Minimalist.Travel: Going Low Impact

Yes, you have choices…

Travel High Impact

Airplanes, Cruise Ships, & Tourism that Destroys Local Ecology and Economics

  • Each hour of flight causes 100 times the global warming as a bus or train; added up, aviation on its own causes 4% of human-induced global warming. It is unsustainable as more people travel; taking a flight is one of the worst personal decisions you can make for the planet. If you do fly (the only feasible way to cross large world distances in many cases), try to reduce the number of trips and to really make the most of the area you do travel to. Also, some flights can be lower carbon than others; Skyscanner allows you to filter for lower carbon (though still impactful, don’t fool yourself) options. And choosing economy is better than business/first class because more people share the plane’s carbon footprint with tighter packing into seats.
  • Cruise ships are even worse than air travel. According to one calculation, for example, a vacation on a cruise rather than a hotel plus flight means twice the personal CO2 footprint. And that doesn’t even include the flights that many take to get to the cruise ship, and the other disastrous impacts of cruise pollution.
  • If you carry heavy bags (which we discourage) you’ll likely need to rely more on taxi rides or rental cars, and thus contribute more CO2, as well as to the clogging up of city streets and noise and air pollution at your destination. Yes, the Kayak search engine (or Momondo) allows you to filter for electric cars and compare offers from a variety of companies, and Uber, Bolt, and others offer electric vehicle options in some locales. These are far better than conventional gas-powered cars, but they still clog streets, are a danger to pedestrians and cyclists, use CO2 if charged in coal-burning regions, and have particulate emissions.
  • If you act like a complete turd at your travel destination, you contribute to local resentment towards tourists. This can include disrespecting local environments and norms, buying products and services that negatively impact these, and littering. Much of this comes down to behaving as responsibly on the road as you would at home, though at times this means taking extra care for local sensibilities or sensitive environments.

Travel Low Impact

Trains, Buses, & Experiences that Support Communties and Environments

  • Trains are more comfortable and far more ecological than flying; they also tend to deposit you directly in city centers, which saves significant time and expense. In Europe, our tests of the best websites for buying train tickets often result in us recommending Trainline for trip planning; it shows better and often cheaper routes than the national operators’ own sites, especially when crossing borders.
  • Buses are often cheaper than trains and also a much lower carbon alternative to flying. They can also be slower and more uncomfortable than the other options—but not always. Buses can be surprisingly comfortable in Brazil and Latin America, for example. And in Eastern Europe they’re often more reliable. The best way to book buses in Europe and many others parts of the world is often once again Trainline, although BusBud is another great option to check, especially outside of Europe.
  • Check for city bicycle programs in your destinations; if available to tourists these can be a great way to get around. It’s easiest to check the local website beforehand to see if it’s possible to make use of the program as a visitor. (This is impossible in Barcelona without a local address, for example—many tourists waste time trying to punch buttons in the kiosks’ machines. But it is, but very possible in most French cities.) Also, local bike shops often offer rentals, which is a great way to support small businesses while having less of a carbon footprint and a great way to get around and sitesee.
  • Walking is a classic, low-carbon, beautiful way to experience most places and be in real contact with the people and the terrain. Know how to use your phone’s map app before you go—and to download the destination area into the map for offline use if needed.
  • Yes, low impact travel gives you the right to flygskam others into also behaving a bit more appropriately in their travels. Social pressure and changed expectations of “normal” is about all that moves the needle in this fragile, failing world.

Our Articles About Trains and Other Lower Impact Forms of Transport

A Train Inspector Reveals: The Top Five Most Beautiful, Thrilling Rides in Switzerland

I can safely say I’ve gone everywhere on the Swiss rail network, and here’s the verdict: Most Swiss train rides are awe-inspiring. But some are merely great, a handful are overrated, and a few simply suck. For the past nine years I’ve been taking them all in as a ticket inspector with the national railway…

Read more… A Train Inspector Reveals: The Top Five Most Beautiful, Thrilling Rides in Switzerland

Text by the disgustingly sweaty, obnoxiously opinionated human vagabond Mose Hayward. Illustrations by the human-electro hive mind Dall-E.

Our Reviewers’ Picks of Underrated, Useful Travel Gear