How to Travel Green: Across the Neighborhood or Across the World

By Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, Intent

We’ve all got places to go: work, the farmers market, yoga class, that idyllic little cottage in the Greek islands. Each time we make one of these trips, we also make choices about how much pollution (greenhouse gases and others) we’re willing to emit in order to complete our trip. Whether you’re heading to the other side of town, or the other side of the world, you’ve got a decision to make and that decision holds consequences for all of us.

1. Traveling Locally

The Standard Option: Jump in the car.

The Consequences: On average, burning a gallon of gasoline creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide; the average car emits for 6-9 tons of CO2 a year. And that’s only one kind of pollution that spews from the tailpipe.

Your Other Choices:
• Public transportation: With last year’s record-breaking gas prices, public transportation use has soared in the US. Using the bus or light rail doesn’t just cut the amount of pollution you contribute; it can also save you money!

• Walking or biking: Why not get a little exercise while you’re running your errands or heading to work? Making the shift from you car to your feet or your bike can help you cut your environmental impact, and your transportation costs.

• Carpooling: If the bus or the bike isn’t a viable option, check into sharing rides, or regular errands, with neighbors.

2. Traveling Regionally or Nationally

The Standard Options: Road trip! Or, booking a flight. Flying, however, really racks up the pollutants: according to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Getting There Greener report, a wide-body jet can emit 100 pounds of CO2 for every mile traveled.

Your Other Choices:
• The Bus: According to both UCS and Environmental Defense Fund, the bus/motor coach is your best green option for traveling.

• The Train: Train travel is your next best option. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that in 2005, Amtrak consumed 17 percent and 21 percent less energy per passenger-mile than airlines and cars, respectively. While Amtrak can be slow, it’s a great way to see the country in relative comfort.

• The Plane: If you must fly, go coach: according to UCS, first-class seats take up twice the space of economy seats (don’t we all know that!), so you cut your own carbon footprint in half.

• Business travelers: Is traveling really necessary? Phone and video conferencing use energy, but not even remotely the amount of travel.

3. Traveling Internationally

The Standard Option: Book a flight.

Your Other Choices:
• The Ship: While the cruise industry has taken a beating in recent years for a variety of unsustainable practices, it also seems to be cleaning up its act. Or, if you’re looking for something really different, you might try booking a berth on a cargo ship. While the information about passenger ship travel is a bit spotty, ships in general are winners on the greenhouse gas emissions front when compared to flying (though it’s definitely going to take longer to get where you’re going).

We all make choices when we’ve got somewhere to go. Time is precious, and we all expect some level of convenience. If we can start to figure our environmental impact into the equation, we can regularly make choices that get us where we need to go while maintaining a lighter footprint on the Earth.

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Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog, a co-founder and former Senior Editor of Green Options Media, and a former writer at Treehugger. provides content and community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.


W. C
W. C6 months ago

Thank you.

William C
William C6 months ago


Jo S.
Jo S2 years ago

Thank you Robyn.

Jo Recovering
Jo S3 years ago

Thanks Robyn.

Jo Recovering
Jo S3 years ago

Thank you Robyn.

Marie Johndro
Marie Johndro7 years ago

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Read more:

Lindy E.
Belinda E7 years ago

Thank you, Roxanne N, for pointing out that all these alternative tranportation options aren't available to everyone.
I live in a town of 500. We're lucky to have mostly-paved streets in town, let alone public transportation.
The nearest doctor is seven miles away. If you need a doctor, you're not likely to bike that far.
The nearest hospital, pharmacy, supermarket (with quality produce), hardware store, restaurant, etc etc are twenty miles away. Too far for a daily bike ride, if you have other responsibilities, and you can't home a week's groceries on a bike. Assuming you could make the trip without getting hit by a car on the country roads.
The nearest cross-country bus station is over fifty miles away, and it's only open briefly before and after each bus arrival.
The nearest train station is 130 miles away, and trains come through once a day in the wee hours of the morning. (And you can't park and ride, because of the neighborhood it's in; someone has to drive you there, then come pick you up when you return.)
The nearest full-service airport is 185 miles away.

There's just no getting around dependency on the private automobile here, although when I'm going out of town I call family members and ask if they need me to pick up anything. That, and driving a fuel-efficient car, and limiting trips to once a week, is all I can do!

Jarrod Page
Jarrod Page7 years ago

Go vegan!

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M7 years ago

Thanks for the article. I chose not to drive anymore by myself, and drive with my hubby and friends, if we are all going in the same direction. We live 16 km from the nearest city, so cycling and walking are out. For whatever the reasons co-op driving (with at least 4 in a vehicle) hasn't gone over very well here and I should think it would, because look at the money each person could save.

Carole K.
Carole K7 years ago

Ecotourism is fascinating & a newly developing concept. It will be interesting to watch the opportunities grow in the future & capture a few for my own life experience. Thanks for the information & alternatives.