Just as we’re finalizing summer travel plans comes word that travel is a bad actor when it comes to climate change. According to a study published on May 7 in the journal Nature Climate Change, tourism—meaning pleasure travel—accounts for 8% of all global greenhouse gases. Four times more than previous estimates, because someone finally looked at the big picture, and included the climate costs of all aspects of tourism, not just jets and other fossil-fueled transportation.
According to the lead researcher, tourism is “largely a high-income affair,” with high-income countries serving as both origin and destination for most travelers. The U.S., as you might guess, is number one, though China is heading up the road. Worse, this overall trend is likely to continue, with tourism predicted to grow about four percent per year, worldwide.
So, if you didn’t already know, travel has costs that aren’t included on your personal tab. Just because you can afford that weekend girlfriend getaway to Hawaii doesn’t mean the planet can afford it.
What’s a savvy traveler to do? Some solutions are obvious, and these go for business travel too:
Fly less. Consider fuel efficiency per mile covered. Take the train whenever possible, or a bus. Better yet, ride a bike or hike. And when you do need to fly to get from here to there, really make the trip count. No more one-week wonder tours of Europe. If you’re going, stay a while. Stay long enough to really know a place, its people, and life as they live it there, from eating and drinking to local diversions. Rent a cottage for a week or a month and then take long, looping day trips out from “home,” by public transit or bike, to explore. Travel like locals do, do what the locals do. Practice slow travel, and avoid all forms of frenetic, high-consumption tourism.
And get creative too when it comes to collecting souvenirs to take home for family and friends. One of my travel tips: Hunt local thrift shops for unusual and unique items—stuff locals actually like—including strictly local T-shirts, especially shirts promoting local businesses and events (the 5K Tybee Turtle Trot, say). These locals-only T-shirts invariably display the impressive if unheralded talents of up-and-coming artists and graphic designers, too, and truly reflect local culture and concerns. An added bonus: The recipients of your carefully selected gifts will get lots of comments and questions, and ultimately learn almost as much about local culture as you did. As if they’d made the trip themselves.
But you have to travel slower to sample local thrift shops and obscure markets for memorabilia, instead of grabbing whatever cheap tourist stuff you find on the fly at the airport gift shop.
Travel slower, that’s the real point. Stop using travel as a means to get away from your actual life but, instead, as a way to deepen and enrich it. Go for quality of travel, not quantity—which means we Americans might have to get over our attractions to speed and instant gratification and heroic accomplishment, among other self-defeating pursuits.
Anything that improves the quality of international travel goes double for local and regional travel—because most of us travel closer to home, mostly—which can only deepen our appreciation for our own place in the larger scheme of things.
The writer Michael Pollan famously used just seven words to tell us how to eat healthier: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."; To translate that wisdom into travel advice, let’s try just six words: “Travel, not too much, mostly slow.”
Until next time, this is Kim Weir form Up the Road and North State Public Radio. To listen again, and for links and photos, go to my-N-S-P-R-dot-org.