I have worked for years to create a lifestyle that allows more time to travel, both within the US and abroad. Seeing the world enriches me creatively and emotionally, and it encourages me to live more intentionally in general. Travel, more than any other type of experience, makes me aware of how interrelated we are.
At the same time, I can no longer be a conscientious world citizen while denying the cost of my travel to the planet.
I now grapple more consciously with ways to travel more responsibly. I remain aware that the way I travel, especially by plane, cannot be easily offset by other actions I might take.
Here are five ways in which I now more intentionally respond to the challenges of being a world traveler while also being ecologically minded.
1. Talk to friends about traveling with intention.
A friend recently told me she was taking a trip to Montreal by train instead of by car or plane to reduce her environmental impact. In the past, the challenge posed by her example would have made me more muted in my enthusiasm about my upcoming trips abroad (by plane). Now, instead, I asked her to meet with me after her trip to talk about traveling in new ways. I chose to be inspired by my friend’s efforts and learn from them without having to give up my pleasure in thinking about my own upcoming travel plans.
2. Support policies and organizations that reduce carbon emissions.
It’s important to actively support policies that shift the paradigm from practices which drain the earth’s resources to those which promote renewable energy. One example: I support organizations which are taking a stand against Enbridge’s Line 3, a plan to lay a new pipeline to carry tar sands across pristine Minnesota land, abandoning an old corroded pipeline without a plan to remediate the contamination beneath it. The new pipeline would go through watershed and Ojibwe tribal lands. I made a call to thank Minnesota’s governor Tim Waltz, who, against the wishes of many of his colleagues, stood with science and water-protecting Minnesotans and came out against the approval of Line 3.
Persistently working for better, more sustainable policies will inevitably make current consumptive ways of travel more costly – and, in so doing, will encourage investment in more eco-friendly forms of travel.
3. Choose taking responsibility over guilt or denial.
It doesn’t help to feel guilty and avoid what makes me uncomfortable. Nor is beating myself up likely to change my behavior. In the past I was more likely to ignore the fact that some of my travel left a relatively large carbon footprint. Taking greater ownership has led to the other actions I write about in this article. It helps me to be part of the change rather than passively wanting other people to do things to save the planet.
4. Find ways to pay for the environmental cost of travel.
I now find it important to recognize the costs my travel choices incur to the planet by increasing the amount I give to environmental causes when I travel by plane.
For example, I contribute to carbon offsets (e.g., greenmountainenergy.com), paying a relatively small sum of money to support activities like planting trees or building wind farms. While this is acting ‘less bad’, I know it does not address my relatively large footprint every time I fly by plane. So I also increase my contributions to organizations I already support, like Honor the Earth or Sierra Club, which are fighting hard to keep pipelines and oil from causing more damage to the earth.
5. Take longer and less frequent trips.
Previously I took frequent weekend trips to write and renew myself creatively. I still take such trips but do so less frequently, which means less miles traveled by plane. And when I do travel by air, I try to stay longer to maximize the benefits that traveling brings. A side benefit to making this change is that it has led to my finding new ways to change my writing venue to rejuvenate my creativity close to home, like Industry City in Brooklyn. I once imagined places abroad as favorite places to write. Now I look for places closer to home, and find them.
The path to becoming more responsible to the planet is a personal one. Take the time to create your own way. Find inspiration from others. Traveling more conscientiously does not have to feel like deprivation. On the contrary, the more seriously you begin to take it, the more invested you become. The more invested you are, the more you value the practice of modifying your behavior for its own sake.