of your trips. Are you jetting over to Paris for a weekend, or planning a two week tour of Europe? Which one is more eco-friendly and self-actualizing?
Eco-friendly travel and self-actualization tend to go hand in hand, you’ll find.
Grasp of the Real World
But most of all, rethinking travel requires a grasp of the real world.
We can’t ignore climate change and the impact we have on it through our travel and daily lives. We can’t ignore our responsibility to the rest of the world. The real world includes billions of people relying on us for our tourism dollars, but at the same time also relying on us to help keep climate change from displacing them.
Rethinking your travel is vitally important, but don’t get too ahead of yourself. It’s not easy to make changes, and it’s even harder to make big changes quickly. So take a look at your trips for this year. What small changes can you make to help them be more sustainable? Don’t forget, you’ve got a travel counselor (me!) just as passionate about sustainability as you are at your beck and call to help!
Rethinking your travel is one of the most satisfying ways (I have found) to not only help your planet & fellow humans, but also your mental & emotional health. 2016 is the year to start rethinking the way you travel.
Do it for your fellow humans; do it for your planet; but also, do it for you.
Now get out there and go!