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Up The Road: How To Travel


Last week we asked: Why should we travel at all in this world, given that, researchers say, global tourism—pleasure travel alone—is responsible for 8 to 10 percent of the greenhouse gases now driving climate change?

Conceding that we need to make big changes in how we travel, Up the Road contends that the benefits of travel still outweigh the costs—or, could outweigh the costs, once we make those changes. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Which, these days, makes getting out and about downright patriotic.

But how do we travel responsibly?

Most of us already recognize travel’s dark side, beyond the shocking carbon impacts related to air travel and most cruise-ship tourism—the destruction of rare and precious places, and their plants and animals; the thoughtless use or overuse of natural resources; the corruption of other cultures. Many of us have already made changes, by choosing responsible travel companies, and otherwise opting for less destructive activities and adventures.

Yet we also realize that tourism can have powerful and lasting positive effects, such as providing much needed outside money to fund local community development, conservation work, and cultural revitalization. Maybe we’ve funded microloans for community businesses, volunteered for trail building and habitat restoration, and spent a vacation or two digging wells or installing solar power where there was no water or power, before.

Whichever way it goes, in terms of travel—whether we’re standing in the light or saluting the dark side—depends largely on the choices we make. It all starts with realizing that every travel decision isa choice, one with impacts that go on and on.

A few key tips:

For global and long-distance domestic travel—and most especially, local or regional travel—fly less, for starters. Much, much less. Fuel efficiency counts. Take the train if possible, or a bus. Drive a hybrid, lease an electric car, ride bikes. When you really do need to fly, make that trip special, make it count. No more one-week wonder tours of Europe, or weekend girlfriend-getaways in Hawaii. Even ifyou can afford it, the planet can’t.

When you do go big, in terms of distance, stay a while. Stay long enough to know a place, its people, and life as they live it—appreciating local foods, drink, arts and crafts, and, yes, those crazy community celebrations. Practice slow travel in all its forms. Rent a cottage for a week or a month—even a year, you retirees—and then take long, looping trips out from “home” to explore. Give back—buy local goods and services, for one thing—and otherwise make a meaningful contribution, whenever you can. Avoid frenetic, if-it’s-Tuesday-this-must-be-Denmark tourism.

Travel slower, that’s key. Stop using travel as a means to get away from yourself and the chaos of your daily life. Instead, travel to deepen and enrich your days. Travel to surprise yourself. Go forquality, not quantity.

The writer Michael Pollan famously used just seven words to tell us how to eat better: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” To translate that wisdom into travel advice, Up the Road suggests just six words: “Travel, not too much, mostly slow.”

Until next time, when we explore why it’s so important to spend quality travel time locally and regionally—Up the Road’s wheelhouse—this is Kim Weir for Up the Road.

Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.